BERLIN — In part of a nationwide crackdown on the growing neo-Nazi movement, Germany’s highest administrative court handed down a first-ever ruling this week classifying a neo-Nazi rock group as a criminal organization because its lyrics spread racial hatred. The decision came on the heels of a national controversy stirred up here last week, when local officials in the former eastern German town of Halberstadt bowed to pressure from extreme right groups and canceled a concert by anti-Nazi activist and political songwriter Konstantin Wecker.
The developments underscored that neo-Nazism not only persists in Germany but also appears to be growing stronger, both politically and culturally, even as the government tries to halt its momentum.
In an effort to reverse the trend, German officials have begun eyeing the music of extremist groups. This week, the country’s top administrative court upheld a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence for Michael Regener, the singer and songwriter whose group, Landser, was found guilty of “inciting public hatred against foreigners and minorities in Germany.” It marks the first time in Germany that a collective prosecution successfully targetted a music group. “The primary goal of this band was to commit crimes,” said Jürgen Lampe, spokesman for the federal prosecutor.
Such songs as “The Reich Will Be Back,” featuring lyrics like “Turks and Commies and all that scum will soon be forever gone,” have struck a chord with this country’s under-educated, xenophobic youth. Indeed, neo-Nazi organizations, through their savvy distribution of music in schools and small cities, have become popular and freely accessible to many students.
“Democratic forces in Germany are simply at a loss to effectively counter an ideology of dumb violence that is infesting more and more young minds,” said Frank Jantzen, an expert on right-wing movements, according to press reportd.
Despite police vigilance and a German public that takes the neo-fascist threat seriously, support for such groups among young, poor and unemployed men — especially in the former East — is mounting. The news weekly Focus reported last month that the number of neo-Nazi skinhead activists rose in 2005 by some 300 to more than 4,000, while the ranks of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party jumped by 700 to 6,000 registered members. Even faster growth of neo-Nazi groups is happening across the border in Poland, where a new, openly anti-gay president seems to look the other way each time skinheads strike out — as they did, without reprisal, against a gay march last year.
An example of such agitation happened March 8 in Halberstadt, when National Democratic Party members threatened to buy all the tickets and disrupt a “Nazis get out of our town” concert by the singer Wecker. The neo-Nazis claimed that the musician’s criticism of their movement was an unacceptable form of political campaigning in the run-up to March 26 state elections. Local officials agreed to cancel the show.
The decision to cancel the concert was criticized by the German Jewish community and by state officials.
Klaus Jeziorsky — interior minister for the state of Saxony-Anhalt, in which Halberstadt is located — expressed dismay at the concert’s cancellation. “One cannot give in to threats by right-wing extremists,” he said, upbraiding local officials.
Germany’s Central Council for Jews labeled the authorities’ decision “politically bankrupt.”
Refusing to buckle, Wecker took his concert to nearby Jena, vowing to return to Halberstadt in the summer for an open-air concert. “One shouldn’t give in to the NPD,” he told the online edition of Der Spiegel. “I haven’t given up on Halberstadt.”