A stabbing pain
Dec 18th 2008 | BERLIN
From The Economist print edition
An attack on a police chief revives fears of the far right
ALOIS MANNICHL, police chief of Passau, in Bavaria, pursues neo-Nazis to great lengths. A group recently buried a leader in a coffin draped with the swastika. Mr Mannichl had it dug up. On December 13th they took their revenge. Crying “you will not trample the graves of our comrades any more, you leftist pig,” somebody stabbed and almost killed Mr Mannichl at the door of his house in Fürstenzell, near Passau. This brazen attack on a senior policeman brings a “completely new dimension” to violence by right-wing extremists, declared Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann.
Germany’s far right is a variegated but worrying fringe that pursues its xenophobic aims through electoral politics and sometimes murderous violence, fuelled by self-glorifying demonstrations and “hatecore” music. It is stronger in the east than in the west. The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) has seats in two east German state legislatures (another far right party has deputies in Brandenburg) and does well in local elections. It won 5% of the vote in Saxony’s local election in June, getting 25% in one town. The far right got 2.5% of the vote in Bavaria’s election in September.
The Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, reckons that some 31,000 people belong to 180 far-right organisations around the country. But many more are thought to share some of their attitudes. A fifth of Germans—and nearly 40% of Bavarians—dislike foreigners, down from a quarter two years ago.
Far-right violence in Bavaria is mostly low-level thuggery by young skinheads. They and others were responsible for 82 violent crimes in 2007, nearly twice as many as in 2006; but the rate subsided in the first half of 2008. The police have so far been spared. Now some wonder if the far right may produce its version of the Baader-Meinhof gang, which conducted a reign of terror against prominent Germans in the 1970s. This seems far-fetched. But the stabbing of Mr Mannichl has renewed calls for the banning of the NPD, which has ties to a number of even less savoury groups.
Thanks largely to Mr Mannichl, the neo-Nazi scene in Passau, a town of 50,000 at the confluence of the Danube and two other rivers, is a weedy affair. There are no cells in Passau itself, says Karl Synek, a Green member of the town council. Two or three meet in the neighbourhood in the few bars and cafés whose owners tolerate them, including a café in Fürstenzell. But Passau is a “white spot” on the map where far-right groups are trying to gain a foothold with help from allies on the other side of the border with Austria, says Mr Synek. With luck, a recovered Mr Mannichl will soon return to Passau’s defences.