Is Brandenburg all Bad?

A recent­ly pub­lished book offers fresh insight into right-wing extremism
in the region and exam­ines the range of efforts to com­bat it.

Bran­den­burg , the region around Berlin, is famous for its long leafy
avenues and beau­ti­ful lakes. But over the past 18 years this idyllic
pic­ture has devel­oped a dark side. The region has become noto­ri­ous for
no-go areas for for­eign­ers and increas­ing­ly bru­tal neo-Nazi groups. Is
Bran­den­burg real­ly as bad as its rep­u­ta­tion? Karen Mar­go­lis looks at the
new book “Recht­sex­trem­is­mus in Bran­den­burg” and talks to one of its
edi­tors, Christoph Kopke. 

Over the past year a team of edi­tors at the Moses Mendelssohn Cen­tre in
Pots­dam has worked to com­pile an anthol­o­gy on right-wing extrem­ism in
Bran­den­burg. The result is a book of over 450 close­ly print­ed pages,
Recht­sex­trem­is­mus in Bran­den­burg (Right-Wing Extrem­ism in Brandenburg).
The sub­ti­tle, “Man­u­al for analy­sis, pre­ven­tion and intervention”
announces it as a polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion to the fight against racism and

Pro­fes­sor Julius Schoeps, direc­tor of the Moses Mendelssohn Cen­tre and
one of the book’s edi­tors, said they pro­duced it, “because our Centre
has a social and polit­i­cal man­date. It’s our con­tri­bu­tion to
pre­ven­tion.” The anthol­o­gy offers impres­sive and thor­ough analy­sis of
right-wing extrem­ism in Bran­den­burg along with prac­ti­cal advice and
expe­ri­ence. Detailed list­ings of the main region­al orga­ni­za­tions working
against racism and neo-fas­cism round off the picture. 

“The book is a unique mix­ture,” explains co-edi­tor Chris­t­ian Kop­ke, a
polit­i­cal sci­en­tist. “We decid­ed to com­bine aca­d­e­m­ic research on
right-wing extrem­ism with the expe­ri­ence of peo­ple active­ly involved in
pre­vent­ing or com­bat­ing right-wing vio­lence, racism and hostility
towards foreigners.” 

The first part of the book analy­ses the far right in Bran­den­burg, giving
a wide-rang­ing, often dis­turb­ing pic­ture of neo-Nazi polit­i­cal parties,
extrem­ist splin­ter groups and social atti­tudes. Young peo­ple — the main
recruits to the far right scene — and the extreme right music scene get
par­tic­u­lar atten­tion. Kopke’s con­tri­bu­tion, ‘The Nation­al­ist Move­ment in
Bran­den­burg’ gives an insight not only into the main par­ties but also
the Kam­er­ad­schaften (‘free asso­ci­a­tions’) and oth­er small group­ings that
are increas­ing­ly band­ing togeth­er. Bor­row­ing from the lan­guage of
free­dom strug­gles, they call them­selves a “nation­al­ist oppo­si­tion” or
“nation­al­ist resis­tance”. Read­ing this makes us aware of what lies
beneath the shock­ing head­lines and increas­ing lists of ugly incidents
that the mass media con­tin­u­al­ly present. 

The in-depth research pub­lished in the anthol­o­gy indi­cates that extreme
right-wing activ­i­ty is grow­ing, and that increas­ing num­bers of people
are accept­ing racist and neo-fas­cist ideas. Germany’s biggest far right
elec­toral par­ty, the NPD (Ger­man Nation­al­ist Par­ty) is now gaining
ground in Bran­den­burg after a slow­er start than in many oth­er regions.
The book points out that a low turnout for right-wing par­ties at
elec­tions should not be tak­en as com­fort — it does­n’t necessarily
reflect the real lev­el of sym­pa­thy for racist or fas­cist ideas in the

The mur­der in 1990 of Amadeu Anto­nio, an Angolan work­er in the
Bran­den­burg town of Eber­swalde, is men­tioned sev­er­al times in the book
as a turn­ing point. One of the first overt­ly racial mur­ders in Germany
after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it shocked the nation, highlighted
the grow­ing hatred of for­eign­ers in the region, and led to the Amadeu
Anto­nio Foun­da­tion being set up to com­bat racism and anti-Semitism

But racial crime has con­tin­ued to grow in the region. Bran­den­burg now
has the high­est report­ed rate of racial mur­ders in Ger­many and is among
the top third of fed­er­al states in terms of hatred of for­eign­ers and
racial­ly moti­vat­ed crimes. All this has giv­en the region a negative
image — in com­mon with oth­er fed­er­al states in for­mer East Germany,
espe­cial­ly Sax­ony and Sax­ony-Anhalt, which bor­ders on Brandenburg. 

The anthology’s edi­tors are anx­ious to counter their region’s bad image.
Kop­ke says Bran­den­burg dif­fers from oth­er regions in that it started
set­ting up advice and coor­di­na­tion cen­tres ear­ly on to deal with
right-wing extrem­ism. He empha­sis­es that polit­i­cal struc­tures play a
vital role. “Bran­den­burg was gov­erned in the 1990s by a coali­tion of
con­ser­v­a­tives, social democ­rats and the Green Par­ty,” he explains. “This
broad spec­trum sup­port­ed a vari­ety of anti-racist or anti-fascist
ini­tia­tives from gov­ern­ment lev­el to grass roots. Organ­i­sa­tions were set
up and giv­en pub­lic fund­ing.” The coali­tion spir­it is reflect­ed in the
book, from the intro­duc­tion by Brandenburg’s inte­ri­or min­is­ter, Jörg
Schön­bohm (Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty), to an arti­cle on right of
assem­bly by Brandenburg’s chief of police, Klaus Kandt, to essays on
edu­ca­tion­al work and con­tri­bu­tions by jour­nal­ists, sociologists,
edu­ca­tion­al­ists, psy­chol­o­gists and vio­lence pre­ven­tion coun­sel­lors. The
chair­man of the region­al foot­ball asso­ci­a­tion writes on sport without
racism, and there are arti­cles by local gov­ern­ment offi­cials, the
pre­sid­ing judge at Cot­tbus admin­is­tra­tive court, and an offi­cial from
the min­istry for edu­ca­tion, sport and young people. 

Anti-Nazi Networks 

The anthol­o­gy includes a use­ful, com­pre­hen­sive appen­dix list­ing around
70 groups and insti­tu­tions active against racism and neo-fas­cism in the

Right-wing extrem­ism takes hold where polit­i­cal struc­tures are weak,
Kop­ke argues. This applies to many regions in for­mer East Germany.
“That’s why it’s so impor­tant to build net­works to com­bat it. Of course,
we can’t mea­sure their effect, and they haven’t been able to stop the
growth of right-wing extrem­ism. But they have estab­lished a functioning
net­work over the past 10 to 15 years, and this has raised public
aware­ness that right-wing extrem­ism is a seri­ous prob­lem that has to be

Kop­ke says this also affects the record­ing of right-wing crime. “If
some­body hears young peo­ple yelling ‘Heil Hitler’ on the street and
reports it to the police, it gets into the sta­tis­tics. In Brandenburg,
peo­ple are encour­aged to report extreme right-wing crimes, where­as in
oth­er places they might keep silent.” He points out that this also
applies in the aca­d­e­m­ic world. “We man­aged to get a large num­ber of
researchers in Bran­den­burg to con­tribute to our book. But when we asked
a researcher in Sax­ony last year, he replied, ‘I don’t know any­thing at
all about neo-Nazis — I only know about young peo­ple who dress up in

Kop­ke points to two organ­i­sa­tions he sees as par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive on
the ground. ‘demos’, a net­work of mobile coun­selling teams under the
ban­ner of ‘tol­er­ance in Bran­den­burg’, is run by the Brandenburg
Insti­tute for Com­mu­ni­ty Coun­selling. The teams oper­ate in 7 localities
includ­ing the region­al cap­i­tal, Pots­dam. They sup­port demo­c­ra­t­ic forces
in soci­ety as watch­dogs, assist local cam­paign groups, arrange training
cours­es for local pub­lic ser­vants, etc. An essay on ‘demos’ in the book
describes it as a per­sua­sive concept. 

At anoth­er lev­el, ‘Opfer­per­spec­tive’ (‘vic­tims’ per­spec­tive’) works
specif­i­cal­ly to help vic­tims of extrem­ist vio­lence. This includes
prac­ti­cal assis­tance like accom­pa­ny­ing vic­tims to the police to report
the crime against them, help­ing with legal aid and court appearances,
and cop­ing with the media. “What’s impor­tant here is that the crime is
seen and dealt with from the victim’s view­point,” Kop­ke says.
“ ‘Opfer­per­spec­tive’ goes into the victim’s local­i­ty and tries to force
peo­ple there to con­front the fact of the crime and its con­se­quences.” He
thinks this has changed the cli­mate in sev­er­al local­i­ties, including

Kop­ke sees ‘demos’ and ‘Opfer­per­spec­tive’ as suc­cess­ful because they
focus on a per­son­al approach. They relate direct­ly to individuals
affect­ed by right-wing extrem­ism — while at the same time not neglecting
the social and polit­i­cal levels. 

“Liv­ing time bombs” 

For all thi
s, Kop­ke is sober about the present sit­u­a­tion in the region.
“There’s no doubt that neo-Nazi activ­i­ty has reached a high lev­el in
Bran­den­burg, in line with the trend in oth­er places. It’s hard to assess
the extent because it often involves young peo­ple join­ing the far right
for a cou­ple of years, then get­ting fed up and leav­ing again.” 

Kopke’s co-edi­tor Gideon Botsch has described the extreme right-wing
scene in the Berlin-Bran­den­burg region as “excep­tion­al­ly bru­tal”, with
the threat of a num­ber of “liv­ing time bombs”. Some of the splinter
groups Kop­ke describes in the anthol­o­gy def­i­nite­ly fit this description.
The anthol­o­gy explains how over the years, small neo-Nazi groups have
vol­un­tar­i­ly dis­solved to avoid a ban — only to enter the NPD and carry
on their activ­i­ties legal­ly under its wing. In sev­er­al Ger­man states,
NPD del­e­gates sit in local par­lia­ments while the par­ty open­ly supports
racist and neo-Nazi activity. 

Does Kop­ke favour ban­ning the NPD? He answers by quot­ing Berlin’s
inte­ri­or min­is­ter, Eber­hard Kört­ing: “If the NPD isn’t ripe for a ban,
then what is?” The NPD is undoubt­ed­ly anti-con­sti­tu­tion­al, Kop­ke says.
There are sol­id legal grounds for ban­ning it. “A ban would put a stop to
the NPD’s role as a reser­voir for right-wing pro­pa­gan­da and violence,”
he says. He adds that there is no evi­dence for the tac­ti­cal political
argu­ment that a ban would only reap sym­pa­thy for the NPD and encourage
its sup­port­ers. “The NPD isn’t well orga­nized enough to operate
effec­tive­ly as an under­ground par­ty. A small hard core might car­ry on,
but many present or poten­tial sup­port­ers would sim­ply drift away.” 

What emerges clear­ly from the anthol­o­gy is that the far right scene is
high­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed, and the rea­sons why it is gain­ing sup­port are
com­plex. We have to look beyond stan­dard expla­na­tions for the
devel­op­ment of racism and neo-fas­cism in a spe­cif­ic region. It’s not
enough to cite pure­ly eco­nom­ic or social fac­tors like unemployment,
pover­ty or lack of edu­ca­tion. In his intro­duc­to­ry essay, ‘What is
Right-Wing Extrem­ism?’ Gideon Botsch warns observers not to
under­es­ti­mate the extreme right as illog­i­cal or lack­ing in originality
and aspi­ra­tions. Its pro­gram­mat­ic vague­ness could actu­al­ly turn out to
be a source of strength for it. Botsch reminds us that Hitler resolutely
banned dis­cus­sions on a fixed pro­gramme in the Nazi Par­ty precisely
because this left the door open for oppor­tunism and emo­tion­al appeals.

Right-Wing Extrem­ism in Bran­den­burg shows that the bat­tle is not just
about ide­ol­o­gy and our world view. It is about hearts as well as minds,
about indi­vid­ual feel­ings and mass psy­chol­o­gy. Nobody who wants to
pre­serve and pro­mote a demo­c­ra­t­ic, tol­er­ant soci­ety in Bran­den­burg, in
Berlin, in Ger­many or any­where in the world can afford to ignore the
analy­ses and warn­ings in this book. Racism, anti-Semi­tism, neo-Nazism
and oth­er dan­ger­ous ten­den­cies are not some­where out there, they are
right here on our doorstep — and it’s not too late to stop them. 

Anoth­er text by Karen Mar­go­lis: “Watch their words” >klick
Recht­sex­trem­is­mus in der Prig­nitz (Märkische All­ge­meine vom 29.9) >klick

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