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German far-right extremism on the rise

Sep 25, 2023 | Studies & Reports

European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies, Germany & Netherlands – ECCI.

German far-right extremism on the rise as Holocaust memorial sites defaced

euronews – Surveys show that hardcore political beliefs are spreading beyond traditionally right-wing demographic groups.A new report from a German think tank has detailed a rise in far-right extremism across the country – this as memorials to victims of the Nazis raise the alarm about an uptick in vandalism and threats.According to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a centre-left research institute, its survey data indicates that as many as one in every 12 Germans now subscribes to some form of extreme right ideology. This is a serious increase relative to the much lower figures recorded in the biannual study, which has been running for two decades.

As foundation researcher Franziska Schröter explained to Euronews, one of the most striking changes in recent years is a detectable spread of extreme beliefs beyond Germany’s traditional generational divide.”The acceptance of far-right attitudes is seen in every age group, depending on which phenomena you look at. What’s worrying us is a reversion in the trend,” she says.”It used to be that the young ones were consistent democrats, rooting for equality instead of being revisionist and nationalist, while the older age groups had higher rates  [of extremism]. We thought that demographics, globalisation and political education would help us in strengthening that. But now we see higher numbers among middle aged people, and especially young people.

“Young survey panelists who have mostly not experienced a war or the real threat of dictatorship in their lives, but who have endured a lot of crisis, seem to be leaning towards the idea that more dictatorship and less democracy could help get things done.”Schröter also pointed out that there is a marked turn among young people towards sexism, homophobia and transphobia, positions that the far-right has long embraced.

The report comes just days after police broke up the German chapter of the Hammerskins, a long-established international white supremacist organisation that originated in the US.It has now been banned by the German government, which considers it an extremist group that illegally spreads “racial theory based on Nazi ideology”.

Under assault

The rise in right-wing extremism is being felt in different regions of Germany and in different areas of national life. Far-right political candidates, in particular those standing for Alternativ für Deutschland, are polling well, and there are serious concerns about radicalised, serving members of the armed forces and the police.As in many other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a large number of Germans becoming newly interested in radical, racist and sometimes violent conspiracy theories, some of which converge on the idea that the country and indeed the world is being taken over by secretive Jewish influence.

Also raising the alarm are those charged with safeguarding Holocaust memorial sites.A spokesperson for the Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres Commemorating the Victims of Nazi Crimes, which is responsible for the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial and several other remembrance sites, told Euronews that its staff have noted an uptick in 2022 and 2023 – particularly vandalism with Nazi-themed stickers and graffiti.

In May 2023, a Danish visitor who had a tattoo showing an Iron Cross and SS runes was removed from the Neuengamme site by police officers. Other recent incidents have seen known right-wing extremists trying to film there.In a statement, foundation director Oliver von Wrochem, who also serves as the spokesperson for the working group of concentration camp memorials in Germany, said these and other events are signs of a disturbing trend in German society.

“We and other concentration camp memorials in Germany observe with concern that the social consensus of remembrance culture is increasingly being called into question and becoming fragile due to the normalization of right-wing discourse,” he said. “This means that an important moral guardrail in our democracy is falling away.”For the Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres Commemorating the Victims of Nazi Crimes, this means that we will position ourselves even more strongly in our work against current antisemitism, antiziganism [anti-Romani sentiments], racism, and misanthropy in any form.”

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