German state's strategy offers hope for fighting surge in neo-Nazi hate crimes Broad approach educates, enforces

August 26, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

DRESDEN, GERMNAY — DRESDEN, Germany -- While most of the 7,121 hate-crimes across Germany last year went unsolved -- some states cracked fewer than 10 percent of their cases -- Saxony claims an 88 percent success rate.

And when it comes to the most serious acts of violence by fascists, skinheads and neo-Nazis, investigations by the Saxony crime bureau resulted in almost 40 percent of all sentences handed down by Germany's criminal courts.

In a nation where Turks live in fear of being burned to death in their beds, where pregnant Vietnamese women are stomped under jackboots and where cemeteries routinely are defaced by swastikas, Saxony has reported a 60 percent drop in fascist attacks over the last two years.

In that time, not a single firebombing has gone unpunished.

Germany is undergoing another round of painful self-examination, and a government report due to be released today will show that right-wing extremist violence grew sharply last year.

According to the Bild Zeitung newspaper, as reported by Reuters, right-wing extremists carried out 2,584 acts of violence last year, up from 1,483 in 1991.

"The acts of violence went up by 74 percent compared to a year earlier," Bild quoted the interior ministry report as saying.

"Compared to 10 years ago west Germany had an increase of nearly 22 times."

It also said the number of organized extremists rose by 2,000 to 41,900 and the number of far-right organizations grew by six to 82, despite four others having been banned.

As Chancellor Helmut Kohl hunkers down under criticism that he has not done enough to halt right-wing violence, authorities are hoping the experiment in Saxony has lessons for the 15 other federal states.

Saxony Crime Bureau President Peter Raisch's inventive blend PTC of classic police work and insightful sociological study is being adopted by the federal police academy for courses on how to put Germany's radical right on a tight leash.

"When I arrived in Dresden on April 15, 1991, the rightists seemed to have everything under their control," Mr. Raisch said.

"They attacked foreigners without reprisal, and public opinion was that neo-Nazis were a part of daily life."

Mr. Raisch, who had transferred to eastern Germany from a top (( counter-terrorism job in former West Germany, spent six months combing through Saxony's police force to find 200 officers to serve on his team.

Fifty were put on a super squad, known locally as SoKo Rex.

Mr. Raisch told his officers that unwavering pressure was to be applied against those suspected of right-wing crimes, with "guaranteed search, arrest and arraignment" of lawbreakers and with the courts acting as partners to assure swift justice.

Police protection was to be provided for what Mr. Raisch terms "endangered objects," meaning foreigners and minorities, along with their residences and places of recreation.

Special emphasis was to be placed on deterrence by identifying right-wing leaders and understanding them.

And a "flanking maneuver" was ordered -- a community outreach program to educate youth about the evils of fascist violence and to woo teen-agers and young men away from potential membership in those organizations.

Mr. Raisch also wanted to isolate right-wing leaders from their followers, since many rampaged not from any political commitment but from simple anger at their poor lot in reunified Germany.

"Our goal was to dry out the entire field," Mr. Raisch said. "Our research showed that the greatest number of these identifiable activists had absolutely no commitment to a right-wing issue."

The bureau's officers speak in the schools, and Saxony is plastered with posters from SoKo Rex.

One says: "Your Christ is a Jew, your car Japanese, your pizza Italian, your democracy Greek, your coffee Brazilian, your holiday Turkish, your numbers Arabic, your letters Latin. And your neighbor is a foreigner?"

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