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SPORTS: Far Right Goal Under Close Watch

Jess Smee

BERLIN, May 23 2006 (IPS) - As Germany preens itself for an influx of World Cup tourists, a racist attack on a politician and a planned neo-Nazi demonstration have overshadowed preparations for the international event.

In the latest event to fuel fears of right-wing extremists, a politician of Turkish origin was hit over the head with a bottle and racially insulted by two unknown attackers in Berlin’s eastern Lichtenberg neighbourhood. Giyasettin Sayan, 56, who is immigration spokesman in the local government, was taken to hospital on Friday with concussion.

Meanwhile, neo-Nazis are planning a protest during the World Cup to voice support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President who has called the Holocaust “a myth”. The demonstration is due to take place in Leipzig where Iran is due to play Angola.

On Monday, Germany’s domestic intelligence service highlighted a steep rise in far-right crime. At the presentation at the publication of its 2005 report, interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterated the government’s commitment to deal with extremist violence.

“The voting behaviour of young, especially of male, voters worries me because it signals a high susceptibility to extreme-right thinking,” he said.

He underlined concern that more than five percent of young men aged 18 to 24 had voted for the far-right NPD party in last year’s federal election. In the former east nearly 10 percent of that age group voted for the party.

He recognised that the threat was not unique to Germany, but said that the country had special circumstances given its Nazi past..

“Because we have learnt from history, we bear special responsibility,” he said.

The domestic intelligence service’s report said the number of far-right extremists willing to engage in violence rose by 400 to 10,400 last year. Meanwhile, the number of racially motivated acts of far-right violence rose by almost a quarter to 958 over the previous year.

Anti-racist campaigners say that many crimes go unreported and therefore fail to be reflected in official statistics.

German politicians have long argued about how to stamp out neo-Nazi activities.

Following reunification in 1990, there was an increase in far-right violence, especially in the east amid high unemployment and social and economic uncertainty. Most extreme were infamous cases like the firebombing of an asylum-seekers’ hostel in the eastern port of Rostock in 1992, when onlookers cheered as inhabitants tried to escape.

Since reunification some 100 people have been killed in far-right violence. Racist and anti- Jewish attacks are most common in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt.

Last month in Potsdam, the capital of the state of Brandenburg, a German-Ethiopian man was beaten so badly he went into a coma in what police suspect was a racist attack.

Anetta Kahane, chairperson of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin – an organisation named after an Angolan man murdered in 1990 by skinheads in Brandenburg – told IPS that most dark-skinned people avoid certain areas in the former east. “For foreigners living in Germany this is an everyday fact of life,” she said.

And during the World Cup, which runs for a month from June 9, the threat of racist violence is seen to be rising.

The Union of Police Officers has already urged courts to ban demonstrations near World Cup stadiums during the tournament, arguing that police will be stretched to full capacity and will be unable to police such events.

Moctar Kamara, head of the Africa Council, said many non-white people are bracing for trouble during the competition. “We already have reports that Italian skinheads are preparing to travel to Germany. It is clear that right-wing extremists are going to be active,” he told IPS.

The risk of racist violence makes a mockery of the World Cup slogan ‘A time to make friends’, he added.

On its website, the Africa Council will inform black football fans how to avoid violence. In five languages, its basic tips include: going out in groups rather than alone; not wandering into just any bar, and avoiding travel to the east at night.

Meanwhile, the general population should challenge racist attitudes and take part in anti- racist protests, labour minister Franz Muentefering said.

“We will make unmistakably clear that no one in Germany needs to be afraid because he has a different skin colour or a different name or a different origin,” he said.

As IPS reported earlier, the debate about the far right has been lifted to the top of the agenda by remarks from a former government spokesman who advised non-white fans to avoid parts of Brandenburg, the eastern German state around Berlin.

“There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg and other places where I would recommend that nobody with a different skin colour should go,” said Uwe-Karsten Heye who now heads an anti-racist organisation. “They would possibly not leave there alive.”

Anti-racism campaigners thanked Heye. “He is speaking the truth and is an example to politicians,” Kamara said. “Why do some German politicians refuse to accept that Germany has a problem with racism? Why can they not admit that they have not got the situation under control?”

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