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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK
Plan to combat neo-Nazis 'failing'
Few of Germany's neo-Nazis have joined the scheme
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By Michael Leidig
In Berlin

A German scheme which offers neo-Nazis money, jobs and even new identities to get them to leave the violent far-right movement has been branded a failure one year after it was launched.

German Interior Minister Otto Shily
Mr Schily set-up the scheme after a rise in racially motivated attacks
The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which monitors far-right activity and runs the controversial Aussteiger (Exit) programme, has admitted that so far fewer than 40 of the country's estimated 33,000 neo-Nazis have signed up for the scheme.

The programme was launched last year by Interior Minister Otto Schily after Germany saw a one third rise in racially motivated attacks against foreigners.

'Stranglehold of fear'

At the time, the minister said the programme was "not a subsidy for neo-Nazis," and instead hailed it as a way to break the stranglehold of fear and oppression the skinhead groups known as Kameradschaften have on members.

They have strict codes of secrecy and encourage complete loyalty by threatening those who waver with violence or even death.

Neo-Nazis are helped to leave by the same organisation which collects information on far-right groups. The two aims just do not fit together

Professor Hajo Funke
Expert on the far-right
The problem was dramatically highlighted a month before the Aussteiger programme was launched by a case in neighbouring Switzerland where the body of a 19-year-old neo-Nazi was found at the bottom of a lake a day after he told friends he wanted to leave the scene.

But although the Office for the Protection of the Constitution was given a budget allowing it to spend up to 50,000 euros ($45,000) on each candidate, there have been few who have come forward to take up the offer.

Lack of trust

Professor Hajo Funke, an expert on far-right extremism from Berlin's Freie University, said the main problem was that those who wanted to leave did not trust the body that was organising it.

He said: "The limited success of the programme comes from the double function of the scheme. Neo-Nazis are helped to leave by the same organisation which collects information on far-right groups. The two aims just do not fit together.

"If a right-wing extremist wants to leave the scene they need to believe it's possible and to have enough space to sever the emotional dependence built up within the group.

"These things are not possible with a state-run organisation that is also responsible for observing the scene."

Mr Schily hoped the scheme would particularly encourage more senior neo-Nazis to leave when offered help like new identities, homes and support in finding jobs or training and even cash.

He argued these high-profile desertions would shake the hierarchical structure of the groups and weaken the scene from within.

But Professor Funke said: "The neo-Nazi scene is weakened when prominent members leave, but this can only be successfully done through private organisations where trust can be built up.

"The whole premise for the Aussteiger programme was wrong. Extremists cannot develop sufficient distance and understand their personal problems within such a structure. This is why the programme has not worked."

Ministry 'dissapointed'

The interior ministry however believes that it is still too early to judge the programme after just a year, although it admits it is disappointing that of the 40 neo-Nazis who had been accepted, none were regarded as senior enough to go on to the police witness protection programme to be given a new identity.
Those who may want to leave far-right groups do not trust the scheme

Doctor Hans-Gert Lange, spokesman for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, also said it was too early to say whether the programme was a success.

He said: "The hotline is an offer - it's wrong to talk about the success or failure of the scheme at this stage. It's an offer which is there and can be taken by right-wing extremists if they need it, the scheme cannot be judged in isolation."

But he admitted the dual function of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution made their work difficult: "We are an information service whose function is similar to that of MI5, we observe the far-right and report on them.

"This information is given to the police, the Ministry for the Interior, the courts and the prosecution service.

"We do have a problem in gaining the trust of those ready to leave - if they tell our employees about violent crimes they have committed, or other offences, we encourage them to go to the police themselves.

"Of course if they don't do this they have to reckon with us passing that information on. Twenty arrests have followed from the information we have received."

See also:

10 Apr 01 | Europe
Germany tackles neo-Nazis
21 Feb 01 | Europe
Germany sets up neo-Nazi hotline
01 Dec 01 | Europe
Neo-Nazi march sparks protests
03 Oct 01 | Europe
Neo-Nazis march in Berlin
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