Neo-Nazism ‘spreading hatred on the streets’ of Europe
LONDON - With reports of a radical neo-Nazi group gaining strength in Nordic countries and recent far-right, anti-migrant protesters in Germany performing a Nazi salute, many expressed fears that neo-Nazism could be on the rise in Europe.
The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) has seen its profile raised after its protests and marches. The group, founded in Sweden 21 years ago, has chapters in Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark.
Increased scrutiny of NRM comes not just following reports of its members confronting — sometimes violently — migrants and refugees but because the group is to compete in its first elections in Sweden.
The group is open about its admiration for Nazism. NRM Swedish leader Simon Lindberg, in an interview with Russia Today, described Adolf Hitler as a “very, very good person for the German people.”
“He did what was necessary to secure his people’s freedom,” Lindberg said. “We’re National Socialists, as Hitler was, and we do whatever it takes to take our nation back.”
Researchers at the Centre for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo said NMR membership was relatively low but has been growing in recent years, possibly because of rising anti-migrant sentiment.
“The NRM has been growing slowly but surely since the group was established in the late 1990s. Until now, the group has not had any ambitions about growing fast. They have been more concerned with recruiting capable and dedicated members,” said Jacob Aasland Ravndal, a postdoctoral fellow at C-REX.
The NRM is to participate in Swedish elections on September 9. Although the party is not expected to pass the 4% threshold to enter parliament, many expressed dismay that a party that openly espouses neo-Nazi views is participating in elections.
“Whether this [recruitment] might change with [its] parliamentary debut is too early to conclude. My prediction would be that [NRM] might still grow a little but that [its] extreme, fundamentalist and highly conspiratorial worldview has limited appeal to a relatively well-educated and rather liberal and modern people,” Ravndal said.
He acknowledged that Swedish authorities faced a dilemma in how to handle NRM because banning the group would drive its members underground, giving them more legitimacy among supporters.
He said Swedish authorities should treat NRM as they would any other political group, as long as it acts within the law. “However, once it moves beyond that, which [the group does] frequently, swift reactions with clear consequences are needed,” Ravndal said.
Germany is on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of dealing with neo-Nazi groups. Despite that, far-right, anti-migrant protests in Germany have been much larger than similar events in Scandinavia, drawing thousands of supporters, including many who flashed illegal Nazi-era salutes.
Protests in Chemnitz in eastern Germany involved 6,000 people protesting the death of a German national in a fight involving foreign nationals. Two men — a Syrian and Iraqi — are in custody suspected of stabbing and killing a 35-year-old man.
Chemnitz has a strong presence of far-right anti-immigration parties and groups, including the Alternative for Germany party and the Pegida movement, supporters of whom flocked to rallies in the city.
The situation in Germany is far from clear-cut, with much being made about the fact that the victim of the stabbing was a second-generation immigrant of mixed German and Cuban parentage.
A half-Cuban woman who grew up with the victim, Nancy Larssen, complained that many in the media were misrepresenting the crime, fuelling the anti-migrant far-right protest.
“It’s sad that, in the media, they’re just saying that a German has died and that’s why all the neo-Nazis and hooligans are out but the media should describe who died and what skin colour he had because I don’t think they’d be doing all this if they knew,” she told Deutsche Welle.
Germany authorities sought to calm the furore in Chemnitz, including investigating protesters performing the Nazi salute and checking how arrest warrants in the stabbing case were leaked to the media.
A statement August 28 from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for calm.
“We don’t tolerate such unlawful assemblies and the hounding of people who look different or have different origins and attempts to spread hatred on the streets,” the statement said.
“That has no place in our cities and we, as the German government, condemn it in the strongest terms. Our basic message for Chemnitz and beyond is that there is no place in Germany for vigilante justice, for groups that want to spread hatred on the streets, for intolerance and for extremism.”
However, protests were still raging days later with demonstrators giving the Nazi salute and chanting “Germany for the Germans. Foreigners out.”