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"We still haven't properly tackled the east's far-right problem"

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BerlinThe annual report on the state of German unity has shown conditions in east and west are becoming more alike, satisfaction is growing, trust in politics is up again. That should surely be cause for celebration – but the answer is yes and no. One problem in particular continues to fester: the government’s representative for matters relating to the former East Germany, Marco Wanderwitz (CDU), is warning of growing right-wing extremism in the parts of the country that made up the former Eastern Bloc country. Are his worries justified – or just exaggerated east-bashing? We spoke to Michael Lühmann of the Göttingen Institute for Democracy Research to find out more.

Mr Lühmann, the government’s representative for the east, Marco Wanderwitz, has warned of rising right-wing extremism in the region as the latest annual report on the state of German unity is released. Is he exaggerating or does the east have a genuine problem with right-wing extremism?

Yes, it does – and a particularly specific one. That’s not to say the west doesn’t have one too. We’ve known since long before the attacks in Halle and Hanau that right-wing extremism is a problem for the entire country. But in the east, it’s been hidden for a long time. In research on right-wing extremism, we differentiate between beliefs and actions. In terms of attitude patterns on the right, it’s almost the same story in east and west. But in terms of actions, east Germany is way ahead. Xenophobia is also higher in the east and has risen recently.

Why is that?

A lot of elements from the history of the GDR (German Democratic Republic, or East Germany) are still present today. Civil rights activist Konrad Weiss described the same thing in 1989, namely how right-wing extremist tendencies in the GDR had grown from the fascism of Nazi Germany, because sometimes grandparents had passed those views down to their grandchildren. What that led to was that when the GDR collapsed, children and young people who had been socialised in the 70s and 80s renounced socialism and increasingly deferred to extreme right-wing beliefs. That was the basis for the “baseball bat years“ in the 90s when everyday far-right violence almost became normalised. That........

© Berliner Zeitung

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