In Germany, Concern Over Racial Violence at World Cup

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

BERLIN, May 22 -- A surge in violent attacks on dark-skinned victims has prompted German authorities to express growing concern that neo-Nazis and other racist groups could try to disrupt the World Cup soccer tournament next month.

Government leaders have reassured foreign guests that they will be secure during the month-long World Cup, which starts June 9 and will be played across Germany. But such promises have been undercut by recent high-profile attacks and plans by neo-Nazi groups to hold demonstrations during the tournament.

On Monday, the mood darkened further when the government released a report by its domestic intelligence service showing that the number of violent acts committed by right-wing extremists increased by 24 percent last year. Membership in neo-Nazi groups also rose, from an estimated 3,800 to 4,100 people, according to the report.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, the country's top security official, told reporters Monday that authorities "will do everything in our power to prevent the World Cup from being used by extremist organizations to spread their abhorrent thoughts."

On June 21, neo-Nazi sympathizers are scheduled to hold a rally in the city of Leipzig before a match between Iran and Angola, to show support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel and denied the Holocaust happened.

The rally sponsor, the far-right National Democratic Party, caused controversy this spring by publishing a glossy tournament schedule with a photo of a German soccer player and the headline, "White -- Not Only a Color for Jersey!" Critics called it a thinly veiled insult to foreign-born players on Germany's national team.

Last week, a former German government spokesman warned World Cup fans from abroad "and anyone with a different skin color" to avoid towns and villages outside Berlin and other rural parts of eastern Germany. "They may not leave with their lives," said Uwe-Karsten Heye, who served as chief spokesman under former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and now heads a civil rights group.

Officials pressed Heye to retract his remarks and said he was unfairly stigmatizing the formerly communist east. But his warning was underscored a few days later when a Turkish-born lawmaker was assaulted in his East Berlin district by two men who called him "a dirty foreigner," police said.

Meanwhile, the Africa Council, a coalition of African community groups in Germany, compiled a list of "no-go" areas described as unsafe for foreigners during the World Cup.

Anetta Kahane, chairman of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a civil rights group in Berlin, said many government leaders and other German citizens are reluctant to confront racism and anti-Semitism. Those problems have been allowed to fester in the former East German states in particular, a legacy of communist times when German responsibility for the Holocaust was not emphasized as strongly in the east as it was in the west.

In small towns in the east, "you find this atmosphere of aggression against people who are not blond-haired or blue-eyed," Kahane said. "In Germany, many people don't want to hear about it, and that's part of the problem."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company