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Europe: Germany Concerned About Right-Wing Radicalism In Military

  • Roland Eggleston

Bonn, 15 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The German defense ministry has ordered more studies in citizenship and democracy in the armed forces to counter any suggestion of right-wing radicalism or hostility to foreigners.

The move follows an official statement that the number of cases of right-wing radicalism uncovered since the beginning of this year is already more than in all last year.

The Defense Ministry said today that 80 incidents of right-wing radicalism or hostility to foreigners had been reported this year. Charges are being considered against 110 soldiers. The figure for the whole of last year was 46 when 59 soldiers were charged with various related offenses.

The Ministry spokesman hastened to say that the incidents should not be exaggerated.

"This is not an epidemic," he said. "We have no indication that right-wing views are spreading in the military."

There was a similar message last week from Defense Minister Volker Ruehe after the new figures became known. "The majority of our soldiers are doing good work, both in their daily service and in special operations like those with the international force in Bosnia," he said. "We will not allow the actions of a few to drag the good reputation of the majority into the dirt."

In fact the numbers of the offenders are very small considering that there are around 340,000 men in the German armed forces. Almost all those involved are young men doing their compulsory military service. According to the Defense Ministry, the majority of incidents take place in the first month of military service and diminish as discipline takes hold.

But any hint of right-wing radicalism or hostility to foreigners in the armed forces rings alarm bells in Germany which has worked hard since 1945 to create a new type of German Army in which belief in democracy has top priority.

All Governments in Bonn since the war have promoted the idea of the "citizen army," in which the individual is a citizen first and a soldier second. It is one of the reasons why Germany has not followed most other European countries in forming an all-professional army.

Some of this year's incidents have led to unfavorable publicity on the front pages of the German press. One case in March involved young soldiers wearing masks and carrying baseball bats who assaulted three foreigners on the street.

The most notorious case came in July and involved young soldiers training for service with the international forces in Bosnia. During a break, some staged mock executions and mock rapes for a video camera. A storm of outrage broke over the country when newspapers obtained copies of the video and published some of the scenes. The soldiers involved were all dismissed from the army but investigations are continuing.

The most recent incident occurred last month when two drunken soldiers in Dresden set fire to a home for foreigners.

The Defense Ministry says that in three of these cases the young men involved came from the former east Germany. It said the military authorities had long recognised that more hostility to foreigners existed there than in western Germany. The spokesman said the ministry was preparing to intensify instruction in the meaning of democracy among recruits from east Germany.

Defense minister Volker Ruehe said last week that young men had their ideas formed at home before they entered the army. He said an army made up of men doing their national service naturally reflected the understanding of democracy of the society from which these men came.

"The struggle against right-wing extremism and hostility to foreigners has to begin well before the army," he said. "The belief in democracy must begin in the family, the school, training centers, sports clubs, associations and other functions of the ordinary civil society."