Bonn, 11 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The latest incident of neo-Nazi interest in Germany's armed forces has spurred the Federal Parliament to begin an investigation of whether the ultra-right is really a problem in the military, or, whether this incident constitutes an exception.
The latest incident involves an invitation to a convicted racist and neo-Nazi, Manfred Roeder, to address a seminar at an elite military academy in Hamburg. It happened as long ago as January 1995, but has only now come to light. The question for Germany's military, and for parliament, is how Roeder was invited in the first place, and why the matter has been kept secret until now.
There have been a number of reports throughout the year of isolated incidents of neo-Nazi or right-wing behavior in the armed forces, but none has raised the question prompted by the Roeder case. The Defense Ministry has repeatedly stressed that the number of incidents is small - considering there are about 350,000 young men in the armed forces - the largest army in Europe. But they are still distressing to a country sensitive about its past.
In September, the Defense Ministry announced that more than 80 incidents had been investigated since the beginning of 1997. They range from videotapes of soldiers giving Hitler salutes and making anti-semitic remarks to possession of far-right propaganda.
Most of these incidents were dismissed as regrettable but isolated aberrations. The Defense Ministry acknowledged that the number of incidents this year is more than double the 46 reported last year, but said they were still unimportant. "These are just isolated matters," a spokesman said recently. "We have no indication that right-wing or racist views are spreading in the armed forces."
Some observers suggest that it is easier to downplay the seriousness of the incidents, because some of those involved were recruits from the former East Germany, who were raised under Communism, and had not had the benefit of the democratic education of the West.
But the Roeder case is rather different. It does not involve young conscripts, but officers whose job it is to form the characters of the young soldiers under their command. And Roeder is no model.
Defense Minister Volker Ruehe has described him as "one of the most disgusting neo-Nazis."
Roeder, now 68, is a former lawyer who was jailed for 13 years in 1982 for leading an extremist attack on hostels for immigrants. Two Vietnamese died in the attacks and several others were injured. He served eight years and was released in 1990. Since then, he has participated actively in right-wing organizations.
One possibility raised by Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, in a preliminary report to parliament yesterday, is that the initial invitation to Roeder was innocent. Ruehe said the officer most directly involved, Colonel Schwarzer, reportedly learned of Roeder's identity and neo-Nazi activities only three months later, but he failed to inform either his superiors at the military academy, the Defense Ministry or the Military Security Service.
According to the Defense Minister, the invitation to Roeder was apparently issued in his capacity as deputy chairman of a German-Russian social organization. His lecture was about the ethnic German population in Koenigsburg, the former capital of east Prussia, which is now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, between Poland and the Baltic states.