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Germany: Politicians Doubt Efforts To Ban Far-Right Party

A series of attacks on Jewish synagogues and cemeteries has renewed calls in Germany for banning the far-right National Democratic Party. The government supports a ban, but some leading opposition members doubt whether the evidence is strong enough to convince the country's Constitutional Court, which must order the ban. Correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.

Munich, 10 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- In recent weeks, right-wing gangs have attacked synagogues in Berlin, Duesseldorf, Potsdam, and Halle, and painted swastikas and Nazi slogans on graves in Jewish cemeteries. Altogether there have been around 800 such anti-Semitic acts since the beginning of the year.

The gangs' firebombs and vandalism have led some prominent Jewish leaders to question whether Jews are safe in today's Germany.

The head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Salomon Korn, made newspaper headlines last week when he said after an firebomb attack on a Duesseldorf synagogue: "I don't believe we should fundamentally question whether Jews should live in Germany. But you can't blame survivors of the Nazi genocide of the Jews for raising such questions."

The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, said after the same firebomb attack that Holocaust survivors were asking themselves: "Do we have to pack our bags and leave all over again?"

Spiegel softened his comments after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder assured him that the authorities would do more to stop racial violence. Spiegel then told reporters: "We want to live in Germany, but we expect ordinary Germans to take a stand against anti-Semitism." He added that German Jews wanted to "feel in [their] bones that these actions will not continue."

Spiegel cited official statistics to show that anti-Semitism persists in Germany, despite efforts by federal and state governments and local communities to stop it. Apart from attacks on synagogues, some 40 Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated this year and there is a continuous flow of hate mail to Jewish organizations and individuals.

Social Democratic Chancellor Schroeder and leaders of all other major political parties have stressed in public speeches in the last few days that Germany wants a Jewish community and that the country's 85,000 Jews are not threatened. The government has estimated that there are about 9,000 right-wing extremists willing to resort to violence in Germany. It argues that this is a very small percentage in a population of 82 million.

Even so, the government is pushing through stricter measures against the far-right gangs and urging courts to impose heavier sentences on those convicted of racist violence, whether against German Jews or foreigners.

Interior Minister Otto Schily wants to ban Germany's most notorious right-wing political organization, the National Democratic Party, or NPD. Yesterday Schily met with the interior ministers of several states (German Laender) to discuss a 300-page report on the NPD drawn up by Germany's internal security organization, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

The ministers agreed that the report provided enough evidence for banning the NPD. Afterward, Schily told reporters he expects to ask the federal parliament next month to approve a ban.

"It was the opinion of our group that the material which has been collected provides convincing evidence and, in our opinion, is sufficient to support a request for a ban [on the NPD]."

If parliament agrees, Germany's Constitutional Court will then begin hearings on whether to ban the NPD.

While no details of the security report have been released, a summary issued by the Interior Ministry said it recommended a ban. The ministry described the NPD as a racist organization and said it was also a danger because it served as a gathering place for skinheads and other extremists who did not actually belong to the party. As such, the summary said, it was a threat to Germany's democracy.

But it is very rare for a political party to be banned in Germany, which still recalls the suppression of political groups during the Nazi era. Only two parties have been banned since the end of the war -- the right-wing Socialist Reich Party in 1952, and the Communist party in 1956.

So it is not surprising that opposition parties -- and some members of the governing Social Democrats -- have reacted cautiously to Schily's plans.

The main Opposition party -- the Christian Democrats -- said it would study his proposal but added that it would be very wary about approving a ban unless it is certain the Constitutional Court will go ahead with it. Another opposition party, the Free Democrats, said flatly it thought a ban was the wrong tactic to use against the NPD.

Free Democrat leader Wolfgang Gerhardt told reporters he doubted if the evidence was strong enough to convince the Constitutional Court. He also pointed out a hearing before the Constitutional Court could last several years and the case would remain in the public eye during that period.

"We fear that an attempt to ban the NPD with insufficient evidence will benefit the right-wing radicals. The long hearing will keep the case before the public and the right-wing scene will profit from that." Several of those who have expressed doubts about Schily's plan to ban the NPD are worried about the consequences if the Constitutional Court refuses to do so. Many agree with the chairwoman of the federal parliament's domestic political committee, Ute Vogt. She says a court defeat would give the NPD a huge propaganda victory -- and that is last thing that democratic parties want.