Shedding light on the neo-Nazi murders

Shedding light on the neo-Nazi murders

BERLIN - Hürriyet Daily News
Shedding light on the neo-Nazi murders

Roland Büttner (C), a tourist guide, explains the history of Erfurt, the capital of eastern German state of Thüringen, to the Turkish parliamentary group. DAILY NEWS photo

When Roland Büttner, an elderly local tourist guide in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern German state of Thüringen, proposed that each of the 2,200 immigrants in the city plant a tree as part of new city planning, he became the target of criticism by neo-Nazis in the town. Showing a news article against him that appeared in the local paper, Büttner said his proposal was turned down by the municipality due to feasibility problems. It was, however, eventually decided to have one tree representing each of the countries of the immigrants. 

“We will not let neo-Nazis to prevent us from living together. Thank God we have no representative of NPD (neo-Nazi party) in any of our local administrations,” said Büttner, who added that he was very fond of Turkey as he had spent many vacations in the country’s Mediterranean town of Side.

On the same week that Büttner was speaking to a group of Turkish parliamentarians visiting Erfurt last week, Thilo Sazzarin - whose racist book became a bestseller in 2010 - was scheduled to attend an evening promotional event in the city. The tickets were sold out. What kind of Germany do Germans want to live in? One of people like Büttner, or of Sarrazin? This seems to be the soul searching that Germany seems to be in the midst of, triggered by the case involving an alleged neo-Nazi killing spree that claimed the lives of one Greek and eight Turkish immigrants, as well as a German policewomen. 

The existence of the neo-Nazi cell, called the National Socialist Underground (or the NSU) was only revealed by accident last November, when two suspected founders, Uwe Mundols and Uwe Boehnhart were found dead in a caravan and another member, Beate Zschaepe, blew up her rented flat in Zwickau and gave herself up to police.

Thüringen is one of the Eastern states that became familiar with the reality of immigrants after the reunification of Germany in 1991. Foreigners only make up two percent of the total population, yet what brings the state under the spot light is the question of how the trio behind the bomb threats and attacks there in 1990s were able to evade the radars of the local security apparatus for so long. 

The fact that the cell committed murders in several German cities between 2000 and 2007 and went undetected for years prompted criticism of both the police and the intelligence services, not only in Thüringen but also in other the states where killings took place.

German police did not link the killings to neo-Nazis until the NSU cell was discovered by chance last year, preferring instead to blame it on the Turkish mafia or inter-family feuds. This aggravated the trauma of the victims’ families, as well as that of the 3 million strong Turkish community in Germany. 

“The families were extremely resentful when the murders were attributed to the Turkish mafia. They have the feeling that they have not and are not being listened too,” Özgür Gürerk, a Turkish academic working at Erfurt University told a Turkish parliamentary delegation that was invited by the German government to hold talks on the matter. 

“Not once in 11 years were we allowed to be treated as genuine victims,” Semiya Şimşek, whose father was killed in 2000, had said in a ceremony held last February attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The murders were called the “kebab murders” by the German press, as the victims were all small businessmen - mainly kebab stall owners.

“I just could not think that these murders were committed by extreme right-wing groups until recently,” said Jörg Geibert, the interior minister of Thüringen, which seems to strengthen accusations that the authorities have failed to take the threat from right-wing extremists seriously enough. 

Geibert has tasked a commission headed by a judge to investigate the issue. An inquiry commission has also been formed with the participation of all political parties in Thüringen’s local parliament. A separate commission in the federal parliament is also investigating the issue.

Reports that domestic intelligence agencies probably knew about the group but did not stop it, have also strengthened the already existing feeling among the Turkish community that there are neo-Nazi sympatizers among security officials. 

“There are still attacks on döner places, and although they are very small in scale, the police still aren’t taking them seriously,” said Bülent Canpolat, who is currently preparing to open a restaurant in Erfurt.