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Trial forces Germans to look at role of minorities 7 mai 2013

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Immigration, Turkey / Turquie.
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International Herald Tribune (USA) Tuesday, May 7, 2013, p. 3

By Melissa Eddy, Munich

She smiled, chatted with her lawyers and repeatedly flipped her carefully styled hair back from her face. On her first day in court on Monday, the woman whom the country’s tabloids have dubbed the « Nazi bride, » or simply a « monster, » looked anything but dangerous.

But prosecutors charge that the defendant, Beate Zschäpe, used her open, friendly manner as a front of normalcy that was crucial in helping an underground group of far-right extremists carry out the worst neo-Nazi crimes in Germany’s postwar history. Before Ms. Zschäpe blew up their last home in an apartment complex in November 2011 and turned herself in, the three had evaded the authorities for the better part of a decade while they killed a police officer and nine members of minority groups and carried out two bombings of heavily immigrant neighborhoods.

Unlike many of its European neighbors, Germany does not have a prominent far-right political party, and the country prides itself on having worked diligently to atone for crimes committed by the Nazis. But the surprise that a neatly dressed, confident young woman could be a cold-blooded killer in the name of « preserving the German nation, » as prosecutors charge, has forced Germans to acknowledge the painful reality that confronting its past does not amount to embracing the diversity of its present.

The trial has become an occasion for a new round of national introspection, and in particular, reflection on modern Germany’s relationship to its immigrant population. Critics charge that the extremist network went undetected for so long because of latent racism within Germany’s police and security forces that pursued the misguided suspicion that the victims were involved in some sort of criminal activity.

More than three million Turks live in Germany, many of them second- and third-generation descendants of laborers who came to help the country rebuild after the devastation of World War II. How foreign they remain a half-century later was evident in Presiding Judge Manfred Götzl’s stuttering and stumbling through the pronunciation of the Turkish names of several lawyers representing the co-plaintiffs.

A delegation of Turkish lawmakers who had traveled to Munich to observe the opening of the trial joined the line of spectators jostling for one of 50 seats open to the public, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman who has made headlines in Turkey, where most of the victims had their roots.

« This would not have happened to a German lawmaker in Turkey, » said Osman Can, a leader of Turkey’s governing party, Justice and Development. He underlined the importance of the trial on a wider scale than relations between Germany and Turkey. « The violent methods that are seen in this case are not only aimed at Turks, » Mr. Can said. « They are against Jews or Roma, or any viewed as ‘others’ in German society. »

Figures released last month by Germany’s interior minister showed a jump in the number of politically motivated crimes by the far right, to 17,616 in 2012 from 16,873 the year before. There was also a marked increase in the number of anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes directed at foreigners, the ministry said.

At the very least, critics say, there remains a nonchalance in Germany when it comes to confronting the crimes committed by neo-Nazis.

« Citizens, politicians and journalists here in Germany fool themselves when it comes to right-wing radicalism, » the daily Handelsblatt wrote in an editorial on Monday. « We tend to see it as being completely marginal, as though it takes place far from the center of society and the right-wingers will ultimately vanish by themselves. It has become apparent that they won’t. »

Ms. Zschäpe, 38, has refused to speak with investigators, and the few details that have leaked out in the news media have only added to speculation about her. She is charged with killing eight men of Turkish descent, one man of Greek descent and a police officer as well as carrying out two bombings and belonging to a terrorist group. She is being tried with four men who are charged with supporting the trio that called itself the National Socialist Underground, or N.S.U., a play on the name for Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

For years, investigators appeared to have ignored a possible far-right motive in the serial killings carried out by the trio, focusing instead on organized crime. Only after two members of the neo-Nazi organization, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, killed themselves as police officers closed in on them after a bank robbery in 2011 did evidence – including video that spliced together bloody photographs of the victims taken at the crime scenes – emerge that led the authorities to focus on far-right hate groups.

According to prosecutors, the three came together « to realize their racist ideals, influenced by the Nazis for a preservation of the German nation through carrying out murders and explosive attacks to bring about change in the government and society. »

The killings were aimed at sowing uncertainty among Germany’s immigrants and shaking their faith in the powers of the government to a point that they would decide to leave, the prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say the group was behind two bombings in Cologne, one in January 2001 and the other in June 2004, that were intended to kill « as many people as possible only because of their non-German origin. » Twenty-three people were wounded in the attacks, but no one was killed.

Ms. Zschäpe is not accused of directly carrying out any of the murders, but prosecutors stated in the indictment that all of the group’s decisions were made jointly, underlining her role as an equal to the two men who killed themselves. Her lawyers have said she will not testify.

« Of course, she didn’t look in any way like a monster, » Barbara John, the government-appointed ombudswoman representing the interests of the victims’ families, said of Ms. Zschäpe’s relaxed appearance in the courtroom on Monday. Seventy-seven survivors of are taking part in the trial as co-plaintiffs, which allows them to question witnesses and the defendants.

The survivors are hoping that the trial will provide them not only with justice, but with answers to the bitter questions about how it was possible for the trio to kill their husbands, fathers and brothers from 2000 to 2006, along with planting two bombs, while escaping detection by Germany’s well-staffed security services.

« Clarity is more important than the severity of the sentence, » said Stephan Lucas, a lawyer representing the daughter of one of the victims.

A parliamentary committee was convened in January and charged with answering the question of why the authorities had refused to view the far-right group as a clear threat, focusing instead on organized crime as a motive for the killings. The committee is expected to issue a final report in the summer and to suggest changes to prevent such failures in the future.

Commentaries in Monday’s editorials were withering in their criticism of the authorities’ bungling of the case, which has already cost the head of the domestic intelligence agency and two state intelligence chiefs their jobs.

« In hindsight, it is easy to see the degree to which the victims were externalized from a German society that was presumed to be healthy and uninvolved in criminal activity, » Die Welt wrote. « The fact that seven of the victims ran their own businesses was not interpreted as a success or as courageous. Rather it was merely seen as a confirmation that something was amiss and that those murdered were likely the victims of some kind of inner-Turkish milieu conflict. »

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