The shredding of Germanyʹs democracy
So is that it? The Munich court has now handed down a life term for Beate Zschaepe and shorter terms for other supporters of the NSU. Is this all that the most important German trial for decades has achieved? I have been following the tortuous hearings against the "National Socialist Underground" (NSU) racist terrorist group for five long years and now that it is over, there are still many unanswered questions.
Co-defendants tattooed with Nazi slogans who donʹt remember a thing; witnesses who suddenly commit suicide a day before they are due to give evidence; an intelligence officer present at one crime scene without noticing the murder; and officials who inadvertently shred key documents. Just a load of silly coincidences. And weʹre expected to believe that?
Nothing has been cleared up
The official line is that the NSU consisted of just three people. Two of them are dead, the third has now been sentenced. The trial is over; put a lid on it.
No. I am not ready to close the file on the NSU. Nothing has been cleared up. A handful of neo-Nazis have received jail terms, but the network that helped them has been left largely intact.
Those protectors of the constitution, who are first and foremost protecting their own failures, have kept their jobs, paid for by our – by my – taxes. The NSU terrorists must have also had local helpers, because they couldnʹt have carried out these murders without knowledge of the local area. But these supporters have not been identified and remain at large. Huge gaps in the investigation still remain. The trial is over, but for me and for many other people in Germany, the matter is by no means closed. Not to mention our fear of radical right wing violence, which still persists.
I already had a bad feeling back then, when it all started. There were sporadic reports in local newspapers on the first NSU murders, which received very little national coverage. Because the same weapon was used to kill in every instance, it reminded me of a series of murders in Sweden in the 1990s, when a right wing radical – who soon earned the nickname "Laser Man" – ambushed migrants with a laser sight shotgun.
Any one of us could be next
I started collecting media reports on these murders of migrants in Germany, dubbed the "kebab murders" at the time. And I wondered if serial killings in Norway would have been described as the "herring murders". I conducted my own research, putting calls in to the official government taskforce, named Bosphorus. But all they would say was there was nothing to report. Everyone I contacted involved in the case gave me the same response. They rejected any suggestion that these might be racist murders. No one wanted to reveal any information. Either that, or the murders were not considered to be important enough to be of any great concern. Just a few foreigners, after all.
I can still remember exactly what I thought at the time: if things get out of hand here too, if a racist serial killer like Laser Man is on the loose in Germany, then any one of us could be next. Including my family and myself.
There has been frequent talk recently of no longer being able to feel safe in Germany, because of all the refugees, you know. No, you only feel really unsafe when serial killers are on the loose who target a group you just happen to belong to.
The target group, in this case: All those people thought to be immigrants because they donʹt have the kind of names or appearance that some still expect Germans to have. Thatʹs a whole load of people. Almost a quarter of the population of Germany has a migrant background. And all these years, many of us suspected that neo-Nazis carried out these murders. And that any one of us could be and can be, next.
Who is guaranteeing our safety?
The chairman of the first parliamentary committee investigating failures in the NSU case, Sebastian Edathy, summed things up very clearly: "What we found was that we are dealing official failures on a massive scale that resulted from a drastic underestimation of the danger of the German right-wing milieuʹs propensity to violence," said the SPD politician.
Now, following the sentencing of a handful of people, there is no indication that the German security apparatus has any better appreciation of the danger. The structural racism within these authorities, a key reason for the errors that dogged this investigation, is not being properly addressed and barely countered.
CDU politicians also suspect accomplices
Perhaps complete clarification was not the responsibility of this trial. I am no lawyer. But one thing is also clear to me: the NSU network has by no means been "thoroughly identified" as public prosecutors claim.
CDU politician Clemens Binninger is one of many who believe that membership of the NSU is much higher than thus far presumed: "If I look at the facts and evidence from files and hearings, Iʹm absolutely convinced that the NSU wasnʹt just made up of three people, and that as well as the helpers and supporters charged because they supplied flats, mobiles and weapons, there were also other accomplices," says Binninger.
Who is looking for these accomplices now, now that the NSU files have been closed? Key documents have been destroyed. This wasnʹt just an annoying error, but a disregard of the constitutional state by servants of that very same constitutional state. Intelligence service staff were well aware of procedures concerning the NSU, but nevertheless obstructed work to solve the murders. Who is now going to explain how and why this happened?
This is unacceptable
Who is guaranteeing our safety, if there are people still walking free who number among those in the NSU milieu who are ready to use violence? For people who are members of ethnic or religious minorities in our country, this is not a theoretical question, it concerns our lives. We need to find out who the local supporters are; they should be called to account for their actions. Perhaps one of the white Germans standing next to me in the bakery queue was an NSU supporter. This is unacceptable.
Six months after the NSU gave itself up to the authorities, the young Berliner Burak Bektas was shot dead in broad daylight in an apparently unprovoked, racist attack. To this day, his killer has not been found.
This democracy belongs to all of us. Yet, if it does not function at key levels, due either to institutional racism and the involvement of individual security officials with neo-Nazi groups or to the mediaʹs trivialisation of right-wing ideology, then in the end we all end up paying. Not just those of us with a migrant background – though it is we who pay the higher price.
© Deutsche Welle 2018
Translated from the German by Nina Coon