Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Spain re-opens controversial “Bateragune” case against Basque leaders

On December 14, the Spanish Supreme Court unanimously ordered a re-trial of the contentious 2011 “Bateragune” case against Arnaldo Otegi and other Basque pro-independence leaders, on charges for which they have already served prison sentences. The kafkaesque decision makes a mockery of the rule of law and is a reminder of the entrenched power the political right holds within Spain’s judiciary. The EU has made a great show of condemning breaches of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. Will it ever act on Spain’s abuses?

In 2011, Otegi - now general coordinator of the Basque abertzale (pro-independence) left party EH Bildu - was convicted along with Rafa Díez, Arkaitz Rodríguez, Sonia Jacinto and Miren Zabaleta, of trying to re-launch Batasuna, a political party declared illegal by Spain over links to the armed group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA - “Basque Homeland and Freedom“). They had been arrested in October 2009 during raids on the headquarters of the left-wing pro-independence trade union LAB, and charged with trying to “re-form the leadership of Batasuna on the instructions of ETA".

Otegi has always maintained his innocence concerning what became known as the "Bateragune” case - after the Basque word for “meeting place”. He argued that he and his co-accused were in fact meeting to design a new peace initiative to end the decades-long bloody violence plaguing his homeland. The arrests also brought a huge public response in the Basque Country - four days after the arrests, 50,000 supporters demonstrated for their release - and, despite the arrests, a new Basque peace initiative was indeed announced at a press conference of 100 abertzale left leaders the following month.

The logic of Spain’s charges is even more grotesque when you consider that, more than any other individual, Otegi was responsible for convincing ETA of the need to end their armed campaign. He was key in initiating and guiding the broad democratic discussion among pro-independence political activists that achieved firm popular support for this strategy. World-famous anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu described Otegi as “the leader of the Basque peace process”.

Nonetheless, Otegi and Diez were sentenced to 10 years jail each, while Sonia Jacinto, Arkaitz Rodriguez and Miren Zabaleta received eight years. The Supreme Court later reduced Otegi’s sentence to six and a half years, which he served in Logroño prison before being released in 2016. Meanwhile, ETA declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2010, announced its decommissioning, apologised for the harm it had caused, and by 2018 it had completely dismantled, ending all its activity after a five-decade campaign.

Otegi’s legal team appealed his sentence to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in November 2018 overturned the original trial for having violated his fundamental rights. In particular, the European court concluded that Article 6.1 of the European Convention had been violated due to the court's lack of impartiality, with at least one judge having made comments indicating a pre-existing prejudice against Otegi. Nonetheless, it still took the Spanish courts almost two whole years to act on the decision of the ECHR, finally annulling the convictions in July this year.

By this time, Otegi and his co-defendants had already served their prison sentences and been released. It was only with the annulment of the trial in Spain, however, that a further part of Otegi’s sentence - imposed after he left prison - was ended, lifting a ban on him from holding public office. Predictably, when the annulment of Otegi’s ban on holding public office came, it did so just three weeks after the Basque Autonomous Community elections. While EH Bildu achieved its best result ever, finishing as the second largest party with 28 percent of the vote, Otegi was unable to stand as a candidate.

When Otegi was arrested in 2009, Basque pro-independence activists condemned it as an attempt to sabotage and undermine political initiatives developed by the Basque pro-independence movement to resolve the ongoing conflict and to strengthen democracy in the Basque Country. Indeed, the arrests were the first step in a five year period of intensified persecution by the Spanish state, not only of pro-independence activists, but of advocates of a Basque peace process in particular.

While Otegi’s credentials as peacemaker are widely recognised, the Spanish state’s policy remains that "everything that surrounds ETA is ETA”. This flawed outlook saturates Madrid’s attitude to the Basque people. In 2016, several Basque youth in the small pro-independence town of Altsasu got into an argument in a bar with two members of Spain’s paramilitary Guardia Civil, in civilian clothes. While video evidence suggests the altercation went no further than heated words, eight youth were charged with “terrorism resulting in injury” and posing a “terrorism threat.” Their families are still fighting to have them freed.

In the Bateragune case, the Spanish prosecutor's office sought a re-trial on the basis that a mere “procedural error” should not lead to Otegi being cleared of the charges. All sixteen judges of the Spanish Supreme Court's criminal chamber apparently agreed, and unanimously ordered the repetition of the trial. Such a decision - to re-hold the trial, after the ECHR has overturned it, and the sentences have already been completed - is unprecedented, and exposes the shameless abuse of the Spanish court system as a weapon against Madrid’s critics.

The decision is a divisive issue even within the traditionally conservative judiciary, with Spain’s National Court recently arguing against a re-trial. The new trial will be held, not only after those accused have already finished their sentences, but also very much after the fact. In reality, Batasuna was never rebuilt, and ETA has lain down arms and long since ceased to exist - precisely because of the efforts of those once again accused of terrorism, and despite the repeated interference of the Spanish state.
Why, then, has the Supreme Court decided to re-open the case? One reason is that trials of the Basque independence movement in Spain are never simply legal - they are always political. The persecution of Otegi is not only an infringement of his individual rights, it is also an attack on the Basque movement’s peaceful path towards independence, and a further warning to anyone - Basque, Catalan or otherwise - that in the Spanish state, Madrid’s authority remains absolute.

On this front, at least, it certainly won’t work. Responding to the Supreme Court’s announcement, Otegi accused the courts of wanting to criminalise the leadership of the pro-independence nationalist left, adding “They didn't tame us, they didn't bend us, they won't subdue us! Smile, we shall overcome!”, while Arkaitz Rodríguez pointed out that “12 years after our arrest, after having spent 6 years in jail in an absolutely unfair and illegal way, after a European annulment and without even that organisation already existing, they have decided to try us again for belonging to ETA. Democracy? What democracy?”.

The court’s move could also destabilise the balance of forces in Spain’s fragmented parliament. It comes only days after Otegi's party helped Spain's minority left-wing government approve the Spanish budget on its first reading. Unsurprisingly, then, the political right - apoplectic about what it considers a “social-communist” regime (due to the presence of Podemos and United Left ministers in the coalition) - resoundingly welcomed the court’s decision. The centre-right parties the Popular Party and Citizens reacted with joy, calling for the “full weight of justice” to fall on Arnaldo Otegi and his co-accused, as if they had not served unjust prison terms already.

The extreme right-wing party Vox also celebrated the decision, describing it as a “triumph of justice”, and repeated their demand that EH Bildu be outlawed. Vox considers both the left and independence movements to be threats to the integrity of the Spanish State -
the Secretary-General of Vox even acted as a private prosecutor in the Catalan leaders’ trial. This is a view shared by some elements of the Spanish state, and many of these same forces, who yearn for the “order” of the Franco dictatorship, have been at the forefront of the persecution of both the Basque and Catalan independence movements.

The rapid growth of Vox, and its broadening support in organs of the Spanish state - the police and army in particular - is increasingly disturbing. Recent disclosures about Francoist and anti-democratic forces in the Spanish military suggest that ongoing connections exist between the party and elements of Spain’s armed forces, but the details remain - for now - unclear.

Nonetheless, the political-judicial absurdity decreed by the Spanish Supreme Court on Monday should act as a reminder - like the verdicts against the Catalan pro-independence leaders for organising a peaceful referendum, and the police violence on referendum day - that powerful forces in the Spanish state are not interested in democracy. The Spanish state has repeatedly instigated and sought out violence across the Spanish state to conceal its undemocratic nature and to maintain the status quo.

Until Spain's post-Francoist institutions - still teeming with those who would happily wind back the clock on democracy - are truly reformed, and the right to self-determination is genuinely respected, Spain will remain a failed state, where talk of “democracy” and the “rule of law” should only be used in an aspirational sense. For those living in the shadow of Madrid, the hypocrisy of a European Union critical of Poland and Hungary, but silent on Spain, is daily testimony to the failure of Europe to defend fundamental rights from abuses occurring right under its nose.

[Republished at Brave New Europe here: https://braveneweurope.com/duroyan-fertl-spain-re-opens-controversial-bateragune-case-against-basque-leaders]

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

New book: "COVID-19 and then what?"

The new book "Covid-19 eta ondoren zer?" (“Covid-19 and then what?”) - containing reflections on the challenges we will face post-COVID, both at the level of the Basque Country and an international level - is now available in bookstores from Elkar Press (in the Basque language). 

It features a short chapter from myself on the EU's failure to adequately respond to the pandemic and its consequences, a failure which has served to deepen the divisions already deep-running through the bloc, along with many other thoughtful and informative contributions. 

While the book is in Euskadi (Basque), for those few of you not able to read the language, these contributions, and many more to come, are available in translation on the Telesforo Monzon eLab website.

Eskerrik asko to TM eLab for the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion. The debate on the global response to the COVID-19 crisis - and what this means for those of us trying to build a more democratic, socially and environmentally just society - will continue for some time, and it will need to be both broad in terms of input and far ranging and audacious in scope. I am honoured to have contributed to one of several useful and thoughtful starting points on this road.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Catalan Independence Referendum – Three Years Later

Three years ago, while working in the European Parliament, I travelled from Brussels to Barcelona as part of a large delegation of a parliamentarians, experts, advisors and international observers to witness the October 1, 2017, Catalan Independence Referendum first hand. The experiences of that brief episode are seared on my memory, and the lacklustre international response remains an indelible stain on the European Union’s hypocritical rhetoric of “protecting democracy and the rule of law”.

Read the full article at Brave New Europe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Catalan Independence Referendum - three years later

Three years ago, while working in the European Parliament, I traveled from Brussels to Barcelona as part of a large delegation of a parliamentarians, experts, advisors and international observers to witness the October 1, 2017, Catalan Independence Referendum first hand. The experiences of that brief episode are seared on my memory, and the lacklustre international response remains an indelible stain on the European Union’s hypocritical rhetoric of “protecting democracy and the rule of law”.

Lawyers can - and will - debate the legality and constitutionality or otherwise of the referendum itself, and indeed of the acts taken by the Spanish state to prevent it, until they are blue in the face. Nothing Spanish on the ground that day - or those round it - resembled the “defence” of any kind of legality. The muscle of the Spanish state was on open display in ways rarely seen in the years since the end of the Franco dictatorship. The Spanish state - its government, police, courts and paramilitary forces - engaged in a brutal and gratuitous display of force, injuring over one thousand civilians, and treating a whole country like a war zone, and its people as the enemy.

When thousands of Spanish National Police and Guard Civil invaded Catalonia to suppress the vote, many were billeted in a cruise ship in Barcelona harbour, adorned - bizarrely, and to great amusement of the locals - with an enormous image of the cartoon bird Tweety Pie on its side. Catalan twitter went wild with mocking laughter, but while this frivolity never fully evaporated, it was rapidly overshadowed by darker events. The Catalan communications building was occupied and shut down by police, over 140 websites were blocked, newspapers closed down, and events across the Spanish state in support of the vote were banned.

On polling day, in Barcelona and across Catalonia as a whole, the violence was intense and inflicted without mercy - fingers were deliberately broken, women blatantly and violently molested, elderly people pushed down stairs. Schools and other buildings being used as polling centres were smashed to smithereens, pensioners were bashed in the face, computers were stolen, rubber and plastic bullets fired into crowds, with one person losing an eye. I saw grown men in tears, shaking helplessly, at the violence of the Spanish Guardia Civil, a paramilitary shock force deployed against a civilian population who sought only to cast a democratic vote in peace.

At the first polling station I visited in the damp grey of the morning, in Barcelona’s Sant Andreu district, the crowd waiting outside was wary - a large police station lay just around the corner, and word was out that the police were coming. Here, as at the booth outside my apartment, dozens of activists had guarded the local polling centre in the dark and the rain, as police began shutting down booths across Catalonia. Despite their lack of sleep, however, they weren’t about to give up, and every false start led to a surge of people moving to protect the entrance - and their right to vote - from the police. Each time the rumour passed, they returned to an orderly queue.

The website carrying the electoral roll was blocked by the Guardia Civil, delaying voting by an hour, yet the crowd remained. When voting finally did begin, the first in line were the elderly, who had been waiting with us inside. I asked an old lady - 86 years of age and walking with the help of her daughter - if she wasn’t a little concerned about the threat of violence. "I've never seen anything like this since the war”, she said, clearly shaken. While the police violence and terror reminded her of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship, she remained crystal clear in her resolve, and straightened her back: “This time we will not let them win!”

The night before the vote, over 100,000 people had gathered in Barcelona in the final rally of the campaign, and the feeling was festive and defiant, if somewhat wary - we all knew that the Madrid government would act, but we weren’t sure how. There were also pro-Spain rallies held across the Spanish state - they were very small in Catalonia, but significantly larger in Madrid - with the mainstream press willfully ignoring the overtly Francoist songs and the fascist salutes, and the Spanish National Police tweeting their full support.

The overnight mobilisations to protect the polling stations had also faced challenges, with some people being shot at with ball bearings. But they also showcased the humour and inventiveness of the Catalans. In the outer Barcelona suburb of Vallvidrera, 400 locals gathered to prevent the closure of their civic centre, the only polling station in the area, by conducting a 24-hour table-tennis tournament. The sound of helicopters came and went overhead, and, even with the rain, it was difficult to sleep.

In this maelstrom of violence and terror, however, I experienced something else, something powerful, firm and dignified. Everywhere I went on polling day, I was awestruck at the strength and dignity of the thousands who were coming out to vote, even in the knowledge that police violence was all but inevitable. Despite the violence - or perhaps because of it, and the shock it inevitably brings - their resolve had been hardened into something beautiful. “The streets will always be ours!”, they chanted, young and old. “We will vote!” Triumphant, insistent,
restrained yet determined.

The people responded to the presence of international observers and guests with an overwhelming outpouring of love, gratitude and passion, that often left us lost for words as we traversed the wet streets. As polling booths were closed down, one by one, people gathered around those still open, determined to keep the police (uniformed and undercover) away and let voters in until closing time. As I stood inside the last booth in Barcelona to close, observing the counting finally get underway, the crowds stayed outside singing and chanting, their slogan changed now to “we have voted!” Firm. Clear. Defiant. As was the result.

In the days, weeks, months, and now years that have followed, more details have been revealed about the tenacity of those organising the referendum, including the daring networks of activists who smuggled the ballot boxes and papers into the country and distributed them in the early hours of the morning. The mask of democracy slipped from the face of the Spanish state that day too, and in the suspension of Catalan democracy that followed, revealing to the world what many already knew - that Franco’s ghost still lives on in the very marrow of the country called “Spain”.

In the face of such violence, such breaches of democratic and civic norms, many expected the European Union to act swiftly. Surely there must be consequences. If these crimes were to happen outside the EU - as indeed they do - they would be, rightly, condemned. But where the EU has puffed up its chest in indignation about the likes of Belarus or Poland, on Catalonia it has remained steadfastly silent.

Worse, the cosy consensus has deepened. In the years since the referendum, while the EU has accepted the presence of the exiled Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comín in the European Parliament, it has also gifted the coveted position of EU High Commissioner on Foreign Affairs to one of the leading - if sometimes bizarrely incoherent - opponents of Catalan independence, Josep Borell, and Spain’s influence in Brussels remains firmer than it has been for years.

The leaders of the “European project” wring their hands ostentatiously about using Article 7 of the EU Treaty to address the very real threats to the rule of law and democracy in Poland and Hungary, yet Spain remains - in its own, repeated, insistent, and often far too shrill, words - a “model democracy”. This, while civil society leaders and politicians remain imprisoned on ridiculous charges for outrageously long jail terms, and others live in exile in Scotland, Switzerland and Belgium.

It must be admitted that the role of the Catalan pro-independence parties has not been perfect either. The revelation that Puigdemont and others genuinely thought they could force the Spanish government to the negotiating table was
somewhat astounding, while the greatest weakness of the Catalan movement remains the lack of a clear, unified, strategy for success. As time passes, too, political differences between parties of the left and right, and between former colleagues, also cause frictions that only Spanish oppression can smooth over.

Fortunately, the arrogance of the Spanish state springs eternal, and it continues to attack the Catalan government like a wounded bull. The Spanish Supreme Court’s recent ruling - effectively removing Quim Torra as president of Catalonia for hanging a banner in support of the political prisoners and exiles - is only the latest act of self-harm by the Spanish unionists, and we can be certain it is not the last. Short of a disaster, the upcoming elections should provide a further democratic mandate to the independence movement.

Both within the Spanish state, and more widely, however, the left also suffers a partial blindness on the Catalan issue. Many have reduced it to a question of “mere” nationalism, that distracts from vital social and class struggles that extend beyond Catalonia - and indeed beyond the Spanish state. The leading role in the Catalan struggle played by some liberal and clearly pro-capitalist forces, not all of them with the cleanest or most progressive track records, is used to further justify a position of abstention on the issue - if not downright opposition.

Yet this is to ignore the nature of a national democratic revolution, the progressive origins of the revival in support for Catalan independence, and the implications that its denial have had on the political dynamic. The tension that has built up around the Catalan issue over the past decade - and the past three years especially - now constitutes a serious threat to the Spanish state, with its inbuilt systemic corruption, Francoist skeletons and shallow democratic veneer. It ought to be clear by now that the transition from the dictatorship was never truly completed, and the same old forces still rule in the courts and the corridors of power. To break their stranglehold over even one part of the state would be a great victory indeed.

his is not to say there are no dangers, nor that they should be ignored. The right wing recognises the threat Catalan independence poses, and the recent rise of Vox cannot be entirely separated from the failure of the Spanish left to harness the democratic fervour of the Catalan process for deeper political change in the Spanish state. For this the Spanish left can not be entirely blamed - the creation of popular animosity to Catalan independence across the Spanish state by the media and government alike has poisoned the chalice badly - but they haven't tried too hard either.

Yet the Catalan reality refuses to just go away, posing parts of the left a particular challenge - one that it has failed so far to come to terms with. After joining the centre-left PSOE in government, the radical left Unidas Podemos - which already held ambiguous views on the referendum - has become a defender of the unity of the Spanish state, largely ignoring this key battle for democracy within its borders. Such a position is difficult to maintain in the long run for a party of the left.

This contradiction will need to be resolved, or it will resolve itself - and not necessarily as we might wish it. While political parties in Barcelona and Madrid engage in political games, support for independence continues to grow, and cannot be denied for long. But the shadow of the right is growing as well, and across Europe and the world, a battle looms for the defence of democracy. If those that call themselves left do not side with democracy, others will seek to steal their clothes.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Munich Oktoberfest Bombing, 40 years on.

Forty years ago today - on September 26, 1980 - neo-Nazis detonated a nail bomb in a bin at the entrance to the Munich Oktoberfest, killing twelve people and injuring 221 more, many of them seriously. It remains - alongside the 1972 Munich Olympics attack - the deadliest terror attack in modern German history, and is the most deadly by the far-right since 1945. Yet the investigation by the Bavarian State Criminal Police remains one of the most serious failures by German investigative authorities.

The man still officially considered to be the sole perpetrator, Gundolf Köhler, was killed in the blast. He was known to be involved in neo-fascist circles, including the Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann (“Hoffmann Military Sports Group”) - a neo-Nazi militia organisation which was banned in Germany the same year. He also had a portrait of Hitler hanging over his bed. Germany had seen numerous far-right attacks in the preceding years, and in 1980 itself.

Nonetheless, Bavarian police quickly concluded that the attack was not politically motivated, and closed their investigations in 1982. They also concluded that Köhler had acted alone, despite convincing indications of others being involved in the attack. This included several witnesses testifying to having seen Köhler arguing with two men in German army parkas shortly before the explosion. Confessions by two imprisoned fascist activists about military training and weapons dumps in the forest were not followed up either.

demands to re-open the investigation continued. In 2009, inquiries by the Greens revealed that the domestic intelligence agencies in three German states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse) had been closely monitoring the neo-Nazi militia Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann only hours before the bombing. In 2010, a request from the victims' lawyers for access to the DNA evidence revealed that all of the evidence had been destroyed in 1997 - much of it never having been fully tested - including a severed hand that was never identified.

In 2011, Der Spiegel magazine reported on some 46,000 pages of previously unpublished investigation files, which revealed that authorities were already aware of Köhler at the time of the attack, and considered him to be “firmly rooted in a milieu of militant neo-Nazis” which also “maintained intensive contacts with CSU functionaries”. (The CSU - Christian Social Union - is
the Bavarian sister party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and has governed Bavaria every year bar three since 1946).

Der Spiegel
reported that the files also showed Köhler was motivated by a desire to help the conservative CSU’s candidate for Chancellor, Franz Josef Strauss, win the
October 1980 federal elections by carrying out a false-flag attack that could be blamed on the left. Köhler was unsuccessful, both in laying the blame on the left, and in electing Strauss. Although the CDU/CSU remained the largest party in the German Bundestag, the social democrat Helmut Schmidt remained Chancellor.

Following years of campaigning by relatives, victim representatives, lawyers, trade unions, journalists and politicians, the investigation was finally re-opened in 2014. The German government and intelligence services continued to be difficult and obstructionist. They refused to admit that there were intelligence informants in the Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann (a fact later established), leading Die Linke and the Greens to lodge a complaint with the German Constitutional Court.

In April 2016, in response to enquiries by the Die Linke MP Martina Renner, the Federal Government also revealed that only the Federal Intelligence Service The “Bundesnachrichtendienst”) had handed over its files on the case, while the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (“Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution” - BfV) had not done so - despite holding the majority of the relevant material.

The investigation was closed again in July this year, but not before it was determined that Köhler had been, in fact, motivated by far-right extremism and a desire to build “a Führer-state based on the model of National Socialism”. It was also found that while there “were not sufficient indications” to show that others were involved in the bombing, such a scenario “cannot be ruled out.”

Forty years after this terrible atrocity, the victims are only just now receiving proper compensation - and this only after years of campaigning. Meanwhile, the German state is reeling from revelations of extensive far-right activities in the army, police and intelligence services, death threats against politicians, and a rising rate of neo-fascist violence and killings across the country.

Unfortunately, the Oktoberfest bombing - including its botched investigation - looks less like an exception, and more like one example among many more of neo-Nazi violence tolerated and covered-up by elements of the state apparatus.
This was neither the first nor the last time that German authorities obstructed and obscured investigations into right-wing terrorist attacks. At best, the investigation was an incompetent farce - more likely, there was deliberate obstruction and obfuscation, as there was in the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror case.

The bitter reality today is that the danger of right-wing terror is an immediate threat once again, but the German state services remain unreformed, and are demonstratively compromised. T
he fight for democracy remains a battle of remembering against forgetting, and it is vital that decades of wilful ignorance - and worse - by German authorities of the continuing Nazi threat is exposed and undone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Kill-lists and commandos: Germany still has a Nazi problem

SOON after the government announced dramatic steps to combat far-right extremism in the military, it emerged that a new wave of neonazi death threats have been sent to left-wing politicians and public figures. After turning a blind eye to the neo-fascist threat for years, authorities are now finding its tentacles spread throughout Germany’s security apparatus and society.

Read the full article in 2 parts at MORNING STAR here and here.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Kill-lists and Commandos: Germany has a Nazi Problem (2 parts)

The latest figures from the German government show a worrying increase in far-right violence in the country. Days after the government announced dramatic steps to combat far-right extremism in its military, far-right death threats originating in the police force were sent to a left-wing politician. After downplaying and ignoring the scale of the neo-fascist threat for years, the German government should take far more seriously the threat of far-right extremism pervading the German state and society.

Read the full article in 2 parts at BRAVE NEW EUROPE, here and here

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kill-lists and Commandos: Germany has a Nazi problem

Cross-posted at The Left Berlin

Seventy-five years after World War Two, far-right extremists have re-entered many parliaments across Europe in suits and ties, but their dark presence can be found in other, equally worrying places, including Germany's intelligence services and its military, the Bundeswehr. As a new global economic crisis unfolds, the neofascist threat inside and outside parliament should be taken very seriously indeed.

On June 30, mere hours before assuming the rotating presidency of the European Council, Germany announced the drastic overhaul of its elite military special forces, the Kommando Spezialkräfte (“Special Forces Command” - KSK) due to links with right-wing extremism. The KSK has been suspended from any further deployments and exercises until at least October, and one of its four battalions - the 2nd Company - is to be disbanded entirely. Making the announcement, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the KSK had “become partially independent” from the chain of command, creating a "wall of secrecy" around itself, and had a “toxic leadership culture”. 

A decisive move against the KSK was long overdue - the 1,400-strong commando force has been under the spotlight for years now over its links to far-right and neo-Nazi elements. In 2017, a farewell party for a KSK commander from the 2nd Company was investigated after attendees threw pig heads, and played music by far-right rock band “Sturmwehr” while giving Nazi salutes (a punishable offence). Despite credible evidence of the incident, when none of the soldiers present admitted to seeing the Nazi salutes, the Bundeswehr concluded that the charge was “not confirmed”, and no action was taken.

In May this year, a trove of Nazi memorabilia and literature, stolen ammunition and explosives was discovered on the property of a 45-year old KSK officer in Saxony with known far-right politics who attended the same farewell party. Two kilograms of explosives, several thousand rounds of ammunition, a machine gun and other firearms were found, as well as an SS song book, far-right magazines, and neo-Nazi stickers. A subsequent working group set up to investigate the special commando unit presented its findings shortly before the government made its announcement - besides the disturbing conclusions about KSK members, it also noted with concern the disappearance of some 48,000 rounds of ammunition and 62 kilograms of explosives from the KSK’s arsenal. 

The government's move also followed weeks of controversy after Der Spiegel magazine published a KSK insider’s account of the unit. The whistleblower, a captain active in the KSK since 2018, revealed an internal culture where right-wing extremism was "known about," but either "ignored or completely tolerated." He described how one of his instructors used the code "Y-88" as a "call sign" (by which soldiers identify themselves in radio communications). The numbers 88 are a commonly-used code for the Nazi salute, while the letter “Y” bears a close resemblance to the "Lebensrune" ("life-rune”), another symbol used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Despite noticing the clear reference to Hitler, the whistleblower said recruits stayed quiet for fear of punishment. 

Far-right sentiments in the KSK have been on the radar for quite some time. As early as 2003, then KSK commander, Reinhard Günzel, was dismissed for publicly expressing solidarity with the anti-Semitic statements made by Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Martin Hohmann. Hohmann was expelled from the CDU, but in 2017, re-entered the Bundestag (German parliament) as an MP for the far-right party Alternativ für Deutschland (“Alternative for Germany” - AfD). Günzel himself went on to become a popular speaker at far-right events, where he denied the scale of the Holocaust, attacked the Nürnberg war crimes trials, and praised the “courage and sacrifice” of German soldiers during World War Two.

A much larger problem

While the KSK has been repeatedly linked with the far-right, it is not alone in this regard, and there have been a rash of far-right incidents involving the Bundeswehr over recent years. In 2017, a German soldier, Franco Albrecht, was arrested after trying to retrieve a pistol and ammunition that he had hidden in a bathroom in Vienna airport. It soon emerged that Albrecht had lived a double life for two years, using a fake ID to register as a Syrian refugee in 2015. He was charged with planning to carry out “false flag” attacks on politicians or refugee rights advocates in an attempt to create a backlash against refugees. 

Ammunition, military equipment and Nazi-era paraphernalia were found in Albrecht's residence, accomplices were arrested, more ammunition recovered, and a larger terror network revealed. Despite Albrecht's actions, however, and the fact that his master’s thesis - completed before joining the military - contained extremist ideology and references to “race mixing” and the “dissolution of ethnic groups”, his Bundeswehr superiors only gave him a warning, and failed to alert the Militärischem Abschirmdienst (“Military Counter-Intelligence Service” - MAD). In November 2019, the Federal Court of Justice finally instructed the Frankfurt Regional Court to open a case against Albrecht for "preparing a serious, state-damaging act of violence”.

A visit to Albrecht’s barracks in Illkirch by then-Defence Minister (now President of the European Commission) Ursula von der Leyen, along with several Berlin journalists, revealed a hand-painted swastika near his weapon and a collection of Wehrmacht memorabilia. The same year, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that a network of the right-wing extremist Identitarian Movement has been growing for years at the Bundeswehr's university in Munich, and investigators discovered yet more memorabilia from Germany's Nazi-era army, the Wehrmacht, on display in troop barracks in Donaueschingen in the Black Forest. 

Defence Minister von der Leyen directed the German military to conduct a thorough overhaul, purging its links with the Wehrmacht, removing memorabilia from barracks and ordering some - but not all - military bases named after World War Two soldiers to be renamed, but the subsequent inquiry launched into the state of the Bundeswehr was condemned as too little, too late. Once touted as a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, von der Leyen’s mishandling of the crisis - further undermined by obstruction from the military leadership - pushed her out of the political limelight until an opening appeared around the European Commission presidency. 

The Day X murder list

In 2017, Bundeskriminalamt (“Federal Criminal Police” - BKA) raids in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommen - conducted, curiously, without the knowledge of state government or intelligence officials - revealed the existence of the Nordkreuz (“Northern Cross”) network. At first believed to be a “prepper” network, "Nordkreuz" possessed significant amounts of ammunition and firearms (one member alone had 10,000 bullets taken from police stores), and had ordered some 200 body bags and a supply of quicklime to dispose of bodies. A network of some 54 neo-Nazis, including far-right police, soldiers and members of the KSK, they trained regularly at police and army reserve shooting ranges. 

It later emerged that members of  "Nordkreuz" were plotting to murder several prominent German politicians, and carry out attacks on refugees and immigrants across Germany on an unspecified “Day X”. In preparation, they had circulated "kill lists" of politicians from Germany's main political parties - the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens and Die Linke - including Green Party leader Claudia Roth, Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and former German president Joachim Gauck. Several members of an elite German police commando unit were linked to the network, and a submachine gun, over 55,000 rounds of ammunition, and several explosives were found in one former commando’s home.

The group also had a longer list of names and addresses of some 25,000 left-wing “enemies”, compiled from data taken from police computers. While "Nordkreuz" had enhanced the list by conducting further research on their intended victims, the same basic list was also found in the possession of Saxony terror group “Revolution Chemnitz”. It was further distributed as an email attachment by Heiner Merz, state MP for the far-right AfD in Baden-Württemberg, who encouraged AfD members to "save, distribute and use the list" to target left wing individuals from their communities, saying “there are few limits to your imagination”. When the list turned up with "Nordkreuz", Merz claimed he had received it from an “antifa dropout”, and that he had been “deceived”. 

Fears of a "shadow army"

As the evidence piled up, fears and evidence began to grow of a secret “shadow army” within the German military - a fear that has existed ever since the Bundeswehr was formed, and reflecting concerns about the return of the kind of violent nationalist cells that developed in the German army during the 1920s. In January this year, the military counter-intelligence agency MAD reported that at least 550 serving Bundeswehr soldiers were being investigated for possible involvement in right-wing extremism, including 20 in the KSK. An additional 360 cases had been investigated in 2019, although only a small number of these managed to confirm far-right activity. 

In 2019, military counter-intelligence and Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz ("Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution" - BfV) founded a joint working group, where they have discussed more than a thousand cases of possible right-wing extremism so far. Such cooperation is made necessary because the MAD’s responsibility is limited to active soldiers, while significant far-right activity is occurring within the army reserve. According to MAD president Christof Gramm, around 800 reservists have since been excluded from military exercises in recent months because of their “anti-constitutional attitude”. 

The MAD has been sharply criticised over its surveillance and reporting of far-right infiltration however. In 2017, the agency was subjected to an investigation by the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence services, and in February 2019, the MAD admitted that it had been consistently under-reported the numbers of right-wing extremist soldiers "to the outside world" and had consequently misled the Bundestag. 

There are also fears that the MAD itself may be infiltrated. In June this year, a senior investigator was suspended for tipping off KSK members to the raid in May. In 2018, another senior officer, Peter W., faced charges of alerting KSK soldiers to a planned raid on their Calw barracks in connection with the Franco Albrecht case. Peter W. is believed to have warned the KSK trainer, André Schmitt - the officer responsible for the unit’s military security and himself a longterm MAD source. Nonetheless, the MAD president continued to assert that his organisation had fully researched the possibility of a “shadow army”, and that no such entity existed. Authorities spoke only of “individual cases”.

Hannibal’s secret army 

In late 2018, a year-long investigation by journalists from the newspaper Die Tageszeitung (“taz”) revealed evidence of an extensive right-wing network, connected to but larger than the already discovered “Nordkreuz”. Around the same time, Focus magazine made similar revelations of an "underground army". This enlarged group was dubbed the “Hannibal network”, after the codename of its chat group administrator - the KSK trainer André Schmitt. Like "Nordkreuz", the Hannibal network was first considered to be a far-right “prepper” network, and was divided into regional groupings across Germany (West, South, East and North) mirroring Bundeswehr structures, along with further branches in Austria and Switzerland. 

Like its northern section "Nordkreuz", other parts of the Hannibal network made preparations for an anticipated societal breakdown on “Day X”, organising weapons depots and safe-houses, and undertaking paramilitary training. Driven by a “hatred for left wingers”, however, members of the network were also preparing to carrying out a possible military coup and developed plans for the mass killings of left-wing politicians and other “enemies”. Top of the list were Dietmar Bartsch and Sahra Wagenknecht, then-leaders of the left-wing party Die Linke in the Bundestag. 

Numbering around 200 individuals, in some ways the network resembled less a “shadow army” than a “shadow state”. Members included active, retired and reserve soldiers, police officers (including commandos from the Spezialeinsatzkommandos - the “Special Operational Units” or "SEK"), lawyers, judges, firefighters, civil servants and even members of the German security, military and intelligence authorities. 

A notably high number of members of the Hannibal network were parachutists. The parachutist training center at Altenstadt Air Base had been infamous in the 1990s for celebrating Hitler’s birthday and singing Nazi songs. Then-commander Fritz Zwicknagl - who was removed as a result - later went on to work for the AfD in the Bundestag. Another instructor with far-right connections, Andreas Kalbitz, remained at the training centre until 2005. He later became a co-leader of the AfD’s extremist faction, Der Flügel (“The Wing”), and sat on the AfD national executive from 2017 until 2020.

In May this year, the AfD executive voted narrowly to expel Kalbitz from the party for “technical reasons” associated with his supposed failure to disclose prior memberships in neo-Nazi organisations. Conveniently, the party application form on which he was required to list prior associations has since gone missing and - with considerable support inside the AfD, and several appeals still ongoing - Kalbitz's membership status remains unclear.

The "Uniter" Network

The soldier (and fake refugee) Franco Albrecht, who was stationed in the Alsace, was part of the southern Hannibal network, “Südkreuz” (“Southern Cross”), and is believed to have been in direct contact with Schmitt. When his arrest in 2017 triggered terrorist investigations into far-right networks associated with the Bundeswehr, Schmitt closed his chat groups, and shifted his focus to the conspiratorial “Uniter” grouping. Schmitt had first founded “Uniter” in Halle during 2012, supposedly to provide further training and insurance support to unite former and serving members of the security forces. However, the tiny grouping soon dissolved following an internal disagreement, and Schmitt founded the Hannibal network on the social media app Telegram in 2015. 

In 2016, however, André Schmitt had re-founded "Uniter" in Stuttgart - and with such a similar structure to “Hannibal”, emphasis on building ties to the military and security services, and “prepper” world-view, that it is widely considered to be an extension of the Hannibal network and its strategy. By the end of 2019, the new “Uniter” network claimed to have up to 2,000 members across Germany, including former members of “Hannibal” and members of the Bundeswehr and intelligence agencies, although the actual numbers remain unknown. And while the organisation denies he was ever a member, a “Uniter” badge was also found among Franco Albrecht’s possessions.

The "Uniter" organisation has also been revealed to have an extensive connections and support among the more right-wing members of the CDU in the former East Germany. It has even claimed support within the military authorities themselves. When taz asked Schmitt to confirm in 2018 that he was in fact “Hannibal”, he accused the newspaper of “harassment” and threatened that “we will have no other option but to inform the MAD". Raids on houses of "Uniter" members have turned up numerous military items, while footage has been obtained of Uniter conducting illegal paramilitary exercises in southern Germany in June 2018. Schmitt has himself been charged for illegal possession of military items, including practice grenades taken from Bundeswehr reserves. 

"Uniter" was stripped of its non-profit status late 2019 and the network moved its base of operations to Switzerland. In June this year, the BfV finally confirmed that "Uniter" was in their sights, indicating that there was “sufficiently significant actual indications” for right-wing extremism in the organisation. Inaugural “Uniter” chairman and the network’s co-founder, Ringo M., was an active state intelligence officer in Baden-Württemberg when the group was set up. He resigned soon afterwards, and left the organisation in 2017, claiming it was “too militaristic”. Der Spiegel magazine revealed in May this year that Ringo M. is now assisting criminal police with their investigations.

Citizens in uniform?

Some commentators have tried to explain the apparent uptick in cases of far-right extremism in the Bundeswehr by reference to Germany’s abolition of compulsory military service in 2011, and some politicians are now calling for its reintroduction. With the elimination of compulsory service, or so the argument goes, the section of German society entering the military narrowed and became self-selecting, creating a problem with far-right recruits. The more sobering reality, however, is probably closer to the claim of Die Linke’s parliamentary group leader Dietmar Bartsch - that far-right extremism in the armed forces is connected with “a culture in the Bundeswehr that has allowed and tolerated this for decades”.

From inception, the Bundeswehr was promoted as a "parliamentary army", made up of “citizens in uniform” to reflect Germany’s political plurality, and with a revised definition of military obedience that was meant to serve as a protective mechanism against Nazi-era excesses. However, the Bundeswehr has, from its creation in 1955, struggled with its association with the far-right and its image as a refuge for both historical and newly-minted extremists. In the late 1950s, the Bundeswehr hired 300 officers from the Waffen-SS to fill its ranks, and more than 12,000 Wehrmacht officers were soon serving in the Bundeswehr - including over 40 Nazi-era generals. 

In 2014, the release of secret papers from Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), revealed what was widely suspected or known for decades - in the years directly following World War Two, around 2,000 former officers of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS had formed a secret army - the "Schnez-Truppe" - to protect the country from external threat of the Soviet Union and the internal threat of left-wing influence. According to the documents, it could call on up to 40,000 further fighters should the need arise, and it regularly carried out surveillance of left-wing politicians. The secret army's leader, the former colonel Albert Schnez, was also heavily involved in the discussions leading to the creation of the Bundeswehr, and went on to lead it from 1968-71.

Another key architect of the Bundeswehr, Hans Speidel, was a self-confessed Mussolini-style fascist who had served as Chief-of-Staff to Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, while the first head of the Bundeswehr, Adolf Heusinger, was another high ranking officer with continuous service since before World War One. As the Cold War reached a crescendo, their experience - and anti-communism - made these senior officers valuable assets for the foundation of NATO, while their dubious history could be explained away under the heading “career soldier”. Speidel himself became the NATO Supreme Commander of the Allied Army in Central Europe in 1957. The BND document released in 2014 indicates that both Speidel and Heusinger were also aware of the secret army's existence at the time.

When the Bundeswehr launched in 1955, it did so at a military base in Augustdorf named after Rommel - known as "Hitler's favorite general”. In fact, until the middle of the 1990s, Germany had 50 military bases named after Wehrmacht soldiers in Germany. Some of these barracks were newly built, and were given their names under the auspices of conservative Defense Minister Franz-Josef Strauß in the 1960s. In 2017, a report by left-wing party Die Linke showed that between 1995 and 2016, sixteen such Bundeswehr bases had been renamed, while another nine bases were considering a change. The Augustdorf base, however, bears Rommel’s name to this day, as does another in Dornstadt.

The National Socialist Underground

The Bundeswehr's structural tolerance for the far-right also brought it into contact with the most notorious terror group in recent German history - the “Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund" (National-Socialist Underground - NSU). The NSU - a terror organisation of three extremists supported by some 100-150 far-right associates - is held responsible for multiple bombing attacks and bank robberies, 43 attempted killings and 10 murders, most of them of people of Turkish heritage, in Germany between 2000 and 2007. 

Twenty years ago, neo-Nazi extremist and key NSU supporter André Eminger had barely begun his military service when he reportedly told his supervising officer: "I identify as a National Socialist." It was hardly a shock - he wore a tattoo reading "Blut und Ehre" (“blood and honor”) - the Hitler Youth motto and name of a far-right group now banned in Germany. Despite his admission, however, Eminger continued in the military - including undergoing weapons training - for the next ten months.

The NSU had a far more concerning relationship with the intelligence services, however - in particular with the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the BfV. Investigations have revealed that members of the NSU and their close circle were informers on the BfV payroll and the intelligence services have been accused of actually helping to rebuild the far-right scene in the state of Thuringia. An intelligence agent reporting to the BfV on the activities of the far-right was even a witness at one of the killings, raising serious questions about BfV knowledge of NSU activities.

The BfV has also been criticised for actively obstructing investigations into the NSU’s activities. Shortly after the existence of the group became public in 2011, many BfV files related to the NSU were destroyed - some were shredded soon after the official investigation had begun. The BfV president Heinz Fromm resigned in disgrace, but any remaining BfV files on the NSU have been redacted or remain inaccessible. During the high-profile trial, BfV agents and informants were only allowed to give limited testimony - or in some cases, none at all.

Extremism and the deep state

Fromm’s successor as BfV president, Hans-Georg Maaßen, was himself forced to resign in controversy. During the 2018 Chemnitz protests, where public footage showed an angry right-wing mob "hunting” for “foreign-looking” people, Maaßen claimed the BfV had seen no evidence of any such incidents - a spurious claim echoed only by the far-right AfD. Soon afterwards, it came to light that Maaßen had also passed sensitive information to members of the far-right party, leading to calls for his resignation across the political spectrum - except, predictably, from the AfD. To smooth things over, Maaßen was initially granted a role in the Interior Ministry, but he was placed on early retirement after he used his farewell speech as BfV president to accuse "radical left-wing" forces in the German government of conspiring to remove him because he had criticised the government's "naive" and “left-wing" security and migration policies.

Maaßen’s association with the AfD - which holds 89 seats in the German Bundestag and has now been elected into every German state parliament - is particularly concerning, not only because of the organisation’s connections to far-right groups, but also because of its own brand of far-right politics. In September 2019, a German court ruled that Björn Höcke - co-leader of the AfD's hard-line wing, Der Flügel - could legally be called a fascist as the description "rests on verifiable fact". Der Flügel has some 7,000 members - around one fifth of the AfD total membership. In March 2020, the BfV classified Der Flügel as "a right-wing extremist endeavour against the free democratic basic order”, incompatible with Germany’s Consitution, and placed the group under close intelligence surveillance. Despite demands - and promises - to dissolve, Der Flügel appears to continue to exist.

Attempts to monitor the far-right are facing political hurdles too. On June 1, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the chief of the state intelligence service in Saxony had been replaced after refusing to delete all data collected on AfD politicians. The newly-elected conservative Prime Minister of Saxony, Dirk-Martin Christian, had demanded the move in accordance with the special protections MPs usually enjoy as a result of their mandate. The AfD, however, is under intelligence surveillance throughout Germany over to its links with the far-right, and other German states have taken legal advice supporting the continued gathering data on the party. The move is therefore unique to Saxony, and is all the more concerning as the Saxony branch of the AfD is considered one of the most extremist.

In fact, despite the AfD's associations with far-right and neo-Nazi politics, Germany’s governing CDU remains divided over whether or not it should work with the party at state, or even federal, level. The conservative CDU - currently in a federal “grand coalition” government with the centre-left SPD - is suffering an identity crisis, as many former CDU voters flock to the AfD - especially in underdeveloped and marginalised parts of the former East Germany. In order to regain lost ground, many CDU members are keen to end the "grand coalition" and return the party to a position clearly on the right wing of the spectrum. Many of these calls also urge an end to the “cordon sanitaire” that other parties have placed around working with the AfD, leading to a tense political stand-off.

Far-right attacks on the rise

Meanwhile, the numbers of violent far-right attacks in Germany continue to rise. German Interior Ministry figures, released in April this year, recorded 986 acts of attempted or perpetrated far-right violence in 2019, over 600 of them targeted at holders of political office, and revelations of the Nordkreuz "kill list" in 2019 coincided with the murder of CDU politician Walter Lübcke in his home by a man with known links to the far-right, including with the neo-Nazi National Party of Germany (NPD) and the German branch of the British fascist terrorist group Combat 18. 

In October last year, a synagogue in the city of Halle was attacked on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. After killing one person but failing to enter the building, the attacker then drove to a nearby Turkish kebab shop and shot dead a customer there. The gunman, a 27 year-old neo-Nazi, had learned to handle weapons in the Bundeswehr, but no indication of his right-wing beliefs was recorded in his military file. 

In 2018, eight members of the neo-Nazi terrorist Freital Group, from near Dresden - a bastion of the far-right - were found guilty of terrorism-related crimes, including multiple attacks on refugee shelters, and in November last year the city of Dresden itself declared a "Nazi emergency”. Also in 2018, police arrested several men for carrying out racist crimes and setting up the right-wing terrorist organisation “Revolution Chemnitz”, while in February this year police arrested twelve members of a far-right terror cell “Group S” that was preparing attacks on mosques in 10 German states in order to start a race war. Members of "Group S" had also discussed making attacks on prominent Greens politicians.

Also in February, a far-right gunman killed nine people of immigrant backgrounds and injured five more at a shisha bar and a cafe in the city of Hanau, near Frankfurt. While the attacker has not been linked with any extremist group, he left behind a manifesto entitled "Message to the entire German people", in which he expressed his racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islam and misogynistic views plainly.

According to Interior Ministry figures from 2019, Germany has at least 24,000 far-right extremists, more than half of them prone to violence, but this figure is likely - again - to be an underestimate. In June this year, Focus magazine revealed that many German neo-Nazis - including members of the NPD and The Third Way - have been travelling to Russia to carry out paramilitary training in camps run by the right-wing white-supremacist Russian Imperial Movement near St Petersburg.

On July 3, magazine Der Spiegel reported that a reservist from Lower Saxony had been suspended after being found with a list of the telephone numbers and private addresses of 17 top politicians and celebrities, including federal Ministers, state Prime Ministers, and current and former leaders of the Greens and Die Linke. The reservist was a participant in two right-wing extremist chat groups on WhatsApp. The list of names came from the larger “Orbit” leak of politician data in January 2019, and has been circulated among far-right chat groups ever since 2019, although the BKA is unsure who created the refined list. A similar Facebook chat group of reservists called "Zuflucht" (“Refuge”) has also been exposed, where participants discussed private armament and, again, fighting a possible "racial war".

On June 27, a district councillor for Die Linke in Bavaria, Stefanie Kirchner, was attacked from behind by a man with a knife. The attacker tried to strangle her, and hurled anti-left abuse. Kirchner was able to free herself, but the attacker escaped. Several days later, on July 3, Janine Wißler - head of Die Linke’s state parliamentary delegation in Hesse - revealed that she had received multiple death threats in February, signed “NSU 2.0", targeting both her and her family. Only days after making this revelation public, Wißler received further death threats. 

The threatening messages bore similarities to several death threats sent to lawyer Basay-Yildiz, who had represented families of the victims in the NSU trial. In both cases, the messages included sensitive personal information taken from police databases, and were signed “NSU 2.0”. In the case of Basay-Yildiz, a chat group of officials with right-wing content was discovered, and several civil servants lost their jobs, but no one was charged. According to evidence obtained by Frankfurter Rundschau, it looks likely the death threats against Wißler also originated from within the police force.

The dangers of "business as usual"

As the spate of incidents has grown - including a surge in fire and bomb attacks on refugee shelters - so has the political pressure on the government and authorities to respond. Konstantin von Notz, deputy president of the Bundestag’s intelligence oversight committee, has described the situation in the Bundeswehr as a “structural problem”, while BfV president Thomas Haldenwang, has called far-right extremism and terrorism the "biggest danger to German democracy today." After promising a strengthened security response, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the neo-Nazi group Nordadler (“Northern Eagles”) on June 5, following raids across the country. Nordadler is the third far-right group to be banned in Germany this year, after Combat 18 in January and the United German Peoples and Tribes group in March.

The recent surge in extremism in Germany also coincides with the political growth of the AfD over the last decade, their far-right rhetoric emboldening many extremist elements, with often deadly consequences. This problem is not limited to Germany either - a report last September from the European Union (EU) police agency, Europol, warned that far-right groups across the bloc were actively recruiting from the police and military to increase their capacity for violence.

The successes of far-right parties in countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain, alongside the rightward shift of governments in Poland and Hungary, is a sobering reminder that extremist ideas are growing in broader support and acceptance across the EU. Nor can this growth in far-right political forces over the past decade be dissociated from the politics of austerity enforced by the EU institutions and other agents of neoliberal “business as usual” over the past decade. The current economic crisis is likely to result in another, deeper, recession - characterised by unemployment, social cuts and the further privatisation of public assets - and will once again produce a fertile breeding ground for the far-right.

The numbers of armed extremists remain relatively small - despite the plots of various “prepper” networks there is certainly no threat of a mass insurgency or military coup - although ongoing investigatons are likely to lay bare deeper tentacles in the Bundeswehr and German state. Clearly, however, Germany’s problem with the far-right runs both long and deep - both within and outside the state, including inside the very state agencies meant to monitor it - and, despite recent revelations, the size and extent of extremist networks remains unclear. 

These networks and their many connections with politicians, the military and state agencies pose a unique series of challenges as we head into a new economic crisis, and the social turmoil that this will almost inevitably bring. Should far-right parties like the AfD successfully exploit the social turmoil arising from the downturn, it will only further encourage violent extremists to take matters into their own hands. Worse yet, it also raises the spectre of the far-right parties entering government in a number of EU member states unless credible political alternatives can be found to keep them out.

As a German-led EU begins the task of papering over the cracks of the latest economic crisis while preparing a new round of brutal austerity, it is incumbent on political forces of the left - and all forces that cherish democracy and social justice - to present such an alternative to the neoliberal model that is impoverishing and excluding working class communities across the continent. Such an alternative - denying oxygen to the far-right, empowering working class communities, and instilling sustainability at the centre of our social model - is urgent and long overdue. If we fail to build a new world of solidarity out of this deepening crisis, there are others waiting in the shadows to take their own, much darker, turn.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

COVID-19: La UE ha fallado en una prueba de solidaridad. El precio será más y peor austeridad.

La Unión Europea (UE) ha sido puesta a prueba en su respuesta a la pandemia de COVID-19, y se ha comprobado que es muy deficiente.

La falta de visión resultante, de solidaridad en tiempos de crisis, plantea cuestiones fundamentales sobre la viabilidad a largo plazo del bloque europeo.

A medida que se profundiza la crisis económica causada por el COVID-19, hemos entrado en la peor crisis desde la Gran Depresión. Las consecuencias económicas y políticas ya son masivas y seguirán creciendo. En el espacio de un mes, la Organización Internacional del Trabajo estima que las pérdidas de empleo en todo el mundo aumentaron de 25 millones a 305 millones, con una pérdida de horas de trabajo equivalente a 124 millones de empleos a tiempo completo sólo en el primer trimestre de 2020. Por el contrario, el crack de 2008-2009 provocó la pérdida de aproximadamente 22 millones de puestos de trabajo en todo el mundo.

La economía mundial ya se dirigía hacia una recesión cuando apareció el nuevo corona-virus, pero ahora está experimentando una crisis única, que se adentra en el sector productivo y desafía las ortodoxias establecidas. Los cierres económicos y sociales provocados por el pánico para contener la pandemia han paralizado gran parte de la producción, mientras que el consumo también se ha reducido masivamente. Con millones de personas que trabajan ahora desde casa y otros millones de trabajadores de primera línea casi sacrificados al mercado, la lógica de la producción capitalista y la organización social ya no parece tan «lógica», y la UE está sentada en el borde de un precipicio.

[Leer el artículo completo aquí: TELESFORO MONZON eLab / Euskal Herrigintza Laborategia]

COVID-19: EBk huts egin du elkartasun proba batean. Ordaina austeritate zorrotzagoa eta okerragoa izango da.

Europar Batasuna (EB) proban jarri du COVID-19ak, harek pandemiari emandako erantzunarekin, eta erantzuna oso eskasa dela egiaztatu ahal izan da.

Ondorio gisa ikusi den bisio faltak, hau da krisi-garaian elkartasun-ikuspegirik ez egoteak, Europako blokearen epe luzerako bideragarritasunari buruzko galderak jarri ditu mahai gainean.  

COVID-19ak eragindako krisi ekonomikoa areagotu ahala, Depresio Handiaz geroztiko krisirik okerrenean sartu gara. Ondorio ekonomiko eta politikoak masiboak dira eta hazten jarraituko dute. Lanaren Nazioarteko Erakundearen arabera, hilabete batean mundu osoko enplegu-galerak 25 milioitik 305 milioira igo ziren, eta 2020ko lehen hiruhilekoan lanaldi osoko 124 milioi enpleguren lanorduen galera izan zen. Aitzitik, 2008-2009ko “crack”aren ondorioz 22 milioi lanpostu galdu ziren mundu osoan.

Munduko ekonomia atzeraldi batera zihoan koronabirus berria agertu zenean, baina orain krisi berdingabea ari da jasaten, ekoizpen-sektorean sartzen dena eta ezarritako ortodoxiei erronka egiten diena. Pandemia geldiarazteko izuak eragindako itxiera ekonomiko eta sozialek ekoizpenaren zati handi bat geldiarazi dute, eta kontsumoa ere asko murriztu da. Etxetik lan egiten duten milioika pertsonarekin eta merkatuari ia sakrifikatutako lehen lerroko beste milioika langilerekin, ekoizpen kapitalistaren logikak eta antolaketa sozialak ez dirudi hain “logikoa”, eta EB amildegi baten ertzean eserita dago.

Europako lehen erantzunak nazionalak izan ziren neurri handi batean, mugak ixteari, blokeo sozialei eta, azkenik, industria-itxiera orokorrari buruzkoak. Mugen itxierak -EBko “zutabe” sinboliko bati egindako erasoak- Ursula von der Leyen Europako Batzordeko presidentearen gaitzespen irekia eragin zuen. Herrialde batzuek arindu egin zuten langileentzako eta industriarentzako berehalako asaldura, diruz lagundutako soldatekin eta erreskate korporatiboekin, baina pandemiak Italia jo zuenean, bere laguntza oihuari ez zion inork erantzun, Txinak eta Kubak izan ezik. Italiak EBren duen enbaxadoreak, haserre, Europako buruzagiak “historiara Lehen Mundu Gerran lo sartu ziren 1914ko liderrak bezala pasatzeko” arriskuan daudela ohartarazi zuen. “Europako elkartasuna” oparoaldietarako ideia bat zela zirudien.