Germany: Right-wing extremists "patrolling" in Berlin
News server iRozhlas.cz reports that volunteers wearing red reflective vests with the inscription "Schafft Schutzzone" ("Creating Protection Zone") are claiming to be doing their best to ensure "order" in Berlin's immigrant neighborhoods. "It's naive to compare us to terrorists. We are patrolling and keeping an eye on things in order to ensure safety," one such volunteer told the Deutsche Welle television channel recently.
Statistics, however, show that crime in Germany is falling - and there are already high numbers of police officers on the streets. The iRozhlas.cz report descibes Oliver Niedrich, one such volunteer, shouting at two dark-skinned women who are begging near a Baroque cathedral in the city center.
Niedrich says he believes the women are pickpockets - despite having no evidence for that claim. He runs toward them, but they manage to walk away before he can catch up to them.
By shouting and then pursuing them, Niedrich draws the attention of nervous passers-by, as well as local police. "The police sometimes come up and ask us for an explanation, but that doesn't bother us," Niedrich says after the officers ask to see his identification.
The volunteer is well aware that if he does not use violence and does not attempt to actually arrest anybody, his behavior is not illegal. He is one of 20 men in the "civilian patrol" currently operating in the center of the German capital.
The men customarily patrol in groups of two or three, most frequently in those parts of Berlin where, according to them, petty crime is especially thriving. The abbreviation of their name is reminiscent of the notorious Nazi SS, but Niedrich says he doesn't care if the group is associated with the symbolism of Hitler's Germany.
"Personally I don't care what they call us... We're doing this out of conviction and we consider it a sensible thing to do. I don't care if this is 'ultra-right extremism'," the patrol member claims.
News server iRozhlas.cz reports that the "Schafft Schutzzone" are directly associated with Germany's ultra-right National Democratic Party (NDP), which has been called the unofficial successor to the Third Reich and has twice resisted attempts by the German courts to abolish it. The creation of such a "people's militia" is nothing new to German society.
Similar groups appeared after the reunification of the country at the beginning of the 1990s, when the regional governments of the formerly East German states took advantage of similar civic initiatives to maintain order in cities. The influx of asylum-seekers in 2015, however, has introduced a new dynamic to the issue, according to Berndt Wagner, the director of the EXIT-Deutschland nonprofit organization, which aids people with leaving neo-Nazi groups.
"People are scared by the prospect of higher crime rates involving foreign nationals as perpetrators, despite the fact that it appears crime rates have actually fallen [since 2015]," Wagner told Deutsche Welle. According to Government statistics, in 2018 the crime rate fell by 3.5 % year-on-year in Germany - especially in the categories of fraud, sexual assault and theft.
In Berlin alone the rate of theft fell by 26 % between 2017 and 2018. The ultra-right, nevertheless, is doing its best to exploit fear of immigrants, which has been rising in German society especially during the past four years.
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