The fall of the Berlin Wall, along with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, pushed neo-Nazis to spread their doctrine in the East. During this time, there was an air of hostility towards the triumphant liberal order; a widespread feeling of revanchism also plagued the nation. Today, the ideals of Nazism lives on in Eastern Germany, but what most do not realize is that its foundations were established long before the early 90s.
Germany, divided then by East and West, saw the neo-Nazi scene emerge in the 1980s, particularly in the east. The nation naturally embraced authoritarianism, and it is in this atmosphere where the right-wing extremists camouflaged themselves. As neo-Nazi incidents happen, authorities were met with a wall of confusion, at loss as to how to react to the scene. Most of the time, authorities merely ignored such developments. Germany integrated once again, but with the unification came a strong upsurge in right-wing extremism, both in the West and East – here, militant rightists tried to seek profit from the transition. In the 1990s, German’s leading far-right party called NPD called for a battle “for the streets, the minds, and the parliament.” This paved way to the establishment of “national liberated zones”, where neo-Nazis threaten and attack people they deem worthless and different. This is particular in eastern Germany, where neo-Nazis have become a regular part of society. Behind their seemingly ordinary lives, however, they make use of the Internet and social networks for their cause. Under the guise of the concept of the “national family” and “good neighbors”, they reach out to audiences that come from the general public. Behind these, though, they continue their mission to terrorize the homeless, minorities, and political opponents.
The consequences of the overt nationalism resulting from the unification affected immigrants the most. Even having lived in Germany for over 30 years, many were increasingly treated as “strangers”, often treated poorly for “not belonging”. Due to the onset of nationalist discourses, neo-Nazi groups gained new advocates, particularly in the former East Germany - at the time, neo-Nazi crimes were at a much higher rates. In West Germany, civil society strongly rejected neo-Nazi developments. Discussions about Nazi crimes were tantamount, ensured to keep the momentum of democratization going. Such progress did not land in the East, and authorities were slow to recognize the resurgence of racism and extremism in their midst.
In order to ensure the population’s safety, including all immigrants, it was crucial to recognize and face the problem of racism in extremism. The quaint town of Eberswalde in north Berlin now serves an example in the pages of history, proving why it’s necessary to take measures. On the 24th of November 1990, a group of white youths carried around baseball bats, set on a mission to “beat up some Blacks”. They found their way to Amadeu Antonio, a Black man living in town as a contract worker since 1987. He was beaten into coma, while to other Black men were able to escape the attack. He later died on the 6th of December. While there were reports about the murder in national media, the local press chose to downplay the incident. The town’s mayor and other representatives pretended that racism was not an issue, even though neo-Nazis regularly torment immigrants living in Eberswalde. Change did come, albeit the growth was slow. Neo-Nazis remain in town until today, but they no longer set the rules as people actively oppose their violence.
While the progress done with Eberswalde is commendable, the entirety of eastern Germany still needs much work. A 2018 article submitted by an anonymous writer in The Guardian testifies to this. Here, the writer describes what it’s been like in his town. While racism has not taken the form as gruesome as the Holocaust, he has observed that in the little things, its legacy lives on. And in those little things, it grows stronger. He has seen it in the bakery, where an old woman complains about “bad” foreigners, only for her waitress to agree. A bus conductor only checks the tickets of Black passengers, and attacks on cultural projects occur on a daily basis. When a black person is beaten up in public, the locals only stand by to look. A racist, fascist normality sets in, and he fears that all of this will brew to more sinister things once again.
Today, the list of towns and villages tormented by Nazi problems grows longer. Those nationalist slogans circulating the media are where the neo-Nazis thrive in disguise. And as long as they are allowed to thrive in the seeds left by a dark past, racism and extremism will only propagate. Such is how Hitler’s descent to power began, and before long, history will be repeating itself.