“While rendering a punitive decision to offer some sort of closure to relatives of victims this neo-Nazi terror group had killed, the court now has the responsibility of making what could be a historic decision to tackle the racism and discrimination in German society,” Ayhan Sefer Üstün, the chairman of the commission, said.
In an interview with Today's Zaman on the eve of the first hearing scheduled for Monday by a Munich court in the trial of a neo-Nazi ring that is allegedly responsible for the deaths of eight Turks, one Greek and one policewoman in Germany between 2000 and 2007, Üstün said German courts have never really addressed the root causes of rampant racism marginalizing the largest ethnic community in Germany. “Now it is the time to show that actions by extremist groups like this neo-Nazi element can't continue with impunity,” he underlined, calling on the court to deliver a well-reasoned judgment in what is a landmark case in Germany.
Üstün, accompanied by other deputies, will be attending the first hearing of the court on Monday, followed by a meeting with the victims' families as a show of solidarity for ethnic Turks living in Germany. “From the beginning, we have shown quite an interest in the investigation of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) group whose activities came to a light in November 2011 when two suspected founders were found dead,” he said.
This visit will be the fourth one to Germany by members of the Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Investigation Commission. A Munich court will on Monday start hearing the case involving a key member of the NSU ring named Beate Zschaepe, who turned herself in after botched armed robbery in 2011, along with four men alleged to have aided and abetted the killers.
The court proceedings were delayed after the Higher Regional Court in Munich restricted access to Turkish and international media using an obscure accreditation system. The issue was somewhat resolved after Germany's Constitutional Court intervened with a ruling that foreign media should have access to the trial. The Munich court came up with a new pooling system to satisfy huge media interest in the case.
The string of killings of small businessmen, including a florist, a tailor and fast-food stall owners, went unsolved for years, with authorities suspecting organized crime or drug trafficking linked to the victims' relatives rather than politically motivated ethnic and racist violence to be the motive.
The revelations prompted a public debate in Germany and beyond on the effectiveness of the German security agencies and whether or not the neo-Nazi terror group had in fact received assistance from German intelligence for over a decade. The scandal led to the resignation of several high-ranking security officials, including the head of Germany's domestic spy service, over a failure to act on intelligence and the covering up of evidence by shredding documents.
Üstün said the case shows there is a colossal failure in the German system, which is usually applauded for working like clockwork without a single glitch, according to the German officials he met. “I believe German authorities must acknowledge that there is huge systemic problem in the country that keeps generating these racist elements,” he said, adding, “It is difficult to understand how suspects had been freely roaming the country for more than a decade, robbing banks and committing murders.”
A German parliamentary commission led by Sebastian Edathy, was established to investigate the neo-Nazi murders and has already uncovered several instances where security agencies appeared to hide what they knew about the group.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that it had obtained an internal document drawn up in 2007 by police in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg stating that the likely killer couldn't have come from Western Europe because "in our culture the killing of human beings is a grave taboo." The news agency report stated it found the comment “striking” given that Germany made genocide against Europe's Jews a matter of state policy in the last century.
Referring to a report issued by the Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Investigation Commission last year, Üstün said there had been numerous incidents reported as hate crimes, racist or Islamophobic attacks targeting Turks in Germany. “This is only the tip of the iceberg because so many went unreported because Turks feel authorities will not even look into the matter,” he noted.
He said that if Germany does not tackle the problem of racism and sticks to denials and defensive posturing, the problem will spread to other countries in Europe just like many had wrongly tried to appease Nazi Germany before World War II. “I told German authorities that this problem, if not addressed, will come back and hurt Germany itself,” Üstün explained.
The Turkish deputy also asked German politicians to throw their support behind the neo-Nazi investigations, saying that without necessary political backing, it will be difficult to get rid of racism and xenophobia in German bureaucracy and society. Üstün said intellectuals in German society and media should take the lead in uncovering reasons for rampant racism in Germany.
A book published in 2010, “Germany Abolishes Itself,” and written by Thilo Sarrazin, a former central banker who argued that Turkish and Arab immigrants sponged off the state and threatened Germany's culture, became a best-seller. The book, which is laden with insults and stereotypes of Muslims and Sarrazin's claim that Germany's Muslim community was “intellectually inferior,” created outrage in Germany, but close to 90 percent of Germans admitted that they found the book convincing, and 20 percent indicated they would vote for Sarrazin if he founded a political party.