German neo-Nazi trial begins. What to expect?

Eight Turkish men, a Greek man and a German policewoman were killed by the neo-Nazi cell National Socialist Underground. The surviving member of the far-right gang Beate Zschäpe goes on trial.


1. What do you expect form the trial? What kind of impact it may have on the far-right scene  in Germany?

2. How would you evaluate the danger that other far-right cells will try to replicate the killing spree of the National Socialist Underground?


Orkan Kösemen, Project Manager in charge of the Leadership-Programme for Migrant Associations, The Bertelsmann Stiftung

1. I expect from the trial that it will uncover the reasons how this murder series could have happened in Germany without the law enforcement forces even having a clue for 10 years. At best it could unravel the social environment of the NSU, all who helped them and what ties there might have been into the administration on several states (German Bundesländer). The impact this trial will have on the German society depends on the answers it will be able to provide on these questions.

Actually the trial is a chance for the German judiciary and law enforcement to get back lost public confidence, especially among the migrant population.

I doubt that it will have much of an impact on the extremist right scene, as the NSU already has done much damage and has proven that such madness is possible in Germany (don’t forget the NSU got cornered because of a failed bank robbery not because they were hunted down for their murders). So, this trial wont make the extremist right change their mind or be afraid of possible future punishment.

2. Before the NSU murders became public nobody could thought this could be possible but we were wrong. There was and still is lethal violence carried out from the extreme right against migrants and left activists but these were/are usually happening in a local context. And even though extreme right wing networks do exist (on national and European levels) the dimension of planned and target-oriented murders in the case of the NSU was surprising. As a reaction the German Minister of the Interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich, had to admit that there are currently over 100 right wing extremists living underground in Germany – and this is only the official number. I don’t know if these are cells or individuals but one thing is for sure, these people would not be able to live underground without some sort of support from others (like the NSU, who were dependent on people not living in the underground in order to stay under the radar for so long). Concerning the danger of replicating: not on the short term, because now the law enforcement turned their spotlight on the extreme right-wing scene but in the mid or long run the attention of the law enforcement agencies will probably shift away again. In the last years there were many reports that extreme right-wing activists have become more and more violent. So there are extremists in Germany that might want to replicate NSU murders in the future and who have the extremist attitude for such deeds when the dust has settled. It depends how hard and persistent the law enforcement agencies pursue the extremist networks/individuals.

Fabian WirchowProfessor, Fachbereich Sozial-und Kulturwissenschaften, Fachhochschule Düsseldorf

1. The main purpose of the trial is to find out if the accused are guilty of the crimes the prosecutors accuse them of having done. I guess that Beate Zschäpe will be sentenced to prison; this might also be true for Ralf Wohlleben. While in his case the judges may refer to the idea of general deterrence which would mean a longer sentencing, others may be sentenced, but may be released on probation because the have collaborated with the police and the prosecutors. Eventually, the attornies of Holger G. and Carsten S. will try to remove the trial against clients from the Zschäpe/Wohlleben trial.

In general however, there are a lot of uncertainties. We will have to wait what quality the evidences have the prosecutors will put forward. It is also still more than unclear if Beate Zschäpe will explain herself and give insights into the groups activities, structure and doing.

To find out what really happened is of major importance for the relatives of the victims. It is very unclear, however, how much space and time the court will give to issues like the potential involvement of the secret services into this case. Therefore, I guess that most of them will be disappointed in the end.

Regarding the impact on the far-right I do not think that their will be a mahor one. They will observe it and in case that there is anything supporting their idea of the NSU being a huge conspiracy to harm the ‘national opposition’ they will try to make use of it. More important will be how hard the sentences will be. This is especially true for the case of Ralf Wohlleben. There is a campaign of solidarity with him staged by neo-Nazis inside and outside the NPD; if he gets only a short sentence this will be interpreted as getting away with being involved in the murder of migrants.

2. For sure, there are several individuals and small groups thinking about using terror against the left or migrants. However, with the exception of terrorist action in which the killer does not expect to survive, violent action will more likely take place in a way not too similar to the NSU killings, not least because a) now any such action would immediately draw attention on the far right and b) security apparatus has improved its data basis on far right militants. This might lead to a period of restraint, at least for some time.

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