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Brown is not red

Power rush - Andres Veiel on the so-called “Brown Army Faktion"

Andres Veiel
has dealt intensively with the biographies of the members of the former leftist terrorist organization the Red Army Faction (RAF) in many of his films, including his 2001 documentary "Black Box BRD" and his play and 2006 film "Der Kick". He has also researched violence among right-wing extremist youths. For Veiel, the parallels being drawn between left-wing and right-wing terror are false. An interview with Heike Karen Runge.
Jungle World: When did you first hear about the unsolved murders of Turkish owners of small businesses, and what did you think about them?

Of course I was aware of these murders. However I associated these crimes with protection racketeering rather than right-wing terrorism.

Doesn't this lack of awareness point to a failure on the part of the critical public?

The tragic thing of course is that members of the victims' families repeatedly told the police: "My father had no enemies, he wasn't being blackmailed." The families suspected a right-wing extremist connection but no one believed them.

Wasn't this explanation obvious?

For me it wasn't at all obvious. Up to now we've seen right-wing extremist violence mostly in determined situations and in connection with certain groups. Typical male rituals such as getting blind drunk play an important role. In the internal logic of the group, hitting someone when you're completely drunk proves you're a real man. The victims of these in some cases monstrous crimes, like the murder of Marinus Schöberl in Potzlow, were chosen more or less randomly. Up to now I simply couldn't conceive of a series of cold-blooded planned murders stretching over such a long period of time.

Are the neo-Nazis getting ready to launch a new form of terrorism?

We know too little at this point to make statements about how they are organised. But it remains odd that no claims of responsibility were issued. Using the crime for propaganda is definitely a key element of right-wing extremist terror. Not admitting responsibility for the crime is an entirely untypical phenomenon for terrorism. The confessional video surfaced only after the death of the alleged main perpetrator. With all forms of terrorism, from the RAF to al-Qaeda, propaganda is extremely important. The confession disseminates the threat that others could meet the same fate. This moment of intimidation and fear is crucial as a means of propaganda for terrorism.

According to Jan Philipp Reemtsma, the desire to kill played a role in the RAF murders. You contradicted this theory. In the case of the neo-Nazis, racist murder in and of itself appears to have been a motive.

The fact that no claims of responsibility were issued is at least an indication that the perpetrators were focused on the crime itself. Otherwise they would have bragged about it or, as can be seen in the video that surfaced after the death of the chief perpetrator, gloated over the victims and mocked the law enforcement authorities.

Many explanations for these crimes tend to suppress the fact that the murderer gets a positive "kick" out of the crime. The Potzlow killer, who jumped on the head of his helpless victim, bragged to his mates about the crime saying: "It's great - you should do it some time too." These words express a power rush: in the moment of the crime the murderer has power over life and death.

The neo-Nazi Kai Diesner, who was convicted of murder, named the RAF as a role model back in 1997. Even then there were already fears that a right-wing RAF could emerge in Germany.

I think it's wrong to make comparisons between this series of murders and the RAF or talk of a "Brown Army Faction", as the German magazine Der Spiegel has done. It's an equation that blurs the main differences. When you look at the history of the RAF you see that it was initially a movement that came from the centre of society. In the well-known Allensbach Survey of 1970 - before the murders began - almost 30 percent of 19 to 29-year-olds expressed sympathy with the RAF.

But particularly in Eastern German youth culture, far right discourse and racism are not a peripheral phenomenon. The phrase "Action instead of words" in the Zwickauer cell's confessional video is reminiscent of the RAF slogan "You talk, we act".

It copies the words of Gudrun Ensslin during the 1968 arson trial. We don't know at this point how broad or narrow the neo-Nazis' network of sympathizers was. However it's clear that they didn't act alone. Perhaps there was a trend here that is similar to what happened with the RAF, which initially had a large network of supporters but then cut itself off more and more from society until there was a only a small core of people it could trust because it was increasingly isolated on the Left. I suspect that the neo-Nazis worked with just a few helpers whom they could fully rely on. It seems likely that "V-Männer" [informants for the intelligence services] provided a certain amount of support at least in the first few years after the group was formed – if only by actively turning a blind eye. Otherwise the perpetrators could never have disappeared so completely from the intelligence service's radar. 

The perpetrators obviously acted in the awareness that they were part of an avant-garde and were carrying out what was at least in the minds of a certain proportion of the country's youth and their parents.

We've seen this before in the era after the Berlin Wall came down. The attack on the refugee shelter in Rostock was carried out by young people while the parents and grandparents cheered them on. This means that they were carrying out an order. The parental generation, which never really broke with the past after the fall of communism, and which had more or less fallen though the network of work and social infrastructures that had existed until then, delegated their fury and indignation to the next generation. Their sons and daughters accepted their instructions and carried them out.

But we know too little about the Zwickauer cell criminals and their personal histories to draw conclusions about their individual motivations. We only know that one of them was the son of a professor and the other wasn't. And that they were catapulted into an "authority vacuum" after the Wall came down. The teachers were discredited, and there were no new ones to replace them. The same happened with police officers, judges – perhaps even their own fathers. It was easy for the right-wing extremists to fill this void; simply by virtue of their martial appearance they embodied power and authority, offering orientation and a sense of superiority in times of great uncertainty. By birthright you were worth more than others.

What are the differences and what are the similarities between them and the RAF?

The alleged attractiveness of the RAF also for right-wing extremists is probably based above all on the impact of a very small group that by the time the German Autumn began in the early 1970s had managed to whip the Republic into a hysterical state of fear and panic. New laws were passed, and that in turn led to greater polarisation and initially an increase in the number of supporters. However this is a superficial analysis. If you examine the political developments more closely it becomes obvious that the RAF had no impact whatsoever. On the contrary, the state clamped down and basic democratic rights were restricted.

Are there any ideological intersections between right and left-wing terrorism?

Naturally, with a figure like Horst Mahler and his anti-Americanism one could contend that there is a certain continuity. Back then anti-Americanism had been stoked up by the war in Vietnam. Nowadays the far right uses the so-called bomb holocaust in Dresden as an argument. The anti-Americanism of then and now however follows different lines of argumentation. While the right-wing extremists claim that world Jewry, which from their point of view dominates Wall Street, is one of the causes of the financial crisis, the RAF always took pains to avoid this. They talked only of imperialism.
The exposure of the Zwickauer cell also reveals a scandal in Germany's domestic intelligence agency.

Naturally there must be investigations to determine to what extent state authorities were responsible for the murders. However I think it's wrong to reduce the whole affair to a problem with internal security. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, is simply a continuation of a phenomenon that already existed. It's more important to face the problem of right-wing extremism and ask why it is that time and again people are willing to adopt this ideology and are able to gain support for it within a limited space, perhaps even from within the domestic intelligence agency. It's more important to think about the crime from the point of view of the perpetrators than to reduce it to a state authority scandal.
For your play "Der Kick" you researched the murder of Marinus Schöberl in Potzlow and studied the biographies of the right-wing extremist attackers. What role do the political biographies of parents and grandparents play in the lives of right-wing extremist youths?

The experience of severe violence and humiliation played a role in the Potzlov case, as did the violent experiences of the preceding generation, and not only within the murderers' families, but also in the village as a whole. The brutality and passing on of violence to the next generation had a historical continuity. There had been an estate manager in the village who had beaten Polish forced labourers to death and then went on to become the chairman of the LPG [the local collective farm]. Obviously this was never dealt with and the violence became entrenched and was passed down through the generations. In the Soviet occupation zone and the German Democratic Republic there was no desire for the silence of the parents and grandparents to be broken. Especially not when there was continuity, as in the case of the village with the LPG chairman. Perhaps this speechlessness is passed on from generation to generation. This only highlights once more how important it is to take a closer look at the biographies of the perpetrators.   


The interview was originally published in Jungle World on 24 November, 2011.

Translation: AW

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