Friday, May 11, 2001

LEIPZIG, Germany — A relocation program for neo-Nazis who plan to leave the skinhead scene has attracted interest from several hundred potential candidates since its initiation in mid-April.
“We have received about 320 calls on our … hot line so far. About 70 of these calls came from right-wing skinheads who have asked us for help,” said Hans-Gert Lange, spokesman of the German Federal Agency for Internal Security.
The federal government program aims at relocating neo-Nazis away from their environment and in certain cases will give new identities to those who are willing to start new lives.
Mr. Lange said dropouts could count on his agencys support in finding new places of residence and jobs.
“The costs for individual cases might run as high as $50,000. However, this money will not be paid to dropouts as a kind of reward. It will only cover the expenses that result from starting a new life somewhere else in this country,” Mr. Lange said.
Reasons for neo-Nazis to call the governments Cologne-based hot line vary. Some feel that they no longer can handle their alcoholism; others are desperate for a job. Some have new girlfriends who refuse to tolerate their partners violent attitudes toward foreigners.
“Some extremists who call feel that their outlook on life is in the process of changing. They have started to question their comrades actions and opinions. When they talk to us, we sense their need of confirmation of their new attitude from whoever will listen,” Mr. Lange said.
A woman who would be identified only as Susanne, now a member of a privately funded program for dropouts in Berlin known as the “Exit Team,” described the dangers of parting from the skinhead scene.
“Some skinheads are extremely scared of becoming victims themselves when they leave. Especially in small towns or prisons, where social control still works, dropouts expect revenge beatings or torture from their former comrades,” she said.
The more neo-Nazis know about past hate crimes or the organization of far-right structures in Germany, the more difficult and dangerous it is for them to leave.
The Department of the Interior estimates the number of far-right extremists to be as high as 50,000. A survey published in the German weekly Die Woche reveals that almost half of East German teen-agers think that Germany has too many foreigners.
While neo-Nazis and their crimes attract a lot of attention from the government and the media, the victims of their violence quickly fade into oblivion.
About 560 people suffered from violent hate crimes last year, mainly in East Germany, but they have less help available than the neo-Nazi dropouts.
A counseling center for victims in Saxony, for example, works with a small budget in a one-person office.
Among other tasks, protection from new right-wing attacks is a priority.
Foreigners who fall prey to skinheads often face long and lonesome struggles with police, courts and the social welfare office.
Some police officers are known to refuse to recognize attacks as hate crimes.
Even worse, asylum-seeking immigrants cannot easily move out of hostels, which are frequently the targets of right-wing attacks, and are thus in constant danger of more beatings.
Ironically, many neo-Nazi dropouts have come to share the same fear of skinhead revenge.
“Among the calls weve received so far, no one has expressed remorse,” Mr. Lange said. “But in taking care of right-wing offenders, we also take care of the victims. If we successfully break right-extremists away from their circle, we prevent new hate crimes.”

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