By Paul Clarke
Eighty Nazi skinheads went on the rampage, attacking Turkish and African immigrant workers in the German city of Magdeburg on May 12. Far from stopping the attack, at one point police joined in, holding down the victims while their attackers beat them.
The incident allegedly started when the skinheads spotted five Africans and chased them. The Africans ran into a Turkish restaurant, which the Nazis then attacked. After police had joined in on the side of the attackers, 20 people were arrested, but all the Nazis were released the same evening.
The release of the assailants caused outrage, and under the pressure of public opinion four of the Nazi hooligans have subsequently been charged.
But the affair, and the role of the police within it, remain a mystery. The incident was filmed by a local TV crew who happened to be on hand, lending weight to the opinion of local people who say that the attack was planned in advance and that the police knew of the plans.
The response of the Magdeburg police is typical of the attitude of the German police and courts to racist violence. One skinhead in Magdeburg charged with seriously wounding a Turkish immigrant in a knife attack in September 1991 has still not been brought to trial.
After the September 1992 arson attack in Moeln in which three Turkish women were killed, the government banned three small fascist organisations. But immigrant workers know that they can expect little protection from the German police.
While attacks on immigrants continue to be a normal occurrence, the extreme right seems to be losing public support, rather than gaining it — in marked contrast to Italy.
Opinion polls now give the largest far-right organisation, Franz Schoenhuber's Republicans, only 3% of the vote, not enough to win seats in the federal parliament, the Bundestag. Polls earlier in the year gave the Republicans 7%t, which would have ensured a minimum of 20 far-right deputies.
In another event which showed the attitude of German security forces to racism, seven members of the military honour guard for visiting heads of state are being arrested for chanting Nazi slogans, including "gas the Jews", and assaulting passengers on a bus.
Meanwhile in Italy, the fascist National Alliance has been given five seats in the new government led by Silvio Berlusconi. In addition Mirko Tramaglia, a 67-year old fascist, has been given the powerful parliamentary foreign affairs committee.
On May 15, thousands of fascist skinheads marched through the Italian city of Vicenza. While National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini went out of his way to condemn the skinheads and distance the National Alliance from them, the march was clearly encouraged by the success of the far right in the April general elections.
Fini's condemnation of "extremism" was contradicted when his own party tabled a parliamentary motion calling for the repeal of the 1948 law banning fascist parties. The motion was withdrawn within five hours, when the scope of the uproar it would cause became clear.
On May 22 thousands of left-wingers and trade unionists held their own march through Vicenza to protest against the procession of the week before. Hours before the anti-fascist demonstration was due to begin, a masked commando group attacked and wrecked the local headquarters of the National Alliance.