16 January 2013 could go down as yet another day when the German justice system revealed with breathtaking irony exactly how ‘just’ it is. In a criminal justice system weighted towards the criminalisation of protest and the protection of the most reactionary political elements in society, perhaps it came as no great surprise. In fact, it has caught everyone’s attention, and well it should.
On that day, a local court in Dresden in the German state of Saxony handed down two sentences. In one, a group of Nazis by the name of Sturm 34 were tried for a range of violent criminal actions including attacks on left-wing and migrant community shopfronts, physical violence, intimidation and racially motivated hate speech, distributing placards bearing slogans like ‘Criminal foreigners out!’. For these actions they received an assortment of suspended short sentences and fines.
In the second case, a man known as Tim H was sentenced to 22 months in prison without probation for his alleged role as ‘ring-leader’ at a major anti-Nazi protest in Dresden in February 2011. Tim is said to have incited other protesters to break through police lines at the protest, during which four police officers sustained mild injuries. He was charged with a particularly serious breach of the peace (which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison), aggravated battery and assault.
Unlike the first case of Sturm 34, which revolved around identified members of a well-known group outlawed since 2007, in Tim’s case, no positive identification of him could be made in court. The star prosecution witness was unable to identify him with any certainty. Resorting to a police video of the event, the presiding judge said they could see ‘a man [not his face] whose stature matches that of the accused’ yelling ‘Everybody move forward’ into a megaphone. These words are a far cry from the directive to ‘break through police lines’ of which he was accused.
Even police witnesses themselves were unable to identify Tim as the man who had caused the breach. And yet, to justify his extraordinary sentence in the face of such obvious uncertainty, Judge Hans-Joachim Hlava opined that Tim’s political ‘CV’ showed that he would have been there, and in the end, Tim would simply ‘have to take responsibility for the actions of others’.
The blatantly political timing of the sentence has been lost on no-one. The demonstration at which these actions allegedly took place, was part of a mass-mobilisation organised around 13 February each year by the broad anti-fascist alliance Dresden Nazi-free. This date has become an annual rallying point for German and other neo-Nazis to commemorate and mourn the bombing of Dresden by allied forces in 1945. In recent years, it has become the event on the far-right’s political calendar, and the next one is fast approaching.
In response, since 2010, Dresden Nazi-free has been able to organise mass blockades from across hundreds of progressive political parties, collectives and groups. Over the past three years these mass protests have succeeded in partially destroying far-right organisational networks, severely impeding their ability to mobilise at all.
In 2010, 7000 Nazis were prevented from marching from their gathering spot, kettled in on all sides by over 12000 protesters, and separated by a wide ring of up to 15000 police. In 2011, their numbers had been reduced to 3000, and by 2012, they were barely able to scrounge 1000 fascists together, while anti-fascist numbers had swelled to over 20000.
Yet according to judge Hlava, the good citizens of Dresden are fed up with the likes of Tim, saying that this anniversary was being ‘exploited by both sides’. Hlava made no secret of the fact that he intended this to be an example case to deter other anti-fascists from demonstrating in 2013.
In order to understand the foreboding gravity of this judgement for the German, and indeed European left, it is important to bear in mind the context of the National Socialist Underground scandal, which dominated German public discourse throughout 2012. The existence of the NSU entered public consciousness with a bang, following the accidental detonation of a homemade bomb at their headquarters in the Saxon town of Zwickau.
Within weeks, it became known that this terrorist cell had murdered nine people of Turkish and Greek backgrounds between 2000 and 2006, plus potentially a policewoman in 2007, whose weapon was found at the scene.
The killings were shamefully referred to by a racially biased media as the Döner Murders, but it was within state agencies that the deepest rot was exposed. Domestic security had codenamed the series as ‘Operation Bosphorus’ under the false presumption that they were being carried out by foreign nationals from Turkey as part of an external political dispute. Then it became known that confidential informants, potentially on the payroll of the state, had been involved with the NSU for several years, and even been present for at least one of the murders.
Yet nothing had been done to stop them. One of the informants, known to hold openly right-wing views, was nicknamed ‘Little Adolf’ in his hometown.
The NSU case has led to a gradual exposure of corruption in the highest security levels across the country. In July 2012 it was revealed that staff of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – Germany’s MI5 – had shredded files relating to the case in late 2011, following a request from the Federal Criminal Police to hand over all relevant documentation. It has been named the biggest domestic security scandal in German history and has already forced the resignations of several security chiefs, including Federal Chief Heinz Fromm and the head of Saxony’s state intelligence agency. Meanwhile, the state continues its program of surveillance against members of the Left Party, exposed just two months after the NSU scandal broke.
In this context, it begins to become clear why the Dresden court could possibly commit such a blatant ethical breach in these two judgements. Far from being mystifying, it crystallises just how seriously the left is going to have to fight against its own criminalisation.
On 2 February, 30 000 neo-Nazis gathered in Athens to mourn the deaths of their own ‘fallen heroes’. Squeezed hard by the austerity policies being enforced by Germany at the helm of the EU, Greece has become fertile recruiting ground for fascists, capitalising on people’s desperation and the lack of a clear class opponent.
In the Dresden judgement, anti-fascists everywhere would do well to smell the same foul air that fuels the winds of repression in a crisis-torn Europe. Such repression is itself a hallmark of Nazi politics, whose raison d’etre is the destruction of democracy. Let’s hope that ‘democracy, Saxon style’ does not become a springboard for it.
For more information on Tim’s appeal and the anti-repression campaign, see the Dresden Nazi-free Facebook page. To offer financial support, go to Kommt nach vorne. English translations of both coming soon.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
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