Cautious optimism among minority groups over government's decision to block funding, freeze assets and withdraw weapons licences issued to people suspected of links to far-right organisations.
Germany last week unveiled sweeping measures in a 10-point action plan to fight far-right extremism in the country, including seizing weapons from about 1,500 suspected terrorists and strengthening background checks for those trying to buy guns.
“We want to destroy far-right extremist networks,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in Berlin as the country rolled out its toughest measures yet to combat home-grown extremism that has seen thousands of violent incidents targeted at minority communities, including Muslims, Jews and ethnic groups.
The Interior Minister added that the measures also include targeting financial flows that benefit far-right groups, like merchandising businesses, music festivals and martial arts events.
The announcement has been met with careful optimism within minority groups and activist communities across Germany who have long been in the cross-hairs of violent far-right extremists.
Abdassamad El Yazidi of the Muslim Council of Germany says, “This is a very positive development, we've been asking the government for a decisive response to this problem for a while. It’s very encouraging to hear this.”
In 2020, authorities registered 23,000 far-right violent attacks, marking a 20 percent increase to the year before. Even for the then right-wing government, these numbers were a sobering reminder of ground realities.
But much was hinged on the recently-elected left-wing coalition government to combat the problem and send a message of assurance to minority groups.
Political analyst Hajo Funke says, “This could be interesting, I think the government is really determined this time to do something about far-right extremists”.
“The previous government was also trying to tackle this issue, but it wasn't their main priority. However, with a left-wing coalition government and a new domestic intelligence chief, who is on the same page as the government, I think it could work.”
Germany's far-right problem stretches across its wider society, with roots in its bureaucracy, military, intelligence services and the private sector.
According to statistics, there were approximately 252 events of far-right extremism within the German military in 2021.
In 2018, Germany's then domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen was sacked after he was found to harbour sympathetic views towards the far-right.
However, the current domestic intelligence chief, Thomas Haldenwang, has taken a different tone. At the news conference, Haldenwang said his agency plans to release a report in the coming months about extremists who work for the authorities.
That report is likely to be a damning assessment of the situation. While investigating death threats to State Governor of Saxony, Micheal Kretschmer, police arrested nine individuals and recovered illegal weapons and bomb-making material like gun powder and sulphur.
TRT World had recently reported on the concerns of minority groups in Germany of the Russian President Vladimir Putin's link with far-right extremists, which is another serious cause for concern in Germany.
Germany and the European Union's tough stance against Russia's attack on Ukraine has led to fears that Putin could use his influence within the far-right to destabilise Europe.
“It’s very plausible that the government is doing this to curtail that influence, far-right extremism has been a serious problem across Europe for the past few years,” says Funke.
Dr. Beatrix Campbell, Professor of International Relations at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that despite Russia’s brutality in Ukraine, Putin's friends in Europe, particularly within Germany's AFD and Hungary, are acting like his apologists, using excuses such as NATO's westward expansion to justify the invasion.
“The timing of this announcement is great, because Putin is busy these days, and he cannot fund these groups and provide them with direction,” says Dr. Campbell.
But she says this should be taken with a pinch of salt.
“There's definitely going to be challenges, I really fear this. The far-right is likely to get organised in another way, there is bound to be some pushback. They will fight back and attack soft targets when the police go after them,” she adds.
Last week's announcement comes on the heels of a court ruling which allowed Germany's domestic intelligence agency to spy on the Alternative For Deutschland political party.
The AFD had taken the country's intelligence agency to court after news had leaked that some entities of the political party were under surveillance – the AFD lost that battle when the judge ruled it a “suspicious entity”.
“There have been intimate political connections between several European far-right organisations and Russia—to the extent of policy coordination, funding, regular meetings and similarities in opposition to NATO and the European Union,” says Dr. Campbell.
The country's minorities are already preparing for a retaliation. “We have been working with the police to better train ourselves, installing cameras, employing safety offices, sharing the layout of major mosques in Germany with the police so that if there is an incident, the police know the points of entry and exit,” said El Yazidi.