The country's intelligence agency is set to impose "higher surveillance" on groups affiliated with the AfD, despite previous criticism of the spy network for allegedly shielding neo-Nazis who committed serious crimes against minorities.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency announced on Tuesday that it would closely monitor the activities of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party with neo-Nazi roots.
Under the direction of its new chief, Thomas Haldenwang, the Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz (BfV) - which translates as the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution - will classify the AfD’s hardline wing, ‘der Flugel’, as a possible threat to the country's "democratic governance". Der Flugel is led by Bjorn Hocke, a controversial figure known for his extremist views.
The BfV will also treat the party’s Thuringia branch, also led by Hocke, as a suspected threat to constitutional rule. But the AfD as a whole is yet to be placed under a strict surveillance.
After making substantial gains in the 2017 parliamentary elections, by deploying an anti-Islam and anti-migrant rhetoric, the AfD became the largest opposition group in the Bundestag parliament. According to latest polls, it stands as the second most popular party.
“The former chief of the BfV, Hans Georg Maassen, had adopted a guarding attitude toward AfD, whose base is essentially comprised of racist people,” said Bulent Guven, a German-Turkish political scientist and a board member of the Hamburg-based business association Union of International Democrats (UID).
Guven believes the new BfV chief wants to change that public perception, “potentially fastening” a previously launched intelligence survey in the summer over the far-right party’s activities.
“Overseen by 17-member legal expert team, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has compiled documents, which have more than 1,000 pages, and eventually produced a 400-page report,” said Guven. The report looked into the AfD’s unconstitutional political elements and members.
“Even they installed a Turkish-origin man, Sinan Selen, in a second command position at the BfV,” Guven told TRT World.
The BfV under Maassen, had been harshly criticised by Germany’s liberal and leftist pundits and politicians for its insufficient response to the increasing number of neo-Nazi attacks across Germany.
In September, Maassen was forced to resign after reports indicated that he had refused to acknowledge neo-Nazi-inspired groups’ racial attacks against mostly Muslim-origin German minorities during his tenure.
The German intelligence community's connections with neo-Nazi groups have surfaced in recent years. The highly sensitive case of 10 unsolved murders in various states of Germany has left a stain on the credibility of the country's spy network.
Several members of a notorious neo-Nazi group named the National Socialist Underground (NSU) have been accused of murdering 10 people from minority communities between 2000 and 2007.
According to court testimonies and other evidence, spies for Germany’s domestic intelligence agency have been in contact with several members of the NSU. The spy agency is accused of having prior knowledge about the 10 murders and yet it is said it decided to not act against the group.
Migration and Islamophobia
European uneasiness over migration and the increasing Muslim population across the continent has already triggered the rise of far-right movements, with some inspired by Germany’s Nazi legacy.
But Germany, which was divided into two different countries - one communist and one liberal democratic - during the Cold War, has recently become more concerned about the country’s direction, escalating anti-fascist measures.
“Berlin recognises that parties like AfD creates a problematic sentiment, which could lead serious reactions from the country’s different social sectors,” said Musa Serdar Celebi, Honorary President of Germany’s Turkish Islamic Union.
“The groups like AfD defend that Islam and Muslims can not belong to Europe,” Celebi told TRT World.
However, the German establishment recognises that the country already has a sizeable Muslim population - official figures put the number at 4.5 million - and needs to integrate that population into the German cultural fabric, Celebi said.
Movements such as the AfD are certainly an obstacle for the realisation of Germany’s integration process. Even organisations like the Orient Institute, which was behind the establishment of the AfD in the first place, along with other academics and prominent political figures, express their concerns about the rise of Islamophobia in Germany, Celebi added.
“Even they (the Orient Institute) now make statements saying that Muslims are essential part of Germany,” Celebi said.
Berlin’s recent attempts to monitor the AfD’s reach across the country has also sparked a furious debate in which both sides, the AfD and the German government, have accused each other of using Stasi tactics. The Stasi was the notorious intelligence service of the former communist East Germany.
In November, Bild, one of Germany’s main tabloids, reported in a disputed account that a government-funded educational brochure had been created to identify kindergarten children indoctrinated by neo-Nazi ideology. The AfD quickly seized on the issue, accusing the producers of the guide of using ‘Stasi methods’.
But in October, Berlin blamed the AfD, which urged students and their families to identify liberal-tended, anti-fascist teachers to the party, of using Stasi tactics against anti-AfD people.
“Anyone who incites students to spy on their teachers brings Stasi methods back to Germany,” Katarina Barley, the country’s justice minister, wrote on Twitter.