Headlines 28 October, 2011
DECLINE IN HATE CRIMES IN FINLAND
Somalis, Turks, and Iraqis most frequent victims of racist attacks
28/10/2011- Racist crime and other hate crimes appear to have declined in Finland. The Police College of Finland released a study on Thursday according to which the number of hate crimes coming to the attention of Finnish police was 15 per cent lower last year than in the year before. Nearly nine out of ten hate crimes had a racist motive. In six per cent of hate crimes, the motive was the victim’s religion, and in four per cent of cases, it was the sexual orientation of the victim. Most frequently the crime involved assault. The decline in hate crimes seems to have continued this year, at least with respect to those with a racist motive. According to a fresh report received by Helsingin Sanomat, police have received about 20 per cent fewer reports of racist crime in the January-September period than over the same nine months last year.
However, complaints received by the police do not necessarily mean that actual hate crimes would have declined in the manner indicated by the Police College study.
“One factor affecting the figures is the extent to which such cases are reported to the police. Studies on the matter indicate that just a small proportion of hate crimes are ever reported”, says Police College researcher Jenni Niemi. Interior Ministry Chief of Staff Ritva Viljanen says that she had heard from sources on the Consultative Committee on Ethnic Relations that there had actually been an increase in hate crimes. “Hopefully this does not mean that everyday racism has become normal, and that people are no longer reacting to it.”
The Police College study indicates that racist crime often targeted people who differ from the majority population in their appearance and culture. Proportionally the most frequent victims of hate crimes last year were Somalis, Turks, and Iraqis. Meanwhile, the largest groups of foreigners - Russians, Estonians, and Swedes - were much less likely to suffer attacks. In more than 80 per cent of cases, the perpetrator of a racist crime was a member of the majority population, and the victim was a member of a minority. In only one per cent of cases was the perpetrator the member of a minority, and the victim an ethnic Finn. In the rest of the cases, either both victim and perpetrator were members of minorities, or the perpetrator’s background was not ascertained.
© The Helsingin Sanomat
PROSECUTOR: SLAVE AUCTION WAS 'COSTUME PARTY' (Sweden)
A ”slave auction” held by a Lund student group in April was a ”costume party” meaning no charges will be filed against the organizers, according to the prosecution authority in Skåne in southern Sweden.
28/10/2011- ”They're basically saying that it is OK to demean Afro-Swedes as long as it is done as a costume party. That means that it is open season for anyone who wish to do so,” Jallow Momodou, chairman of the National Afro-Swedish Association (Afrosvenskarnas riksförbund) told The Local following the announcement. The incident, where three people with blackened faces and ropes around their necks were led into the hall by a "slave trader" and later sold, occurred at student association Halland Nation in April. It was reported to the police by the Afro-Swedish Association. After the incident, posters depicting chairman Momodou in chains started appearing in several public places in Lund and at the Malmö University College. Controversial artist Dan Park was later apprehended by police when found plastering his posters over central Lund. He was charged on Thursday with both hate speech and defamation.
Park told The Local on Friday that he thinks prosecutors are overreacting. ”Was I suprised to be charged? Yes and no. I think it is a waste of tax payers' money mainly. It wasn't a big deal. And no one should be able to tell me what kind of art I can create, ” he said. This isn't the first time Park gets in trouble for his controversial art projects. In 2009 he was charged with hate speech after placing a canister of Zyklon-B gas outside of a Swedish synagogue. That time he was acquitted. Park knows that his work sometimes causes people distress. ”We all have different tastes and people often get upset, but that is what art is about - creating reaction," Park said. After the Lund ”slave scandal” became headline news, the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), based in Brussels, wrote an open letter to Sweden's Minister for Democracy and European Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson expressing its utter disgust and condemnation ‘without reservation’ to the actions, urging the Swedish government to take swift, disciplinary action.
Prominent American civil rights activist Jesse Jackson also urged Sweden to take measures to ensure that Swedes are made aware of the brutal reality of the transatlantic slave trade and Sweden's part in it. While Lund University in May announced that it would launch a new programme to educate students and staff about the university's core values, the university's disciplinary committee later elected to take no action after reviewing the incident. Now, the district prosecutor has chosen not to file charges against the student organization for the staged auction. ”We can't prove that the people who dressed up did so with the intention to show contempt for a people. It was a costume party really, and that has to be considered in this case,” said district prosecutor and hate crimes specialist Mattias Larsson to local paper Sydsvenskan.
Jallow Momodou thinks that it is a scandal that the party organizers will get away scot-free. ”There should have been legal consequences in order to show that it is not OK under any circumstances to demean a group of people this way,” Momodou said. That Park, who was responsible for the posters, will be charged, is what one ought to be able to expect from the Swedish judicial system, argued Momodou. ”He broke the law and there should be a consequnce. But what he did was a direct reaction to what had happened in Lund. I think it is strange how they have reasoned in this case,” Momodou told The Local.
© The Local - Sweden
ALBANIAN MP REPRIMANDED FOR GAY SLUR
Albania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner has today reprimanded ruling Democratic Party MP, Tritian Shehu, for saying in parliament that “homosexuality is disease and should be treated with hormones,” last December.
27/10/2011- “Mr. Shehu should avoid discriminatory remarks in the future, which cause an atmosphere of tension and unfriendliness towards the LGBT [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender] community in Albania,” the commissioner wrote in a letter to parliament. The commissioner also recommended that parliament grant “all guaranties so that the thoughts, opinions and remarks of the LGBT community are heard, evaluated and taken into consideration, when they are directly involved on specific topics, in order to help the community to enjoy fully its rights and freedoms.” The anti-discrimination commissioner is akin to an Ombudsman and was created in the winter of 2009, when Albania approved a bill to protect sexual minorities from discriminatory practices. It remains unclear why the commissioner waited up to 10 months to review the case over Shehu’s comments. While the Albanian parliament decriminalised homosexual relations in 1995, more than a decade later gays and lesbians are still heavily stigmatised, and a majority hide their sexual orientation, fearing that if it is discovered their safety will be endangered. Human rights reports on Albania concede that ingrained attitudes among the public leave Albanian gays and lesbians on the fringes of society. According to the Albanian Human Rights Group, a Tirana based NGO, Albanian homosexuals face “intolerance, physical and psychological violence - often from the police - and discrimination in the workplace.”
© Balkan Insight
NO PUNISHMENT FOR SWEDISH COP WHO CALLED GAYS A 'CANCER ON SOCIETY'
The police officer from southern Sweden who called homosexuals a “cancer on society” in reference to a lesbian colleague, will not face any disciplinary measures, according to a decision from the Skåne county police.
27/10/2011- The man has been under internal investigation since an incident in July when he was overheard telling a female recruit that homosexuals are a ”cancer on society” while referring to a lesbian colleague who serves as hate crimes educator within the Skåne police. “My whole body just froze. I felt like a rat that had been pissed on,” Jeanette Larsson, the hate crimes educator, told Sveriges Television (SVT) at the time. Larsson, who has worked on the police force for twenty years, had been on her way out of the lunch room back in early July when she overheard a conversation between a male colleague and a female police recruit. The officer told the recruit he didn't approve of Larsson's lifestyle and made references to the bible. Larsson said she is one of 15 openly gay women on the Skåne police force and has been educating her colleagues on how to best handle hate crime cases for the past year. “I felt degraded, dirty and violated and I quickly realised that, ironically enough, I'd been subject to a hate crime.” However, the investigation could not establish exactly what had been said between the female recruit and the police officer in question. Therefore police don't feel that they had enough information regarding the man's actions to base any disciplinary measures on. However, due to the severity of the language used, it was decided that the man's superior officer will have a word with him.
© The Local - Sweden
SWEDISH COURT BANS NIQAB-WEARING WOMEN
Three women wearing head scarves completely shielding their faces were denied entry to a Gothenburg courtroom on Friday during the remand hearing of one of the suspects in the Röda Sten murder plot case.
28/10/2011- ”I am responsible for order in this court room and I feel I can't achieve that if I am unable to see the faces of the people present,” said district court judge Stefan Wikmark to Swedish TV4. The three women were stopped as they were trying to enter the courtroom for the remand hearing 26-year-old Abdi Aziz Mahamud who is under suspicion for plotting the murder of Swedish artist Lars Vilks at an art exhibition in Gothenburg in September. All three women were wearing niqabs covering them from head to toe. One of the guards at the Gothenburg District Court prevented them from stepping into the court room, referring to the ban on face coverings, according to TV4's affiliate in Gothenburg. The decision to refuse the women from entering the court room while wearing their traditional garb was taken by Wikmark during the remand negotiations.
Aziz Mahamud, as well as Salar Sami Mahamood, 23, and 25-year-old Abdi Weli Mohamud have been held since a raid carried out in September by officers from Swedish security service Säpo. After receiving intelligence indicating that a terrorist attck would be carried out during an exhibition at Röda Sten, officers stormed and evacuated the gallery during the opening of an art exhibition. Four men were arrested on the suspicion of preparing terrrorist activities following the raid. However, one of the suspects, 24-year-old Mohamed Adel Kulan, was later released due to lack of evidence and the suspicions against the other men were subsequently downgraded from preparing terror crimes to preparing to commit murder.
Controversial artist Vilks has been under threat since his drawings of the prophet Muhammad, published in a Swedish newspaper, caused a wave of condemnation from Muslims worldwide. At Friday's hearing the court ruled that Aziz Mahamud should remain in custody, pending trial. In separate hearings, court also ruled that the other two suspects should remain in remand and instructed prosecutors to file formal charges against the men by November 9th.
© The Local - Sweden
With conservatives poised to retake the national government, LGBTs ready to defend hard-won rights.
27/10/2011- Jose Mantero served as a Roman Catholic priest in rural Spain for 16 years before doing something he says no priest in the world ever had: He came out.
Mantero, now 49, took the step in 2002 after feeling increasing anger at what he saw as the Church’s hostility toward homosexuality. He says the key moment in his decision came when he was giving confession to a gay man. “He was feeling so tormented, that I said to him: ‘Look at my face — do you see a monster?’” says Mantero. “He replied: ‘Not at all, father.’ So I said: ‘I’m gay, like you. You’re not a monster.’ That was the moment when I really came out of the closet.”
Today, there are few countries with a more complex and surprising gay profile than Spain, which for so many decades was shrouded in a conservative Catholic ethos. This gay cultural legacy spans from the acclaimed Spanish Civil War-era poet Federico Garcia Lorca to contemporary filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Spain’s status as a nation at the frontline of gay rights was cemented in 2005 when a progressive political wave made it only the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage with legislation that also allowed gay couples to adopt children. But one of the world’s most Catholic countries is now gripped by a conservative backlash — driven in part by economic crisis — that activists fear could reverse the gains made by Spain’s LGBT community. To conservatives, a reemergence of the Popular Party and its anti-gay marriage stance reflects a yearning in Spain to counter the incumbent Socialist Party’s assault on the largely conservative values of Spanish society.
What is irreversible, however, is the extent to which gay marriage has been embraced by the gay community in Spain. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, just over 16,000 same-sex couples got married, part of a community putting down deeper roots in contested ground. But many Spanish gays have grave concerns about the country’s political situation, which could hold the makings of a big and fateful battle. The opposition Popular Party, which has close links to the Church, is widely tipped to win the 2011 general elections, scheduled for November 20. The party opposed the gay marriage law from the start, filing an appeal against it on technical grounds. The outcome of that appeal is still being awaited as the Spanish judicial system runs its notoriously slow course.
“The euphoria of same-sex marriage that we saw in 2005 has been followed by harassment by the Church and its secular arm, which is the Popular Party,” says Mantero, who is not married. Members of the Popular Party have said that even if the courts uphold the marriage law, the party will consider attempting to reverse the legislation. A current 15-point lead over the Socialists ahead of the election suggests the Popular Party will get the opportunity, though it is uncertain that party leaders will take it. “I will listen to the [decision of the] court, but I don’t like the fact that there is gay marriage and I don’t think it is constitutional,” Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy told El País newspaper. “What I don’t like is the word ‘marriage.’”
The line that Rajoy is cutting here is a familiar one to many Catholics. He is recognizing that in Catholic teaching, “marriage” is viewed as a sacrament between a man and a woman. And therefore a more conservative Catholic view seeks to straddle a line between providing equal rights to all through “civil unions,” but avoid the use of the word “marriage” for gay couples. Political analyst Fernando Vallespin of Madrid’s Autonoma University says it would be a major political misstep for the party to attack gay marriage. “The Popular Party knows that it’s unrealistic to reverse the gay marriage law,” he says, adding that the party will have to reach an understanding with the Church if it doesn’t attempt to do so. “It is going to have enough problems in the economic and social sphere — and probably social unrest, so they can’t open new fronts and go back and question what happened two legislatures before.”
Although Spain’s embattled economy will be a greater priority for whichever party is in power, many gays are concerned that the country’s gay rights could soon be put back to pre-2005 status. Painful experiences with the Church and the Popular Party have left them wary. Oscar Escolano, a 31-year-old gay man who lives in Madrid, sums up the current moment. “I’m scared there’s going to be a reversal of social rights under the Popular Party government,” he says. “I have friends who tell me that it’s not going to happen, but I’m still worried about it.” Indeed, the Socialist mayor of a 4,000-person town called Jun announced earlier this month that he would offer fast-track marriages to gay couples in advance of the election. He received 52 requests, 41 more than the total number of same-sex marriages performed in all of 2010.
Mili Hernandez, the owner of Berkana, Spain’s first specialist gay and lesbian bookshop, located in central Madrid, says if rights are rescinded, there could be an angry response. “I hope that we gays and lesbians would get back out onto the streets to tell the Popular Party: You can’t steal a civil right from someone. If [they reverse the law], there will be a big battle,” Hernandez says. Once Mantero had made his decision public via a cover story in the Spanish magazine Zero entitled “I thank God for being gay,” he was suspended from his duties as a priest and eventually removed from the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. Mantero, who now lives in the southern city of Seville and makes a living as a writer, says the Spanish Church was so upset at his case that it banned discussion of him in his local seminary. He adds that one bishop even asked Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to stop him from making public declarations about his sexuality — a request the politician refused.
Legal gay marriage and adoption was made possible when Zapatero’s Socialist Party swept into office in a surprise progressive victory in 2004. Zapatero had promised to legalize gay marriage during his campaign and he delivered on that promise with the help of a well-organized LGBT activist community. The presence of a high-profile gay activist, Pedro Zerolo, in the Socialist Party, also helped ensure the bill was a priority for the new government. But the climate in Spain has changed once again. Spaniards’ attitudes to social issues have been transformed over the last three decades, since the country made the transition from the right-wing dictatorship of Francisco Franco to modern democracy. Although more than 5,000 people were arrested because of their sexuality under Franco, polls now show that around three-quarters of Spaniards believe gays and lesbians should enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. Madrid’s annual Gay Pride event has become not just a celebration for people from the Spanish capital, but a truly international fiesta, drawing visitors from around the world.
With such credentials, it’s tempting to see Spain as something akin to a gay paradise. But is that a fair appraisal? “It’s true, we have a gay marriage law and society has changed a lot,” says Hernandez. “But there are still barriers that gays and lesbians have to overcome.” The coming out of a handful of high-profile men like the former priest Mantero over the last decade or so has been a key factor in bringing gay issues into public consciousness., Another is Jose Maria Sanchez Silva, a senior army officer who came out in 2000, causing uproar in the ranks of the deeply conservative military. He also graced the cover the magazine Zero, with the headline “The first gay soldier.”
Silva says he endured four years of constant, aggressive harassment from fellow soldiers before transferring to the army reserves in 2004. A fellow officer left a threatening note on his desk saying: “Homosexuality is worse than the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” He keeps a low public profile but broke his silence in 2007 to write Zero to complain that it had put a Popular Party politician [Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon] on its cover. “I didn’t come out of the closet in 2000 on the cover of Zero in order to then see you publish a self-congratulatory interview with Mr. Ruiz-Gallardon in mid-campaign,” he wrote. While church attendance has been falling steadily in recent years, the broader influence of the Roman Catholic institution was apparent ahead of Congress’ approval of the same-sex marriage law in 2005. Bishops and Popular Party members from around the country led a series of protest marches against the reform, on the grounds that it “threatened the family.” Thousands of Spaniards poured onto the streets to back the clergy’s call and express outrage at a Socialist administration that was making social reforms the hallmark of its first years in power.
Mantero is pessimistic about the medium-term future for Spain’s gays, in great part because he expects the next government to pursue a repeal. He also believes the gay community itself has been too complacent in recent years, allowing, for example, the Madrid Gay Pride event to become what he calls “a money-making machine” rather than a vehicle to promote homosexual rights. While the bookshop owner Hernandez disagrees on this point, she does have her own criticisms of Spain’s gay community. Despite its many advances over the last decade in terms of visibility, legislation and changing attitudes, Hernandez believes certain social mores are holding the country back. In particular, many gays and lesbians, she says, are still terrified of coming out — particularly to their families. The family is still extremely important for many Spaniards, and its influence is considerable.
“The big problem now is for us gays and lesbians to accept the fact we are gays and lesbians with every right and not to hide away,” she says. “We still haven’t overcome the fear of rejection by the family, society, the workplace. We’re still hiding, we’re still not able to face up to society as we are. If people age 40 or 50 aren’t capable of accepting the fact they are gay without shame and fear, we’re never going to change things.”
© The Global Post
ROMA MINORITY ATTACKED WITH MOLOTOV COCKTAILS (Poland)
Roma inhabitants of the village of Krosnica, southern Poland, near the Slovak border, have called for monitoring on their estate, after an assault involving Molotov cocktails last Friday.
26/10/2011- The incident occurred at about 10 pm on Friday night, when two flaming bottles of petrol landed on property belonging to members of the Roma community. One bottle fell onto grass and the flames quickly petered out. The second landed on the roof of a house, and the inhabitants swiftly extinguished the flames. No one was injured in the assault. Police believe that the crime was carried out by someone driving through the village. Roma inhabitants of Krosnica told the Gazeta Krakowska daily that they are regularly intimidated by drivers, whether it be with empty cans or stones. However, this is the first time that a home-made bomb has been used. “Up until now its just been stones and insults that have been thrown at us,” said one resident. “But now, if someone wants to go as far as to set us alight, we've reason to fear for our lives.” The resident underlined that the Roma community did not suspect other inhabitants of the village. “They're good people, we manage to get along with them,” they said. In January this year Roma from the western city of Poznan complained that they were being banned from bars and clubs simply because they were members of the Roma community. Prosecutors opened an investigation after local authorities and the Interior Ministry became involved to solve what Roma said was a case of “blatant racism”.
© The News - Poland
BOSNIA TO CHANGE CONSTITUTION OVER DISCRIMINATION
Bosnia's parliament has begun procedures to amend the country's constitution which Europe's rights court says discriminates as it bars Jews and Romas from running for higher office.
25/10/2011- A commission grouping representatives of 13 parliamentary parties is charged to propose to parliament before November 30 the constitutional amendments, as well as those necessary to change the electoral law, the assembly's press office said. The reform is one of the main conditions for Bosnia to obtain EU candidacy status. In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights slammed Bosnia for barring Jews and Romas from running for high elected office. The court ruled that the Balkan country violated provisions of the convention prohibiting discrimination and upholding the right to free elections. Two plaintiffs in the case, Dervo Sejdic who is of Roma origin, and Jakob Finci, a prominent Bosnian Jew and Bosnia's ambassador to Switzerland, filed a suit in 2006 claiming discrimination and a breach of their human rights. Bosnia's government failed to amend the constitution before October 2010 general elections. Bosnia's constitution makes a distinction between two categories of citizens: "constituent peoples" -- Bosniaks (Muslims), Croats and Serbs -- and "others" -- Jews, Roma and other minorities. Posts in the Bosnian parliament and its tripartite presidency are reserved for the three so-called constituent nations under the rules which were intended to prevent ethnic strife in the wake of the 1992-1995 war.
Oktoberfest Bombing Under Review Part 1: OFFICIALS IGNORED RIGHT-WING EXTREMIST LINKS (Germany)
Thirty-one years after the 1980 Oktoberfest bomb attack, officials have reopened the case. Previously unknown documents reviewed by SPIEGEL show that the perpetrator, allegedly a lone wolf, was involved with the neo-Nazi scene and Bavarian conservatives. But the unwelcome clues were likely ignored.
25/10/2011- The first booths were already open and a brass band was playing when a group of serious-looking people gathered at Munich's Oktoberfest in late September. Tears were flowing, and some quietly placed red flowers at the entrance to the Theresienwiese, the site of the annual beer festival. They had come to commemorate their loved ones, their parents, siblings and spouses, who were murdered at this spot exactly 31 years ago, in the worst terrorist attack in postwar German history. Thirteen died and more than 200 people were injured. Robert Platzer, one of the survivors, was 12 at the time. "I saw a young man bending over a waste basket at the entrance," he recalls. "It was as if he were trying to lift something heavy with both hands." At that moment, a bomb exploded in the young man's hands. Platzer witnessed the deaths of two of his siblings, whose bodies were ripped apart and hurled through the air.
At the commemoration ceremony politicians from all major parties vowed to reopen the case. Before that, the Bavarian state parliament had already adopted a nonpartisan resolution to resume the investigation. Too many questions are still unanswered. Who was Gundolf Köhler, the man who had tried to plant the bomb and died in the process? Who or what made him a killer? And what were the political motivations for his crime? Was the attack part of a long series of right-wing extremist acts of violence that shook Western Europe at the time? Early in the case, there had been speculation about Köhler's right-wing extremist background. And last year serious doubts emerged as to whether the 21-year-old was truly alone at the scene of the crime on Sept. 26, 1980. But the question of why the authorities never completely solved the case remains unanswered to this day. Could it have been that the party in power in Bavaria at the time, the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), had no interest in seeing the case solved?
It was less than two weeks before the Oct. 5, 1980 German parliamentary election, and the CSU and its then Bavarian state governor and chancellor candidate, Franz Josef Strauss, were not interested in right-wing extremist terrorism. In their worldview, the threat always came from the left. The social climate was toxic, and the Strauss camp, and others, treated left-wing extremist terror group the Red Army Faction (RAF) and its sympathizers as Germany's public enemy number one. What did not fit into this worldview was the idea that right-wing extremist groups were at the same time developing their own, loosely defined terrorist network, with cells in Hamburg, Nuremberg, Esslingen near Stuttgart, as well as in Antwerp and Bologna. Not surprisingly, efforts to investigate the threat from the far right were half-hearted at best.
For three decades, the official explanation for the Oktoberfest attack involved the theory of a confused "sole perpetrator." In May 1981, after just eight months of investigation, the Bavarian State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) postulated this theory in its "final comment" on the case. The Federal Prosecutor's Office also noted that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that "third parties" could have influenced Köhler. Case closed -- or so it seemed. Until now, this final comment was the only document relating to the case that had been made available to the public, while the investigation files on which it had been based remained unknown. Now SPIEGEL has evaluated these files for the first time, in addition to dossiers from the former East German secret police, the Stasi, and other records, some of which were formerly classified -- a total of 46,000 pages.
Important Clues Ignored
The documents show that a number of Bavarian and federal government agencies were already aware of Köhler's right-wing extremist connections before the attack, but did not seriously follow up on important clues. Evidence, including what was left of the bomb, was removed on the night of the attack, witnesses were not adequately questioned and important leads were not pursued. More thorough investigations would likely have uncovered the right-wing extremist network behind Köhler. But this would have highlighted connections Strauss and other CSU politicians had to the far-right. Politicians and investigators threw away an important opportunity, and terrorism coming from the right, unlike leftist terrorism, was long downplayed and characterized as an aberration by "sole perpetrators." This was precisely what happened in the Köhler case. The "final comment" in the investigation report by the Bavarian LKA makes no mention whatsoever of direct right-wing connections or possible accomplices.
The investigators described Köhler as the unremarkable son of middle-class parents in Donaueschingen, a town in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. He was a geology student who became interested in chemistry and fossils as a teenager. The investigation report concluded that his motives were unknown, with the authors merely noting that the fact that Köhler had failed an important intermediate examination could have provided "the final impetus" to commit the crime. But as the newly released documents show, the authorities knew more about the case than the report suggested. Köhler's first interactions with the far-right NPD party began when he was 14. He attended the party's state convention and campaign events. In Donaueschingen, he was in close contact with a former Nazi who served as a father figure and strongly influenced his worldview. For years, Köhler kept a portrait of Hitler above his bed, and he also collected badges, books and pictures from the Nazi era. For one of his birthdays, he treated himself to a steel helmet and military boots, and he joined a shooting club to practice using a weapon.
"He supported the extermination of Jews and communists in the Third Reich," one of Köhler's friends told police after the bombing. The friend also said that Köhler had raved about being part of an SS or Reichswehr military organization in Germany, "to be able to take action against communists." Köhler once traveled to the eastern French city of Strasbourg to visit a brothel. Friends who had accompanied him later said that when he saw a group of orthodox Jews there, he said that "Adolf had forgotten to gas them, and now we had to pay for the pensions of these old men." One of Köhler's brothers later told the police: "This radical right-wing sensibility stabilized over the years."
CSU Downplayed Neo-Nazi Activity
Still, in their final comments the Federal Prosecutor's Office and the Bavarian LKA downplayed Köhler's worldview and his strong connection to right-wing extremist organizations. Köhler was a member of the Viking Youth, which, modeled after the Hitler Youth, was the most important German neo-Nazi youth organization at the time. The group's several hundred uniformed members were led by a Gauführer, a term meant to invoke the Nazi officials known as Gauleiter. They learned how to shoot, committed pipe-bomb attacks and, calling themselves "youth loyal to the German Reich," were determined to combat the left. In 1978, "Viking disciples" attacked four NATO soldiers at a military training area in the northern state of Lower Saxony and stole several submachine guns and magazines. But the Munich police still did not feel that the neo-Nazi connection was was worth pursuing. During a search of Köhler's room, they even failed to recognize his Viking Youth membership card. "Because I was unfamiliar with this organization (Viking Youth), I paid no attention to this membership card. I considered such cards to be part of Gundolf Köhler's collection, a hobby," the operations manager of the "Theresienwiese Special Commission" wrote in a report.
The officers did take the membership card with them when Köhler's room was searched again two weeks later. But this piece of incriminating evidence was not mentioned in the final comment, and there was no further investigation of the organization. The authorities also showed little interest in Köhler's involvement in the Wehrsportgruppe (Military Sports Group, WSG) paramilitary organization run by the neo-Nazi Karl-Heinz Hoffmann, or that he had attended one of their meetings "sometime in the past." At the time, right-wing extremist activities were being downplayed by those at the very top of the political ladder in Bavaria. Speaking in the state parliament in March 1979, Strauss said: "Don't make fools of yourselves by attributing significance to certain groups -- you mentioned Hoffmann's Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann today -- that they have never had, do not have and will never acquire in Bavaria." The CSU chairman also had nothing but derision for the ban of Hoffmann's WSG by the coalition government of the center-left Social Democratic Party and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party in Bonn in January 1980. Hoffmann, he said, ought to be "left alone" if he "happens to enjoy going for a walk in the country on a Sunday with a backpack and 'battledress' held up with a waist belt."
© The Spiegel
Oktoberfest Bombing Under Review Part 2: ALREADY KNOWN BY POLICE (Germany)
25/10/2011- The extensive investigation files now indicate that the authorities knew about Köhler's contacts with Hoffmann before the attack. The German military counterintelligence service had intercepted letters between Hoffmann and Köhler that remain classified today. The Baden-Württemberg state intelligence service also had Köhler under observation, because his name had appeared on two WSG membership lists in 1977 and 1979. The police also knew about Köhler's ties to the Viking Youth and Hoffmann's WSG long before the Oktoberfest bombing. They too had found his name on membership lists they had seized from right-wing extremist groups. But according to the investigation files, Köhler was only in contact with the WSG until 1976. The investigators did not find it sufficiently interesting that he had completed a type of guerilla training in Hoffmann's group and had even discussed "the possibility of a civil war in Germany" with other members.
The Viking Youth and the WSG were not the only stations in Köhler's extremist career. As a student in the southwestern city of Tübingen, he also gravitated toward the center of the far-right scene there. On Hoffmann's advice, he contacted the right-wing extremist group Hochschulring Tübinger Studenten, or "University Ring of Tübingen students." Its leader was Axel Heinzmann, an NPD member today and, at the time, a young politician for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), the national sister party to Bavaria's CSU. He was also known at the university by his -- and Hitler's -- initials, "A.H." In a letter to his young protégé, Hoffmann had advised him to seek Heinzmann's help in developing a local Wehrsportgruppe. This placed Köhler at the interface between right-wing extremism and the nationalist conservative establishment. Heinzmann cleverly addressed two milieus, the neo-Nazis and the CSU. He was a driving force behind the Aktionsgemeinschaft Vierte Partei (Fourth Party Action Group), which had ties to the CSU and aimed to expand the party's reach nationwide. Heinzmann and his neo-Nazi friends also attended joint conferences between NPD officials and CSU members of the Bundestag, including the party's foreign-policy spokesman at the time, Hans Graf Huyn.
Fighting communism was the subject of these meetings, known as Africa Seminars. In perfect harmony, neo-Nazis and Strauss supporters, including a number of CSU Bundestag members, discussed how best to vanquish the red threat. "Our freedom is being defended on the Cape," one of the meeting slogans read. To demonstrate their solidarity, CSU and NPD politicians traveled to southern Africa in the late 1970s. In 1981 Edmund Stoiber, the general secretary of his party at the time, campaigned for the CSU trips "with a number of interesting interlocutors." On another occasion his boss, Bavarian state governor Strauss, said: "One mustn't be too squeamish with auxiliary troops," no matter how reactionary they might be.
Damning Witness Testimony
Heinzmann's militant leanings had been public knowledge in Tübingen for some time, a circumstance that led to a bloody brawl in December 1976, when about 200 anti-fascists tried to prevent a neo-Nazi meeting from taking place. Hoffmann, Heinzmann and their friends, including Köhler, were in the thick of the brawl. The local press described it as one of the "most brutal altercations in the city since 1945." In a flyer titled "Is Bloodshed Necessary?" Hoffmann bragged that he and his supporters had beaten seven leftists so bad that they had to be hospitalized, and had also "injured many others." Köhler also bragged about the beatings. He had "participated in the activities of a radical right-wing group in Tübingen" and had "really cleaned up," he later told friends in Donaueschingen.
But Köhler's relationship with Heinzmann, his role in Tübingen right-wing extremist circles and the connections between the CSU and the far right were all clues that investigators did not pursue. The public was also not familiarized with the immediate background of the attack, even though witness testimony in the extensive files clearly indicate that Köhler had more on his mind than his problems at university. In early August 1980, a few weeks before the attack, the student spoke with close friends about the Bundestag election scheduled for that October. He wanted to vote for Strauss, he said, but added that it was also important for the NPD to receive more votes. In the end, he said, only violence could produce change. It was about time, he said, for someone besides the left to stage an attack, namely the right. In the conversation, Köhler also said that it might be a good idea to commit a bombing attack in Bonn, Hamburg or Munich. The attack, he added, "could be blamed on the left, and then Strauss will be elected." Neo-fascists in Italy had already done something similar. Only eight weeks earlier, a bomb attack had devastated the train station in Bologna, killing 85 and injuring 200. The right-wing extremist attack was initially portrayed as the work of leftist terrorists. The strategy apparently fascinated Köhler and other right-wing radicals in Germany. They envisioned a series of bombings that would spark fear throughout the country, setting the scene for the establishment of a new Nazi dictatorship.
A Meeting in Italy
Another clue also raises questions about the background of the Oktoberfest attack. A few weeks earlier, Köhler's idol Hoffmann apparently met in Italy with the internationally feared neo-fascist Joachim Fiebelkorn. The neo-Nazi from the town of Eppstein in the Taunus Mountains near Frankfurt was an informant for the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and a number of intelligence agencies. He also helped Klaus Barbie, the former head of the Gestapo in Lyon, build a paramilitary combat group in Bolivia. According to previously unknown Stasi documents, Fiebelkorn, "at the instruction of Chiaie," had met with "Karl-Heinz Hoffmann in Rome on July 13, 1980," as well as with French and Italian right-wing extremists. The Italian neo-fascist Stefano delle Chiaie was viewed as one of the leading international terrorists of the day, a sort of right-wing counterpart to the left-wing terrorist "Carlos." Western intelligence agencies held Chiaie and his varying terrorist organizations, like "Ordine Nuovo," responsible for anti-communist attacks on several continents in the 1970s and 1980s. Bu what did Hoffmann discuss during his meeting in Italy, if it took place as the Stasi had noted? Did the men merely discuss ideological issues? Or the possibility of staging attacks in Germany based on the Italian model?
Hoffmann, who was in prison for several years for other crimes and now raises woolly-coated pigs in Saxony, says today: "I was not in Italy in 1980, I never saw or spoke with Fiebelkorn, and I don't know anything about him. I was neither the mentor nor the instigator for Gundolf Köhler, who, incidentally, was not a perpetrator but the victim of a staged attack. All investigative proceedings against me in that case were discontinued." According to the files on the Oktoberfest attack, Köhler spoke with friends about his mentor Hoffmann three weeks before the attack. "Gundolf quoted Hoffmann, who had said several times that the bigger the target and its values, the more victims there could be," one witness was quoted saying.
Possible Accomplices Sighted
Then the bomb exploded in Munich, creating a scene of carnage at the exit from the Oktoberfest grounds. Body parts and dying victims were strewn across the path, while scores of people who had been in good spirits only moments earlier were now injured and confused. But what no one has known until now is that there were already signs at the time that Köhler may have had accomplices. Four youths told police that they had seen Köhler with several young men wearing German armed forces parkas shortly before the attack. They drew sketches of Köhler and his possible accomplices that largely coincided with the statements made by another witness. But the investigators also showed little interest in this possible lead. The SPD/FDP federal government had wanted to send investigators to the crime scene that night, but the Bavarians put them off. Strauss appeared at the Theresienwiese festival grounds late that night. The Bundestag election campaign was in full swing, and the Bavarian candidate for the chancellorship promptly went on the offensive and tried to blame the left for the attack.
A few hours later, Strauss wrote an opinion piece for the weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "For months I have been receiving indications that an attack was to be expected before the elections," he wrote, noting the question of whether the attack had come from the left or the right was irrelevant. "The terror began on the left. We have been warning against such a development for years." Strauss later speculated on possible perpetrators, saying that such an attack might be the work of then Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the Stasi or the KGB. The Wehrsportgruppe Hoffmann, on the other hand, was exculpated after the attack by the Bavarian interior and close associate of Strauss, Gerold Tandler. "At no point," Tandler said, did the group constitute "a threat." As a result, Köhler's act of violence was not used as an opportunity to thoroughly investigate the Wehrsportgruppe, the right-wing extremist terrorist network in Germany and the role of the perpetrator. It would have been a chance to shed light on the right-wing clique backing Köhler. Instead, his associates were able to continue what they were doing.
Right-Wing Extremist Violence Continues
Less than three months after the Oktoberfest drama, the Jewish author Shlomo Levin and his girlfriend were murdered in Erlangen, near Stuttgart. Levin had written a critical report about the Wehrsportgruppe and had compared its leader Hoffmann with Hitler. The police suspected that the murder had been committed by Uwe Behrendt, one of Köhler's acquaintances from Tübingen. But Behrendt fled to East Germany through Hoffmann's Bavarian residence at Ermreuth Castle. He was found shot to death, under suspicious circumstances, in Lebanon three months later. A wave of bank robberies designed to raise cash, based on the RAF model, ensued. In one case, a robbery led to a deadly shootout in a Munich street between neo-Nazis and the police. Car bombs wounded US soldiers in the central German city of Giessen, and another friend of Köhler's, Stefan Wagner, went on a rampage in Frankfurt. Before he turned his gun on himself, Wagner told his hostages that he had been an accomplice in the Oktoberfest bombing.
Despite their extensive findings, the authorities held onto their theory that the Oktoberfest bomber was a "sole perpetrator." In fact, even Köhler's brother Hermann had told the police that he didn't believe that the killer had acted alone. "He wanted change within Germany, and he felt that he was part of a small elite unit that felt the same," he said when he testified about his brother Gundolf. "In the event of a change in Germany, this group was to be prepared to assume power." His brother, he added, had advocated a "violent overthrow," insisting that then "the people would clamor for a Führer." Strauss's assertion that the security services had everything "under control" was therefore a deliberate deception. Köhler's friends in the Hochschulring Tübinger Studenten, the Wehrsportgruppe and other right-wing terror cells remained out of control after the Oktoberfest bombing and the failure to fully investigate it -- and right-wing extremist violence remained an ongoing problem in Germany.
© The Spiegel