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22 сент. 2007 г.

Neo-Nazi autonomous zones

FUERSTENWALDE, Germany (December 22, 1997 02:07 a.m. EST

-- Handshake here, backslap there. The big-bellied proprietor plants himself near the door, ready to greet a stream of regulars sauntering into the Altstadt pub.

Outside, it's a typically miserable winter afternoon, dark and drizzling, but the wood-paneled bar is warm and cozy, soon packed with beer drinkers and card players, all with an eye on the TV soccer game. It's a welcoming scene -- for a certain kind of person.

Everyone is white and German, and almost everyone has a neo-Nazi style: shaved heads, combat boots, black bomber jackets. One drinker has sculpted Hitler-like stubble on his upper lip.

No bouncer guards the door. No signs declare outsiders unwelcome. But the message is clear and known all over town. Foreigners, at least non-whites, and anyone else who doesn't fit in had better keep out.

"We haven't had any trouble with foreigners yet," says the owner, who refuses to give his name. "But they don't come here anyway, because the clientele is rather right-oriented."

Right-wing strongholds like the Altstadt pub are a new target for German officials trying to rein in the neo-Nazi movement. Declaring such spots "liberated zones," right-wing extremists are intimidating people they don't like -- foreigners, Jews, homosexuals, liberals -- into staying away from bars, restaurants and perhaps whole neighborhoods.

Until recently, such spots were unofficial and their whereabouts spread by word of mouth. Now they have a name, and Internet sites devoted to their mission.

"Liberated Zones are microcosms of the community we all long for," says one site. "They are spheres of comfort, of warmth, of solidarity. They are homes for the homeless. Liberated Zones are marching spheres as well as spheres of retreat for the nationalists of Germany."

With no single headquarters or visible political party, Germany's neo-Nazi movement has become a network of underground individuals, making it harder to track and eliminate. Propaganda is posted in cyberspace, often on sites guarded by passwords. The support structure -- the camaraderie -- develops at home, in the youth clubs and watering

The Altstadt owner denies his bar is "liberated," despite its neo-Nazi atmosphere, but the entire town of Fuerstenwalde, 30 miles southeast of Berlin, is under police observation and government investigation against the development of such zones.

Alerted by a sociologist who tracks the neo-Nazi movement, the government started its probe into the zones in early December, just the latest alarm over extreme rightism. The government commissioner for foreigners, Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, estimates six anti-foreigner and racist attacks happen in Germany every day, and the army is being investigated for neo-Nazism in its ranks.

Bernd Wagner, the sociologist who alerted the government, has identified more than 25 towns and cities with "liberated zones." All are in the former East Germany, which since reunification in 1990 has become a center of right-wing extremism. Unemployment, at a post-war high for
Germans, is worst in the east. Disillusionment runs deep.

"You won't see anything outright," Wagner says. "It's more of a mood."

The mood in Fuerstenwalde is one of clear hostility toward foreigners -- immigrants seen as stealing jobs from Germans and asylum-seekers perceived as sponging government funds. Of 35,000 residents, 900 are foreigners, many of them Africans, Iranians and Iraqis who live in
asylum housing on the outskirts of town.

"If your hair is black and your skin is dark, you've got a problem. It's dangerous to walk the streets," says Ziad Kassem, frying sausages at his snack stand near the train station.

Kassem, a Lebanese, says neo-Nazis ransacked his stand last year, knocking over food and threatening a cook. Residents swear at him, shouting "Germany is for Germans," he says. One of his friends was beaten recently when he tried to enter a local disco.

"They just look at you, and you know what they're thinking," he says of the German residents. "I stay home. It's easier that way."

Outside an asylum residence, a walled complex called "Hope House," some young Iranians say their two years in Fuerstenwalde have taught them to avoid certain streets and clubs, specifically the Altstadt pub.

"Germany is a country where you can live for a thousand years and still be a foreigner," says Mehdi Momtahan, 19, who came here with his mother, a Christian, to escape religious persecution.

Police in Fuerstenwalde have been watching for possible "liberated zones" since Wagner contacted them several months ago. Cruisers patrol a housing project suspected as a "zone," and the project's youth center, a rusty trailer known as a neo-Nazi meeting spot, is boarded closed.

"I don't mind all foreigners -- only blacks, Gypsies, Turks and Poles," says a 15-year-old German named Christian, smoking with other skinheads in the muddy courtyard of the Paul Frost Ring project.

It is teen-agers like these, bored and hopeless, who are responsible for anti-foreigner violence, police say. The owner of the Altstadt agrees, saying his friends are already in too much trouble to risk it. With long police records as juveniles, further neo-Nazi crimes as adults could land them in prison.

But while young people may be behind the street attacks and harassment, the atmosphere at bars like the Altstadt suggests a tolerance, if not encouragement, of right-wing hostility.

"I've got nothing against foreigners as long as they leave me alone," the owner says. "I can't stand it when they act so arrogantly."

How are they arrogant?

"They just are."

By ANNE THOMPSON, The Associated Press

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