Anti-racist protest demands end to German spy agency
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the GCSB is not the only spy agency in the world that has been involved in dodgy activities.
On Saturday, almost 10,000 people in Munich protested under the motto "Stand up against Nazi terror, institutional racism and racism in everyday life – abolish the Domestic Intelligence Service!"
The protest (which was supported by an impressive list of over 200 organisations) was timed to coincide with the start of the trial on Wednesday against five members of the neo-nazi group "National-socialist Underground" (NSU), who are accused of having murdered or assisted in the murder of 10 people between 2001 and 2009, as well as being behind two bomb attacks which injured dozens. One of the accused, Beate Zschäpe. is charged with membership in a terrorist organisation, whose other two members died when their campervan went up in flames in November, 2011.
The 'Doner Murders'
Nine of the group's victims were small business men with Turkish or Greek background, the tenth was a female cop.
However, a recurring theme of the murder investigations was that any possibility of a neo-nazi background was immediately ruled out by police and prosecutors. Instead, it was suggested that the victims must have been part of some criminal gang and the murders had been the result of infighting. The victims' families and friends themselves were investigated and put under surveillance. It wasn't until Zschäpe turned herself in after the death of her 'comrades' and after plenty of evidence was found at her flat that the authorities stopped denying the racist background to the murders.
It has to be noted that the German state does not issue citizenship by birth, which has lead to the bizarre situation that several million people whose parents or grandparents migrated to Germany in the 1960s are still considered 'foreigners'. This has enabled the continuation of a xenophobic discourse over 50 years, or, as the organisers of Sunday's demo state: "Germany has giant problem with racism". Or rather, 'Germany' hasn't – the migrant population does.
A speaker for the Muslim community in Munich talked at the demo about the "loss of trust" in the German state. For fear of retribution, a family member of one of the victims spoke from a hidden location.
A particular worrying aspect of the neo-nazi trio's activities has been the involvement of the domestic intelligence service VS (Verfassungsschutz, literally: constitutional protection agency). A parliamentary inquiry commission has revealed that the VS had several informants close to the NSU who largely knew what was going on, but never took any action. Also, one known informant had been seen near one of the murder scenes.
The official explanations for not taking any action or passing the 'intelligence' on to the police were that individual staff had failed to communicate properly. Amnesia and memory loss were also apparently common in the agency, as well as in the various police departments involved. In some cases, files were shredded days before they should have been presented to the inquiry commission.
As a result, several heads in the leadership of the agency have rolled, but no structural change has been suggested except that to unify police and intelligence service. The fact that this separation of the spies from the cops was an important lesson learned from the secret state police GeStaPo under the nazi regime is hardly ever mentioned any more.
And this is not the first time the spy agency's engagement in neo-nazi activities has become public. When the German government tried to outlaw the largest neo-nazi party NPD in 2001, the attempt was overturned by the constitutional court two years later because it had found that the leadership of the NPD was interspersed with VS informants. The court found that this made it impossible to distinguish which of the party's statements had been made by genuine nazis and which by agents of the state. The fact that the blending in worked so seamlessly speaks for itself.
Since then governments have shied away from having another attempt and the NPD still receives government funding at elections.
This makes the GCSB seem harmless in comparison, but provides enough reasons to think about the role these agencies play.
The arrogance of the German authorities over the murder victims continues. Despite the fact that the trial deals with the murder of eight Turkish citizens, it was to take place without any Turkish media present in the court room. This was explained with a glitch in the court's email system which had resulted in only German media being notified of the accreditation procedures in time.
Once a German court makes a decision, there is no going back. The court could have defused the situation somewhat by providing a video feed into another room, but decided not to. Even international protests from journalist organisations had no effect. Many pointed out that unhindered media access to trials is what the German government regularly uses as a measure to distinguish good democracies from bad dictatorships – when dealing with other countries, that is.
It took a Turkish newspaper to go all the way to Germany's constitutional court, which on Friday overturned the decision – and ordered the lower court to grant a whole three seats to Turkish media.
The call-out for the protest and background information can be found here.