German army hit by leap in neo-Nazi incidents

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THE number of neo-Nazi incidents discovered in the German army quadrupled last year, the Bundeswehr's ombudswoman reported yesterday. Compared to 44 cases in 1996, there had been 177 manifestations of right- wing extremism in 1997, causing "unquestionable harm".

In her annual survey, Clair Marienfield said 229 soldiers were investigated for neo-Nazi activities, including two lieutenants and 13 NCOs. "It is my impression that superiors and fellow soldiers reacted with sensitivity to such incidents, and took the appropriate steps," she wrote. Many cases involved nothing more sinister than soldiers listening to neo-Nazi CDs, unaware of the lyrics.

Ms Marienfield was scathing, however, about the Bundeswehr's "lack of distance" towards the traditions of the Wehrmacht. She was shocked to discover, during her visits to barracks, Nazi regalia on open display as part of historical collections, without an adequate explanation of their significance. Maps of the Third Reich and other period relics were shown alongside items from today's armed forces, suggesting some kind of continuity.

The ombudswoman was also unimpressed with the level of political awareness she encountered, complaining of "stunning ignorance" among some young recruits. The rise of right-wing extremism, she said, mirrored trends in society. But she added that officers were failing to grasp the opportunity to dispel some of the dangerous misconceptions that conscripts carry in their heads.

The military should improve courses in civic studies, she suggested in her report to Parliament.

Her report follows in the wake of a series of controversies engulfing the Bundeswehr. A special parliamentary commission is already investigating allegations of wide-spread neo-Nazi activities in the army. The sudden surge of recorded incidents may be due to growing awareness of the problem. But there is enough evidence to suggest that, after a period of decline, extreme right-wing tendencies are again on the rise.