Italy fears influx of German neo-Nazis

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The Independent Online

Police in Italy's mainly German-speaking Alto Adige, the picturesque Italian Tyrol, fear their territory is becoming a magnet for German skinheads in the wake of Berlin's decision to outlaw the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour, which was founded in Britain.

Police in Italy's mainly German-speaking Alto Adige, the picturesque Italian Tyrol, fear their territory is becoming a magnet for German skinheads in the wake of Berlin's decision to outlaw the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour, which was founded in Britain.

Among 13 followers of the movement arrested last week was a German man considered to be the envoy between Blood and Honour members in Germany, the Austrian sections, and German speakers in Alto Adige. Police also seized large quantities of Nazi paraphernalia, including flags, CDs, swastikas and posters of Adolf Hitler, as well as baseball bats, knuckledusters and knives.

The 12 men and one woman are being charged under the "Mancino law", which makes racial or ethnic discrimination a crime. Several face further counts of causing bodily harm and violence in public places. They include four members of a Nazi rock band, Sudfront.

The German citizen is Achim Iohler, who has lived in Austria since being convicted of Nazi activities in his homeland. He is active in Blood and Honour's attempts to expand in the south of what the group considers "the great Germanic state".

Giancarlo Amato, local chief of the Digos, the Italian equivalent of the Special Branch, said that since the German division of Blood and Honour was outlawed in September, there had been "a noticeable increase" in the number of German youths appearing at the group's concerts - in effect, political rallies - in Alto Adige.

There is little to differentiate the skinheads of Alto Adige from their visitors, apart from a new fad among German neo-Nazis: to its dismay, the sportswear maker Lonsdale London has found its T-shirts coveted by the group because, when worn under a leather jacket, all that can be seen are the letters NSDA: the initials of the Nazi party.

"Some of them come from as far north as Dresden," said Mr Amato. "To travel 1,000 kilometres indicates there is a pretty good organisation and a strong desire to join up with other like-minded youths here."

Blood and Honour (which takes its name from an SS slogan) was founded in Britain in 1987 by Ian Stuart Donaldson, lead singer of the skinhead band Skrewdriver. It has since expanded throughout Europe and the US.

Umberto Negro, police chief in the regional capital, Bolzano, said the arrests and continuing surveillance were aimed at "thwarting any attempts to make this an operations centre or base".

There are historical and ethnic motives for Blood and Honour and other extremist groups to look to Alto Adige, where the SS attracted many recruits in the Second World War. German speakers form 70 per cent of the population; they call the region Sud Tyrol. Annexed after the First World War from the rump of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it was the subject of a rumbling dispute between Vienna and Rome until barely a decade ago.

Ethnic peace has been achieved, but only at huge financial cost. As a region with special status, Alto Adige not only gets vast subsidies from Rome but also has the right to retain 80 per cent of taxes for its own use. Other regions have to hand over all revenues to central government before getting a percentage back.

The tranquillity of the rich Alpine region has been much disturbed by skinheads in the past year. This month a Moroccan cleaner was beaten up and stabbed in the chest at a motorway petrol station by 10 skinheads on their way back from a concert. Another concert saw a huge brawl between the Alto Adige contingent and Italian skinheads from the Veneto area. The German-speaking neo-Nazis despise their Italian-speaking counterparts, whom they consider racially inferior, while the Veneto skinheads assert that they are not from debauched Latin stock but of Celtic descent.

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