Germany: Is banning far-right groups enough?

It would be curious of German authorities to claim this was not present before investigations of last year’s crimes. Combat 18 was a recognised extremist entity, mentioned in several editions of the Constitutional Protection Office’s annual reports (Bundesverfassungsschutzberichte). More importantly, it was closely connected to an already banned organisation: Blood & Honour. The extremism of this British-born group provoked a ban in 2000. Combat 18 was an avowedly weaponised off-shoot (formed in 1992), which makes the German government’s continued toleration in 2000 puzzling. Even in recent months, when the impetus to act was clear, the government has hesitated and delayed the ban of Combat 18, leading to concerns that members would have had time to prepare for raids and repressive measures against the group. Clearly, the German government’s handling of the Combat 18 ban has had many failings.

Yet Germany’s halting, hesitant response still outstrips most of its neighbours. Combat 18 originated in Britain, alongside Blood & Honour—but neither has been disrupted by any banning action there. In fact, until recently, the UK government did not pursue any organisational bans; only in 2016, applying powers of the Terrorism Act of 2000 (powers which were previously employed exclusively against Islamist groups), did the UK government ban a far-right group, ‘National Action’—the first British far-right group proscribed since the Second World War. Now is arguably an opportune moment, alongside Germany’s action, for the British government to strip Combat 18 of its right to exist in the UK. Although this is not forthcoming, it is at least somewhat heartening that British security services are devoting more resources to addressing far-right threats—but recent events lay bare the persistent shortcomings in their efforts.

Even the UK’s slight response is preferable to inaction or—worse still—exacerbating government influence.

In Poland, like Germany, there are legal instruments for banning organisations if they openly oppose the values of the constitution. Such instruments are rarely used, though, and never to great effect. In 2009, the neo-fascist Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny (the ‘National Radical Camp,’ ONR, which may be familiar to observers of the large nationalist ‘Independence Day’ rally that takes place annually in November in Warsaw) was prosecuted in Brzeg and banned, but only from the Opole province.

The organisation re-grouped under a new registration with a centralised national hierarchy, effectively side-stepping the local ban. Subsequent legal proceedings—for instance, for burning a Jew in effigy at a demonstration in 2015, or for public statements praising Nazi collaborators in 2019—have done little if anything to deter the ONR. Instead, ONR members might well feel fortified by the actions of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party. A former leading figure of the ONR was appointed as regional head of the ‘Institute of National Remembrance’ (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej), which is supposed to document and publicise crimes by the Nazi and communist regimes. Far from suppressing the far right, the PiS government at best eschews the threat of far-right groups—and sometimes quite decidedly shows encouragement.

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