May 09, 2005
Far Right blocked as new Germany triumphs
From Roger Boyes in Berlin
MASSED German riot police and 10,000 protesters blocked thousands of neo-Nazis from ambushing VE-Day celebrations in Berlin yesterday by sealing them off from the rest of the capital.
The Government was spared the spectacle of skin-headed, black-shirted Nazi sympathisers marching towards the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust memorial and Hitler's bunker on this most sensitive of days.
"Let us out!" the angry neo-Nazis yelled after they were told to abandon a planned parade because of the risk of serious violence. Nearly 5,000 members of the German far Righthad met to hear Udo Voigt, the leader of the National Party of Germany (the NPD), denounce Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor, as a traitor.
"I already consider him a collaborator, a Chancellor working for the Allies, but if he goes to Moscow on Monday and does not pay tribute at German war graves, then that is tantamount to treachery," Herr Voigt said.
The outmanoeuvring of the neo-Nazis yesterday was a tactical triumph of new Germany over old Germany. More than 10,000 mainly young protesters against the neo-Nazis had been mobilised by left-wing groups, the trade unions and churches, and they moved to block the right-wing marchers from gaining access to Berlin's main boulevard, Unter den Linden.
When the police told the protesters to disperse to make way for the legally registered neo-Nazi demonstration, they sat down and refused to move.
Anarchists on bicycles moved from bridge to bridge organising resistance; others stormed into the defunct East German Palace of the Republic ready to throw bottles and shoot fireworks at Herr Voigt's black-clad followers. After a few hours the police urged the neo-Nazis to call off their procession and go home. Nevertheless, police arrested 42 people — 32 left-wingers and 10 neo-Nazis — for throwing bottles or using the outlawed "Hitler salute". One firebomb was also thrown at the neo-Nazis.
At the Brandenburg Gate, the tennis champion Boris Becker and other German celebrities urged their fellow countrymen to treat May 8 as a day of liberation from Fascism and not — as Herr Voigt said — "a day of defeat and sadness".
At a special session of parliament, President Köhler said that there could be no moral closure for Germany. "We Germans look back with horror and shame at the Second World War that was unleashed by Germany, and at the Holocaust — that crime against civilisation committed by the Germans. We remember the six million Jews who were murdered with devilish energy."
He also emphasised that Germans had the right to mourn their own wartime dead. "We mourn all victims because we want to do right by all people, and that in turn means we mourn our own." German suffering was the theme of the far-right rally. While those on the Left ran through the centre of Berlin shouting, "one Fascist Germany is enough!", the far Right was accusing the political establishment of hiding the truth about German misery during and after the war.
"How can we even think of celebrating this day when more than a million Germans died after May 8, 1945?" Herr Voigt asked, to loud applause. The reference was to Germans who died in Soviet captivity and those expelled from German-held territories in Eastern Europe. The neo-Nazis were joined by ultra-nationalists from across Europe, but not Britain. "Nick Griffin, of the British National Party, comes over occasionally to join us, but this was not the appropriate day," an NPD spokesman said.
The bizarre nature of the neo-Nazi rally — one of the largest since the war — was underlined by the number of frail war veterans, some wearing the Iron Cross, rubbing shoulders with the skinheads.
The neo-Nazis, banned by their organisers from drinking alcohol during the rally, went on pub crawls, picking brawls.