'More German youths in far-right groups than mainstream parties'

By Toby Axelrod, March 19, 2009

A newly released study suggests urgent measures are needed to combat right-wing tendencies among German youth.

Five percent of German boys aged 15 belong to right-wing extremist groups, according to the study by the Hanover-based Criminal Research Institute.

Most youth were found not to be antisemitic or xenophobic in this extensive survey of 44,610 pupils.

But scientists found that more boys belong to far-right groups than to mainstream political organizations. And that is what has researchers worried, said Christian Pfeiffer, leading scientist on the team.

“We did not expect the numbers to be that high,” he said. Overall, five per cent of boys belonged to right-wing groups and another 3.2 per cent identified ideologically with the far-right without belonging to any group.

“Among girls, the numbers were comparatively insignificant, and seemed related to whether they had a boyfriend involved in such groups.

In some towns or cities, as many as 10 per cent of boys belonged to right-wing groups. In other places, there was virtually no such identification.

Only youths of German background were asked about their views of Jews and other minorities. Teens from immigrant backgrounds were asked about their sense of belonging.

Pfeiffer said that the uneven results bolstered his optimism that a solution could be found. “Because it must be a local influence involved and not a national one. So it can be more easily identified and destroyed.”

He said local programmes would be compared and linked to the study results to find out which were the best practices.

“We assume that the regions with very high levels of right-wing youth have a lot of musical events that move in that direction,” he said.

“In Germany, the number of bands producing right-wing music went up from 90 to 152 in five years. We think that this emotional aspect is very important: people go to concerts and are affected emotionally and then decide to become members of these groups.”

In fact, about 10 per cent of boys reported familiarity with Nazi symbols through their music, clothing, stickers or other fad items.

When it comes to antisemitic attitudes, the study appears to endorse the view that there is a difference between former East and West Germany.

Among pupils of German background, seven per cent of those in former eastern states “showed clear anti-Jewish attitudes”, Dr Pfeiffer said.

In the former West, it was only three percent.

Responding to the report, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said that he would push for more funding for youth sports clubs in hot spots around the country.

“It is important to get to these youngsters who feel there is nothing else out there for them,” agreed Juliane Wetzel, an expert on educational programmes at the Berlin-based Center for Research on Anti-Semitism.

“It is really a minority that has extremist right-wing sentiments. It is more that they feel good being in a group,” she said.

Violent computer games are a major culprit in youth violence, added Dr Pfeiffer. “We found that all those problematic attitudes are closely related to their being involved in those very violent video games. The more they play them, the more hostile they are.”

Last updated: 12:44pm, March 19 2009