German neo-Nazis, hamstrung by tough laws back home, are increasingly organising bashes across the French border, including a recent commemoration of Adolf Hitler’s 125th birth anniversary.
Facing intense media scrutiny in Germany and a slew of tough legislation, many neo-Nazis have turned to surrounding countries to stage concerts and other events, including France’s northeastern border regions of Alsace and Lorraine.
The area, which was under German control for about 40 years and only reverted back to France after World War I, was the venue of a recent ceremony to mark Hitler’s birthday. Some 200 people crossed over the border for the party, held on the Saturday before Easter, in a communal hall in the Alsace town of Oltingue, which is near the border with Germany and Switzerland.
The local officials were in the dark until after it was held as the organisers had kept their plans a close secret. They had even banned participants from bringing cameras and mobile phones. “We sometimes have these kind of rallies, generally in the Moselle region which is very close to Germany,” said a police officer in Lorraine, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The officer said the events were “very tightly controlled and discreet” and did not “cause any trouble or pose any threat to public order”. “As a result, we do not have the authority to go in and see what is happening,” police said. “We can ban an event if there is a precise objective but this is never the case.”
Germany has toughened its laws to prevent the resurgence of Nazism, launching strict measures against such gatherings. “Apart from restrictions limiting the number of people gathered in a hall, sporting any Nazi emblems or any linked objects is illegal even in private,” said Gideon Botsch, a researcher in the far-right at the University of Potsdam.
German authorities have also cracked down on neo-Nazi hard rock groups. Songs espousing Nazi ideology or containing racist words are blacklisted and their sale is banned in the country. “The more liberal laws in neighbouring countries afford neo-Nazis opportunities” to hold events there, Botsch said, naming France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.