An Incomplete Explanation: The NSU-Committee presents its final report


Published in Lotta – an anti-fascist newspaper out of North Rein-Westphalia, Rheinland-Pfalz and Hessen in issue number 53.

On the 22nd of august 2013, at the end of the legislative session the Bundestag NSU Inquiry committee (NSU-Untersuchungsausschuss, hereafter as UA abbreviated) presented its final report and declared their work finished.  At this time, it appears unlikely that the committee will ever reconvene.  Publicly, the committee’s work has drawn high praise; the talk is of a successful collaboration from all the parties involved.  According to our balance sheet, the committee failed to complete its assignment.

According to the joint proposal made by various fractions in the Bundestag for the creations of an inquiry committee on the 24th of January 2012:

“The UA should create a full  image of the ‘National Socialist Underground’ terror group, its members and crimes, its context and supporters, as well as why they  were able to perform such serious crimes for so long without being identified.  Based on lessons pulled from their investigation, the UA should come to conclusions and make recommendations in regard to the structure, collaboration, authority and qualification of the security and investigative agencies and for effectively combating right wing extremism.”  Only a UA could “summon witnesses under oath and compel them to testify.”

There can be no speaking of a reworking or even a complete clarification of the NSU serial murders.  Even the ombudswoman for the victims of the NSU, Barbara John, stated that the inquiry had ‘failed.’   The central questions, for example who the NSU and its Network really were or why, after the NSU was exposed, relevant files were destroyed, remain entirely unexplained.  Even serious doubts about the portrayals given by various state agencies, that nothing was concealed, nothing was covered up and there was no direct or indirect support given to the NSU, could not be satisfactorily dismissed.

No Indications of a Great Conspiracy Were Found

In the 1,400 pages the UA detailed, dissected, and criticized the manifold lack of coordination, the mistakes and the neglect of the failed investigative efforts.  The presiding officer of the UA, Sebastian Edathy (of the SPD) spoke, in summary, of a “massive failure of public authorities.”  All things considered, it remains the case that the responsible parties in high political offices continue to feel absolved.  As was emphasized by the interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (of the CSU) on the 22 August 2013 in front of the press: “The report explicitly confirms  that the German security agencies did not cover up the NSU murder spree and were in no way involved.”  The UA firmly holds as its conclusion that “at no point did indications emerge that any agencies participated in, supported or  approved in any way  of crimes committed” by the NSU.  According to the committee, there was also no indication that “before the 4th of November 2011 any agencies had knowledge” of the NSU or its activities or thereby, “helped to hinder the access of the investigating agencies.”  Furthermore they state that there was no support for the suspicion that Böhnhardt, Mundlos, Zschäpe or “ one of the other four charged by the OLG in Munich” (André E., Holger G., Carsten S. and Ralf Wohlleben) were confidential informants.

In this, the UA stuck to the charges made by the federal prosecutor’s office that reduced the NSU to three people plus four (alleged) helpers.  If one assumes, however, a broader understanding of the NSU as a network, and takes into consideration, for example, Tino Brandt, Thomas Starke, Thomas Richter, Kai Dalek or Juliane W., then many new ‘indicators’ appear for the awareness and complicity of individual administrators.

“… could not be clarified.”

Although valuable findings have been made, they should not be considered to be a rebuttal or disproof of doubt.  In all to many passages of the report, the committee came to the conclusion that the facts of the case “could not be clarified,” when addressing the contradictory testimony of various officials.

Now the investigation into the many remaining inconsistencies is being closed.  Although the shredding of files just days after the exposure of the NSU was explicitly and sharply criticized, it remains ultimately unexplained and has been treated as if it is of no consequence.  But how could it have been any different?  We are, here, reminded of that most frequently uttered sentence by the bureaucrats from various agencies – “I don’t remember” – in the over 100 examinations, many of which lasted several hours With their strategy of not-wanting-to-remember, the witnesses mostly came through their interviews easily.  In front of television cameras and press microphones, the UA members were scandalized by the outrages, the memory gaps, and the inconsistencies presented to them and how uncooperative the agencies showed themselves to be, however there remains today no criminal, political, or structural consequences for their systematic concealment and displacement of responsibility.  Although one of the central demands made by the parties in the final report is the strengthening of parliamentary control over the secret services, in practice it was shown through the UA that the agencies only pass on the information they want to their supervising committees.

Valuable Insight

To claim, however, that the attempted state lead investigation remains without a conclusion would be false.  The security agencies must, now in greater scope then ever before, provide a peek behind the curtains into their working methods for responding to right wing terrorism and neo-Nazism.  In doing so, it became clear that the knowledge of various authorities was lacking; it is often dependent on a few confidential informants and in regions and structures without any informants, information simply doesn’t exist.

The report clearly criticized how heavily populated the Nazi scene is with confidential informants and how dependent the agencies are from their so-called sources.  However, even here the majority of our questions remain open.  It is still unclear if the report succeeded in chipping away at the dogma of protection of sources in the secret services, not to mention the enforcement of the relevant guidelines.  The insight into the working methods of these authorities makes clear that the protection of sources in the name of “protection of state welfare” is more important then the explanation of these murders, and thereby also suggests it is potentially more important then the prevention of further murders.

In the worthy of reading report by the Turkish Community in Germany, this very system of confidential informants is analyzed as a “legal state of exception” and the current restructuring is very sharply criticized.  According to the report, this restructuring attempts to preserve a “security architecture” in which the Verfassungsschutz’s (VS, Office of Constitutional Protection) central role in the Bundesamt as ‘holy’ essence is ensured, and – de facto – the sanctity of confidential informants is safegaurded.  Consequently, the both the Turkish Community and the Left party urge the dismantling of the VS.  The Green party wants at least a general moratorium on the use of confidential informants.

Only Nazis are Racist?

One motif permeates the entire investigation of the NSU murder spree and various administrations’ regard for the right-wing scene.  The explicit naming of this motif, however, is completely absent in the UA’s general concluding report.   That motif is institutional racism.  In detail, the UA attempted to comprehend why the investigating officials predominantly looked at the family members of the victims and searched for alleged Drug and protection money networks.  But the leitmotif that pervades the whole investigation is not named in whole sections of the final report.  Racism was only a problem whenever the subject was neo-Nazis or recommendations for the future.

In the dissenting opinions of various fractions there is, however, graduated analysis of what must be named institutional racism in regard to the NSU-complex.  The CDU didn’t find it necessary to write a dissenting opinion, the FDP singularly urged that the “police and public attorneys become more sensitive to xenophobic attitudes.” The Greens at least came to the formulation: “The UA’s investigation has shown that the false and/or non-existent investigations with regard to the NSU’s murders are related to prejudice.  It would be naïve to assume that prejudices present in the Society are not also present in the prosecuting agencies.”  Nevertheless the Greens ascribed racism solely to individuals, but not to structures.  The SPD criticized the “Suspicion and prejudicial structures” in the agencies that were “routine and often characterized with racism.”  The Left alone mentioned institutional racism in detail and explicitly.

Elucidation and Intervention

In a joint statement made on the day the final report was published, the Co-plaintiffs spoke of a systematic  break down by the investigating agencies based on institutional racism.  The bitter truth is that the murders could have been prevented.  According to the Co-plaintiffs, aside from racist practices like Racial Profiling, the investigating agencies followed an internal logic; they passed on norms and values, whose racist consequences can be found in the investigation into the NSU case.

With the termination of the federal UA, a part of the federal investigation has closed.  Which suggestions will be transformed into reality remains a decision reserved for the political constellations of the next few years.  However, one should not expect to see the dismantlement of the VS or the confidential informant system.

The Network for Critical Migration and Border Regime Research, in an public appeal made at the beginning of September, stated the consequence of this preoccupation with the “NSU-complex” should be the changing of the very social and political relationships that supported the murders.  Perhaps for some it only first became clear, through the exclusion of the word racism in the final report, how little is to hoped from the big parties when its comes to the work and responsibility of agencies and politics.   The crux of all parliamentary review committees surfaces in the difference between the general and dissenting opinions:  which party was never involved in a parliamentary review committee that rubber stamped such fatal practices like confidential informants?  Which parties never had a high ranking politician that at some point, for the sake of the “protection of Federal Republic of Germany” or in order to prevent a “disturbance of the peace,” stood themselves in front of such agencies and, although they knew better, claimed “a right wing extremist motive can be excluded.”  The comprehensive clarification of the case ends where the interests of political parties are too greatly endangered.  This is all the more true shortly before a federal election.  A real investigation can only work when other parts of society no longer abandon themselves to the idea that a parliamentary UA or federal prosecution can successfully explain and investigate the NSU network as well as racism in federal agencies, media and the society at large – even when they earnestly want to.

Felix Hansen/Eike Sanders