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Combating the rise of neo-Nazism demands a co-ordinated response

Strasbourg, 12.03.2014 – “The rise of neo-Nazi movements is not an isolated phenomenon particular to some Council of Europe member States, but rather a problem present in different forms and for different historical reasons throughout the continent. It thus requires a co-ordinated response, taking into consideration best practice, on a European level,” said Theodora Bakoyannis (Greece, EPP/CD), Chairperson of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), concluding a two-day hearing on counteracting manifestations of neo-Nazism.

The committee’s hearing took place on 11-12 March in Stockholm, organised by the Chairperson of PACE’s Swedish delegation and rapporteur on the subject Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden, EPP/CD) with the participation of Sweden’s Minister for European Affairs and Democracy Birgitta Ohlsson, Norwegian State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Public Security Hans J. Røsjorde, human rights advisor and former Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, and the Head of Department in Sweden’s Kungälv Municipality Christer Mattsson.

Minister Ohlsson stressed the topicality of the debate in Sweden. “20 per cent of Swedish high school students express clearly intolerant attitudes towards immigrants, Jews, Roma and homosexuals, thus being vulnerable to messages from extremist movements,” she said, quoting studies carried out by the Living History Forum, a Swedish government agency.

“But studies have also shown that there is a clear correlation between students’ attitudes and the number of lessons dedicated to democracy and human rights,” she added, thus underlining the importance of the Swedish National Action Plan to Safeguard Democracy from Violence Promoting Extremism. Having mobilised 65 million Swedish kronor (some 8 million euros) over a two year period (2012-2014), the Action Plan has provided workshops for classroom use on democracy, tolerance and human rights, among other things.

For his part, the Norwegian State Secretary spoke of his government’s action plan against violent extremism, which will aim at confronting online threats and the use of the internet as an arena for radicalisation. “We need to face the challenges regarding radicalisation and violent extremism together through international co-operation”, he concluded.

For Thomas Hammarberg, it was essential to take up the debate with neo-Nazi movements, whether or not they are represented in parliaments, and publically expose them. “We should not ignore them, we should not turn them into martyrs either,” said the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. He added that clear laws on hate speech, hate crime, and extremism were also necessary.

In presenting the “Kungälv model”, aimed at showing young people the value in participating in a democratic collective, Mr Mattsson noted that the majority of youngsters who join extremist groups do so before they even become teenagers. “We don’t necessarily need to convince them of democratic values, we simply need to plant the seed of doubt.” He pointed out that the recruitment of young people into neo-Nazi movements had all but stopped in the Kungälv municipality, where this model has been applied since 1995.

“Our focus should be on education, prevention and early reaction to manifestations of neo-Nazism and hate speech, as well as support for helping people to leave neo-Nazi and white power movements”, concluded Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin in summing up the discussion. The Rapporteur, in the framework of the preparation for the report, has already visited Greece and a visit to Berlin is foreseen in the near future.