BERLIN (AP) — Dealing with a surge of right-wing extremism among its fans, Borussia Dortmund has long used social workers at games to defuse tense situations and help promote tolerance.
This month, however, the social workers themselves ended up being attacked by a group of neo-Nazi fans, with one of them beaten badly in a stadium toilet.
It was one of many recent incidents that highlight how Germany — and Dortmund in particular — is still dealing with grim reminders of its dark days of racism, intolerance and violence.
Far-right extremists in the west German city of 600,000 inhabitants have been able to infiltrate some of Borussia Dortmund’s fanatical supporter groups, recruiting sympathizers and leading to an upsurge in thuggish behavior and violent attacks.
Dortmund, in the heartland of the industrial Ruhr area, has long been a magnet for immigrants from all over the world. It also serves as a focal point for neo-Nazis in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In no other German state are more right-wing offences recorded.
Media reports suggest around 100 neo-Nazis regularly attend games among 24,500 fans on the south terrace, Europe’s largest standing-only section, in Dortmund’s Westfalen Stadium.
“We believe there a few right-wing extremists,” the club said in a statement. “The authorities say they have not noticed a significant increase in their numbers in recent years. However, there have been significant changes in the type of incidents.”
It may be a fringe group, but violence has increased dramatically.
Before Dortmund’s Champions League at Shakhtar Donetsk on Feb. 13, fan representative Jens Volke was accosted and struck in the face when he approached three neo-Nazis who were chanting far-right slogans. Ukrainian wardens prevented anything worse happening.
Two of the men then followed Dortmund Fan Project leader Thilo Danielsmeyer to the toilet. The door burst open, and as Danielsmeyer turned around, he was struck in the face. An accomplice kept watch while the beating continued. The assailant kept punching him, kicking him in the back, before trying repeatedly to bash his head against the wall.
The three hooligans have been identified by the club and banned from stadiums across Germany. They each face charges of causing grievous bodily harm and verbal abuse.
“The actions were despicable and represent an absolute taboo,” Dortmund managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke said.
The club has pledged “zero tolerance” for right-wing extremism but faces an escalating struggle as neo-Nazis answer with displays of defiance and violent acts of reprisal.
Source: USA Today