South Africa would have handled the NSU trial better
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is speaking in her column about life as a South African now living in Germany. The South African journalist lives in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
Germany recently began the largest trial in its history post-WWII –the NSU trial, which is examining the murders of eight Turks, a Greek, a German policewoman and 15 bank robberies by a neo-Nazi gang over the period of seven years.
It has been a public affairs nightmare for Germany as the department of foreign affairs and the legal institution committed faux pas, which left citizens wondering out loud what went wrong. Nine foreigners were slain and the various state security departments didn’t liaise with each other to share the information they had about the members of the gang, which each had been observing. After a nail bombing in Cologne, the police ruled out that it could have racist overtones – instead they placated the distraught families of the victims that it was probably rival gangs within the community who committed the deeds.
Shortly before the trial began, it occurred to the courts that they should sort out press accreditation for the press wanting to cover this highly prominent and controversial trial. Here it was a case of drawing lots to determine which media institution could cover the trial. This ended up in few Turkish media being allowed in to cover the event and caused diplomatic stress, as their government rightly pointed out that the majority of victims were Turkish so it would make sense that their press attend to cover the trial.
While watching all these stumbling blocks, I just thought the trial would’ve gone better if done in South Africa. In the early 90’s, South Africa faced the aftermath of Apartheid and how to deal with government-endorsed murders and freedom fighter’s actions – both sides left victims and these needed closure and forgiveness. This saw the birth of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If someone came forward to confess his/her crime to the family of the victim and was truly repentant, they would be forgiven.
The overwhelming spirit was one of transparency.
Germany is sorely lacking in transparency at the moment. The security branches operate as lone entities and do not share information – the NSU gang could have been stopped years earlier, if this had happened. The attitude of the courts of not taking the press seriously or allowing the foreign press to attend in full attendance is simply not 1st World thinking. By opening the doors to allow all the press to attend – it would show that Germany has nothing to hide. If the reasoning is that the courtroom is too small to host all those attending, then organize a larger venue!
This trial is a big deal for Germany. It is painting the country in a bad light – a neo-Nazi cell carried off a string of robberies and murders over a long period and no-one picked up on them! It also shows that foreigners in Germany still have reason to look over their shoulders, as locals are not all as friendly as the public opinion states.
Us foreigners have said this for a while but here it is – in black and white or to be crass, all in red of the slain victims.
So, in an ideal world – Germany should’ve taken a leaf out of SA’s legal approach and loosened their approach to allow transparency and thus gain credibility. South Africa might not be in Germany’s league on many fronts but in this aspect – Germany could certainly learn a thing or two about dealing with difficult situations.