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Sunday, 12 February 2012

Film Explores World of Female Neo-Nazis

This January, as Germany was still debating the aftermath of a recently uncovered murderous neo-Nazi terror cell, a timely new film was released about the country's far-right scene. It featured an unlikely protagonist -- a woman neo-Nazi.

Although not based on the story of Beate Zschäpe, who was arrested last year as the sole surviving suspected member of the neo-Nazi terror cell, "Kriegerin," which translates loosely as "female fighter" and is on wide release here, still has many parallels. Zschäpe and two male members of the underground neo-Nazi group are believed to have murdered at least 10 people, including small business owners of foreign origin and a policewoman, over the course of a decade.

Zschäpe's apparent role in the group -- and the fact that she is a woman -- has fascinated Germans. But it came as no shock to the new film's screenwriter and director, who spent two years researching women in the neo-Nazi scene in Germany for the film.

"I was totally surprised and shocked that for so long they weren't caught," director David Wnendt told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But I wasn't surprised that such a terror cell existed. In my research I saw that many in the scene were armed and prepared to use violence. It's a big leap to venture into killing people, but when one considers how many people are in this scene it's reasonable to assume that the possibility would arise."

The film's main character, 20-year-old Marisa, is modeled after the women he observed and interviewed during that time. Young, aggressive and deeply rooted in the neo-Nazi scene, her character represents a real and growing number of women taking a more active role in related organizations, and even committing violent crimes for their cause.

Contrary to the public perception that far-right extremism is solely a male problem, statistics show that one-fifth of the far-right National Democratic Party's voters are female. Women also take part in up to 10 percent of right-wing extremist attacks and crimes, according to "Mädelsache," or "Girl Stuff," a book about women in the neo-Nazi scene published last year. And that involvement is growing, write the book's authors, social scientists Andrea Röpke and Andreas Speit.

Wnendt says the phenomenon and its inherent contradictions fascinated him. "Women are still the minority," he says. "But a growing number aren't just in it because their boyfriends are. They're active of their own accord and have strong political convictions, and I think this is underestimated."

Not only do the combative females clash with the typical belief that women have fewer violent tendencies than men, but they also challenge the traditional gender roles within the scene itself, where a woman's place is seen to be "either as a mother or at the stove," he says. While their roles are used politically within the scene, neo-Nazi women also often face misogyny and abuse. "This means that the women must deal with these contradictions throughout their lives and they can never resolve them," Wnendt says.

Though the country's domestic intelligence agency estimates that only about 25,000 right-wing extremists are active among Germany's overall population of some 82 million, xenophobic ideas still enjoy widespread acceptance in the country.

This kind of mainstream sympathy for the seeds of far-right sentiment concerns the director. "One of the most important things I realized in my research is that many right-wing extremists don't feel isolated," he says. "They exist openly in their towns and villages, and I've met many that were totally integrated into society."

The stereotypical neo-Nazis are thought to be poorly educated, unemployed thugs. But for Wnendt, it was important to avoid portraying his characters as "idiots or monsters," he says. "For me it's clear that if a problem is to be solved, the people and the causes need to be understood. That doesn't mean that one excuses their actions, though. I want it to spark conversation."

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