Swiss Radio International, 08.11.2005
swissinfo-interview: Clare O'Dea
Outreach worker Samuel Althof, who has spent five years among
young extremists, tells swissinfo personal problems often lie
behind militant behaviour.
The spokesman for Action Children of the Holocaust says that by
dealing with these problems the pressure group has helped more
than 40 far-right and far-left extremists abandon militancy.
Basel-based group was, as the name suggests, founded by children
of Holocaust survivors.
the past 15 years, its members have been involved in a number
of campaigns against racism and anti-Semitism. Now their main
focus is on extremism prevention.
"internet-streetworking" project, which involves approaching
young extremists in a bid to help them find a way out of the scene,
works in collaboration with Basel University's youth violence
swissinfo: Why is it important to target both the far-right and
Samuel Althof: Because far-right and far-left extremists are related
to each other. Each side uses the other to justify their existence.
If you just work with the far right, you don't get in touch with
the whole problem.
swissinfo: How significant is the far-right scene?
S.A.: If you judge it by media coverage, the problem seems to
be very big. But if you look at the facts, you have about 1,200
far-right activists in Switzerland. A minority of them are hard-core
activists who have developed their own closed ideology.
people in the scene come and go. You have a lot of people showing
up at concerts or events who do not have a deep involvement or
fixed ideology yet. These young sympathisers are the ones we work
is very important is that there is no strategic working alliance
between the far-right groups in Switzerland now. They are trying
to establish it but up to now have not been successful. So you
cannot say that we have a national problem. But we sometimes have
local problems that can be very dangerous.
swissinfo: And on the far-left?
S.A: There are more people, over 3,000, and they have a very well
functioning network. These groups have a strategy of violence
in their politics.
swissinfo: How do you approach people who are attracted to these
S.A.: We use the internet but we also go into the scenes or get
information from parents, instructors and classmates.
we work through the internet, we watch them for a long time and
collect information about them. A typical experimental extremist
has none of his own content on his website. His website has copy-pasted
content from many places.
these so-called nationalists, you can reach them if you start
to engage with them but we never argue with them in a political
always discover complicated family problems and usually we find
that there is a weak or absent father.
can also happen that the young person has experienced real problems
with young foreigners at school. They may have been beaten up
or bullied and they get no help to get along with the foreign
children so they start to become racist. They have no coping skills
and start to use black and white views. They fall into a racist
swissinfo: What is the attraction of the neo-Nazi ideology and
S.A.: It is the power of identification with the aggressor; this
has a lot of power. To put it simply, these people are trying
to go from being a loser to a winner.
taking something that is taboo in society, they show that they
are strong. They also use it to shock their parents and keep them
at a distance.
swissinfo: Do you have much success in convincing them to change
S.A: We never try to convince anybody. If we did this we would
push them deeper into the mindset because our assessment of these
young far-right people is that the external behaviour is not the
have learnt that they have problems behind this and that's what
we talk about. We try to build opportunities for them to leave
the scene, to find a win-win situation by leaving it behind.
swissinfo: What is your advice to a parent who finds their child
has drifted into an extremist scene?
S.A.: Even if your child is behaving in a way you don't like,
you have a responsibility as a parent to accept him. If you don't,
you make it worse by giving him grounds to be like he is.
Parents have to enter into a critical dialogue with their children
- there is no point in throwing them out of the house. Rather
than attacking the behaviour, you have to talk about it.
Action Children of the Holocaust has been involved in a number
of campaigns against racism and anti-Semitism.
also conducts research and co-founded the Swiss contact organisation
for the children of Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution, which
has built up an archive.
members of the organisation work exclusively on extremism prevention,
dealing with cases all over Switzerland.
- A 2004 national report on extremism in Switzerland estimated
that there were 1,000 far-right extremist activists and 2,000
far-left extremist activists in Switzerland. The report defined
the scenes as follows:
- Left-wing extremism is a broad church including adherents of
communism, Marxism, Leninism, socialism and anarchism.
- An extreme-right attitude is characterised by extreme nationalism
linked to xenophobia, along with aggressive racism and anti-Semitism.