Controversy is raging in Germany over the case of Nadja Drygalla, a 23-year-old rower who left the London Olympics last Friday after her relationship with a leading member of the far-right neo-Nazi scene in the northeastern city of Rostock was revealed.
Drygalla herself has denied holding the right-wing views of her boyfriend, Michael Fischer, who, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, is “widely reported to have been a leading member of the Nationale Sozialisten Rostock (National Socialist Rostock) group and who campaigned for the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD);” Fischer used to row himself.
Drygalla chose to leave London to avoid distracting her teammates, says the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB). Politicians are now accusing the DOSB of knowing about Drygalla’s relationship long before the Olympics and not taking this into account. Last October, Drygalla had been pressured to resign from her job as a policewoman because of the relationship and, according to Der Spiegel, the Interior Ministry of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania had known that Drygalla and Fischer were in a relationship in early 2011.
In an interview on Sunday with the German News Agency DPA, Drygalla said that she had considered leaving Fischer and that their relationship was “very heavily burdened” by his political activities. She also said that Fischer had “personally broken with the whole scene and said goodbye to it.”
As the New York Times details, Drygalla is from Rostock, which has indeed been associated with neo-Nazi activity. In 1992, crowds cheered as a building housing Vietnamese guestworkers was firebombed, amid days of riots against foreigners. This past year, a number of Germany’s senior law enforcement officials have resigned over their decade-long failure to bring members of the extreme-right National Socialist Underground to justice. Over a decade, at least ten people (nine of Greek or Turkish origin) were killed and several banks robbed by members of the group. Last year, two of its leaders were found to have committed suicide and, after a failed bank robberty, a third, Beate Zschäpe, turned herself in.
Is a “witch hunt” going on in which Drygalla has been in effect put on trial about her possible political views and personal choices, or is this is a case of a Nazi scandal? Der Spiegel asks these questions in presenting a round-up of responses to the controversy:
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “… hardly anyone has been asking what Nadja Drygalla is supposed to be guilty of — and whether an athlete should be ostracized simply because of her choice of partner.”
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung argued that it is not Drygalla who has been at fault: “The issue isn’t the political convictions of an athlete but how German sports bodies and interior ministries handled the case. Drygalla even ended her police career in 2011 because of her circumstances. But she went to the Olympics and was about to get sponsorship from the German army. And now (Thomas) Bach, the political head of the German Olympic delegation, is complaining about uncomfortable questions being asked? They were bound to arise.”
The Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel has been more outspoken in its criticism: “Drygalla voluntarily hitched up to a scene that glorifies Germany’s darkest years as its brightest. The rower is either unbelievably naïve or stupid or infected by Nazi demons herself. None of those variants lends itself to letting Drygalla appear as a model sportswoman for Germany, but the German Olympic Federation and the German Rowing Federation could have known that sooner.”
Germany’s sensitivity about its history is apparent in its outraged response to a front-page article in an Italian newspaper, Il Giornale (which is owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi), in which Chancellor Angela Merkel’s domination of European politics is called a “Fourth Reich.”
Greek high jumper Voula Papachristou and Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella were both removed from their countries’ Olympic teams after posting racist tweets. Was Drygalla forced to leave her team because of “guilt by association”? Is Germany overreacting or, given the rise in neo-Nazi views and violence, it is taking prudent steps to address dangerous attitudes?
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