Democratic Deficits and Social Ramifications: Research on the NSU Court Case from the Viewpoint of Joint Plaintiff-Lawyers

NSU Trial, Germany, Nazi, Neo-Nazi

In summer 2018, one of Germany’s longest radical right trials will come to an end. As almost all of the defence lawyers now have given their pleas, the trial of the National Socialist Underground, or NSU, a radical-right terrorist group uncovered in November 2011, will reach its verdict. Starting in 2013, this court case has only recently become a topic of scientific research, being scrutinized by such different disciplinary lenses as law, political science, and sociology.

In 2017, a young researchers group funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation, and entitled “The Significance of the Ancillary Suit: The NSU Trial at the Munich Higher Regional Court from the Viewpoint of the Ancillary Suit Participants”, started its work on the NSU trial. The purpose of this research group was to analyse the significance and function of the ‘ancillary suit’ (or ‘Nebenklage’, a civil action incidental to criminal proceedings) in the Munich trial of the NSU, and its application as an instrument for protecting victims within a criminal proceeding in a constitutionally governed democracy. The project asks: Has this instrument been entirely effective in this proceeding? In what ways is its effectiveness limited here? Are there procedural deficits in regards to Germany’s democracy, which, with the media interest and international attention surrounding the case, might ultimately trigger claims of democratic deficits on the judicial level?

These questions have thus far remained unexamined in both public and scholarly discussions of the NSU trial. Here, the media has tended to examine the more scandalizing aspects of the trial; in contrast, the scholarly analysis of this research group is to illuminate the proceedings from the viewpoint of the joint plaintiff-lawyers. In terms of numbers, more than 70 ancillary plaintiffs are taking part, currently represented by more than 50 lawyers. This makes them an important element of the trial. It is only through the ancillary case that those harmed by the crimes have an opportunity for active participation in the adjudication and resolution of these crimes. It is through this function that plaintiffs can escape the role of passive victims. This also has enormous social importance in the context of a radical-right terrorist crime spree that deeply shook the confidence of the affected persons; restoring trust in the state’s protective function and its effective implementation.

The methodology of the young researchers group is guided by its central question concerning the existence of dangerous democratic deficits in today’s Germany, as reflected in the proceedings of the NSU trial. According to the working hypothesis, these procedural democratic deficits can also be extended to the judicial level, as exemplified in the analysis of this trial at Munich Higher Regional Court.

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Professor Samuel Salzborn is Senior Fellow at CARR, and is a Visiting Professor for Research on Antisemitism at the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at the Technical University Berlin, Germany.

Mr Marc Schwietring has a doctoral scholarship from the Hans Böckler Foundation for his PhD thesis on the NSU trial at Munich Higher Regional Court.

© Professor Samuel Salzborn and Marc Schwietring. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).