BERLIN (Reuters) - A new novel about a neo-Nazi plot to assassinate Germany's first Jewish candidate for Chancellor has shed a timely light on the right-wing extremist violence that has plagued the country since 1990 and was swept under the carpet for years.
Political thriller "The Jewish Candidate" by British journalist David Crossland has been published just as Germany's September election campaign is heating up and at the start of a trial of a neo-Nazi cell blamed for a spate of racist murders that went undetected for more than a decade.
Built upon the intriguing notion of a Jewish politician named Rudolf Gutman running for Chancellor as the candidate for the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), the fast-paced thriller is told through the eyes of a reporter for a fictional London newspaper who stumbles upon a neo-Nazi plot to kill Gutman.
Set in modern Germany, "The Jewish Candidate" focuses on the surge in far-right violence since reunification in 1990 and on the country's failure to contain it.
Some estimates say almost 200 people have been killed in acts of far-right violence since 1990 that have often been directed at dark-skinned foreigners. Those killings were often downplayed by authorities and German society as isolated acts of random violence mainly in formerly communist eastern Germany.
That complacency was shattered in late 2011 when police accidentally stumbled upon a neo-Nazi cell, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose members killed eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman execution-style between 2000-2007 and carried out two bombings in immigrant quarters in Cologne.
"I started writing it back in 2007 before anyone had heard about the NSU," said Crossland, a freelance writer and former Reuters correspondent.
"I was reporting about neo-Nazi violence and was surprised at how lightly the authorities and the general public were taking it despite warnings that parts of the east were 'no-go' areas for anyone who doesn't look German."
The trial of a surviving member of the NSU, Beate Zschaepe, began in Munich on May 6 after two men who founded the NSU in the late 1990s committed suicide following a botched bank robbery in November 2011.
Germans have been closely following the trial and parliament is conducting its own investigation into the failure of police and security services, who neglected the far-right threat and suspected other immigrants were responsible for the killings.
The parallels between the real-life NSU and the fictional neo-Nazi assassins in "The Jewish Candidate" are striking but coincidental. The novel, set in the run-up to an election, includes descriptions of clandestine torchlit neo-Nazi meetings and of their links with the security services.
The novel also raises the interesting question of whether Germany might one day have a Jewish chancellor. It had a Jewish population of 670,000 before the Nazi regime and Holocaust. There was a vestigial community of 29,000 in 1990. Germany prides itself on its growing Jewish population of over 200,000.
Crossland, 46, who has lived in Germany since 1992, said Germany may be ready to elect a Jewish leader.
"But it's an unlikely prospect for now due to a lack of Jewish politicians," he said. "It's clear, though, that neo-Nazis are better armed and better organised than the authorities believed until the NSU came to light."
(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum, editing by Paul Casciato)
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