BERLIN More than a third of Germans living in the former communist east harbour hostility towards foreigners, according to a report published on Monday, showing an increase of 30 percent over the past decade.
The study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation also found that more than half of east Germans believed foreigners came to Germany only to take advantage of its relatively generous social welfare benefits. For all Germans the figure was 31 percent.
Germany, long home to a large ethnic Turkish minority, has in recent years drawn growing numbers of people from crisis-ridden southern Europe as well as from poorer eastern European countries in search of work and a better life.
The report, entitled "The Middle in Upheaval - Far Right Attitudes in Germany 2012", showed nine percent of all Germans hold a "decisively far-right world view", up from 8.2 percent two years ago, but in the east it was nearly 16 percent.
"Far-right extremism as an urgent challenge for democracy and human rights requires a vigilant and continuous engagement of all actors in our society," the think tank, which has ties to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD.L), said on its website.
While nearly 39 percent of east Germans expressed hostility to foreigners, the figure was 22 percent in western Germany, its report showed.
The think tank attributed the greater attraction of far-right ideas in the east to its economic woes, especially high unemployment.
During the Cold War, schools in the communist east - unlike those in the capitalist west - did not try to instil a sense of national guilt for the Holocaust, meaning Nazism as an ideology was less of a taboo. There was also less exposure to foreigners.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a German intelligence agency responsible for the monitoring such threats as far-right and far-left activists, estimates that Germany has 25,000 right-wing militants, 9,500 of them violent.
Unemployed youths in the eastern states are especially vulnerable to neo-Nazi groups which indoctrinate them with propaganda glorifying Adolph Hitler's Third Reich.
Germans were shocked last year by the discovery that a neo-Nazi cell had gone on a decade-long killing spree across the country killing at least 10 people including eight ethnic Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman. (Reporting by Gareth Jones; Editing by Michael Roddy)