Prohibition Debate: The Far-Right Threat to Germany’s Democracy

February 17th, 2012

Published on Spiegel Online International, by SPIEGEL Staff, February 16, 2012.

The leaders of Germany’s far-right NPD seek to project the party as mainstream and reasonable. In truth, however, the party is a melting pot for racists, Hitler worshippers and enemies of democracy. There are plenty of reasons to ban the party. But would it make the NPD more dangerous than ever?  

… But, in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a very different face of the party is on display – one that reveals Apfel’s rhetoric for the charade it is.

The NPD’s office there is on an arterial road in the town of Grevesmühlen. The local branch of the party has its headquarters on a commercial strip occupied by the likes of the local construction yard, a carpet store and a Mercedes dealership. The black, white and red flag of the German Reich flying above the property identifies the NPD office, which is surrounded by a 2-meter (6.5-foot) fence topped with barbed wire. Behind the fence is a watchtower, complete with floodlights, next to a building with bars on the windows.

The Germanic Elhaz rune, the symbol of the Third Reich’s “Lebensborn” program, which supported the production of racially pure Aryan children, hangs above the entrance.

Welcome to a building called the “Thinghaus” in Grevesmühlen, the local headquarters of the NPD. (The name is inspired by the old Germanic word for a governing assembly, “thing.”) Instead of being located in the midst of the populace, the building is in fact where the National Democrats are still to be found today: on the periphery – on the periphery of the town, the periphery of society and the periphery of public beliefs.

Most of all, the NPD is also on the periphery of legality.

Guarantee of Tolerance: … //

… Part 2: The NPD Bogeyman:

At the moment, the NPD seems to be its own worst enemy. The party’s membership is down from 7,200 four years ago to just 5,900 today. According to party leader Apfel, however, that number should also include another 200 to 300 nominal members, people who haven’t been paying their €12 ($16) in monthly dues. One in 10 NPD members is unemployed, a higher number than with any other party.

“Their social milieu seems fully exploited,” concludes a new study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is associated with the conservative Christian Democratic Union. Even Apfel estimates that the hard core — activists who take to the streets for the NPD, get involved in election campaigns and run for office in city councils, local administrative councils and state parliaments — consists of no more than 3,000 members.

One would think that Germany, a country with a population of 82 million, could tolerate a right-wing extremist group with no more than 3,000 core members, especially when this party has a tendency to expose itself to ridicule. Take, for example, Apfel’s campaign to rescue the German language from Anglicisms and his habit of referring to what 82 million other Germans know as the Internet as the “Weltnetz” (”world net”). In fact, this party comes across as a bad joke, and it might be enough to simply avoid repeating that joke.

Political Force:

On the other hand, it is the most important melting pot for xenophobes, anti-Semites and America-haters, and for the revisionists and revanchists who deny the Holocaust and admire Hitler. It is the only political arm of the ultra right, now that the German Republican Party and the German People’s Union (DVU) have lost all significance.

And there are parts of Germany where the NPD is indeed a political force. They are not, however, in the west, where the NPD has less than 500 members in a state like Baden-Württemberg in the southwest, with its population of 11 million. Neither does it have any seats in the national parliament, the Bundestag, having consistently failed to overcome the 5 percent hurdle in general elections.

But, in the east, the NPD holds seats in the parliaments of two states, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and it only narrowly failed to secure seats in the state parliaments of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. In the east, the NPD appeals largely to young men. The average age of party members is lower than that of any other party in the Bundestag. In a survey taken during the 2011 Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state election, one in five respondents said that the NPD is a “party like any other.”

Seen in this light, 3,000 can also be an intolerable number for a country of 82 million — especially when the NPD shows its evil face, its intolerable side.

The Party of the Swastika: … (full long 2 pages text).

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