Nazi Ideals Inch Toward German Mainstream
| Neo-Nazis parade freely through Berlin and a far-right party may gain seats in another regional parliament. As dissatisfaction with the government grows, so do other unsavory elements.|
Fringe Nazi ideals are inching toward the mainstream in Germany.
On August 19, the German government permitted neo-Nazi rallies in Berlin and across the nation to publicly celebrate the 19th anniversary of the death of Nazi war criminal Rudolph Hess. Hess was a close friend and deputy of Hitler and was a figurehead in the Nazi party.
Authorities not only tolerated the parades, but they provided police escorts to assist the neo-Nazis in their procession through Berlin and removed counter-demonstrators.
Germany’s political environment—once clouded by apprehension over any display that would resurrect associations with its war-making past—has changed drastically indeed. Under the guise of free speech, far-right extremism is gaining acceptance to the point now where police will escort a rally honoring a Nazi war criminal and arrest those who protest it! As Germany sheds its postwar guilt, it is now protecting people who spout the same ideology that led to Germany’s war crimes in the first place.
The government’s tolerance of hate is matched by the growing popularity of political parties that make such ideology their platform. While Germany’s two main far-right parties, the National Democratic Party (npd) and the German People’s Union (dvu), have not to this point been successful at the national level, they have long enjoyed great popularity at the local level and increasingly are breaking into state politics. This is a dangerous trend, as it signifies a transition of far-right extremism from the fringes of politics into the mainstream.
Germany’s post-war constitution contains safeguards specifically designed to prevent extremists from seizing power. In particular, in elections, a 5-percent threshold exists for a party to obtain seats in federal or regional parliaments. “The law is intended to keep extremists from either end of the political spectrum out of power” (Spiegel Online, September 4). In two states within the former East Germany, however, already far-right parties have gained enough votes for their candidates to be elected to parliament. Two years ago, the npd entered Saxony’s parliament with 9 percent of the vote and the dvu debuted in Brandenburg with the support of more than 6 percent of voters. Now, a far-right party is poised to take seats in the parliament of a third state.
A recent poll indicates that the National Democratic Party is in a strong position to garner enough votes in an upcoming regional election to enter the parliament of the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the first time. The npd is projected to poll well over 6 percent in the September 17 election. “In fact, every tenth person surveyed said they would either maybe or definitely be voting npd” (ibid.).
The campaign tactics of this far-right party highlight the danger of parties with neo-Nazi ideals becoming mainstream. Spiegel Online reports that the npd is carrying out “a campaign of intimidation against their political rivals and their supporters” and “is reported to be using increasingly hostile tactics” (ibid.).
“For example, on August 18 the Social Democrat politician Margret Seemann was at her information stand in the town of Hagenow when she was surrounded by npd supporters and threatened, she told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“The right-wing radicals told her, ‘When it’s our turn, then you socialists will disappear.’ She retorted that this had already been tried in 1933 and that her party was still there. Seemann said that the leading npd candidate Udo Pastörs then appeared, surrounded by muscular bodyguards, so that no one could approach her stand. The group only left when the police arrived on the scene.”
The German newspaper Tageszeitung confirmed that this was no isolated incident. Politicians of the major parties are saying it’s “part of the new npd modus operandi: a strategy of confrontation and intimidation.”
This is not how the party presents itself to voters, however. Spiegel Online reported, “While the traditional image of right-wing extremists is young men clad in the neo-Nazi garb of steel-toed boots, bomber jackets and shaven heads, the npd in Mecklenburg-Pomerania is cultivating a more respectable image, aiming to represent itself as being part of the fabric of society and getting involved in various citizens’ initiatives. In fact, the state prime minister Harald Ringstorff (spd) has described the party as a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’”
Blending into the mainstream indeed.
The appeal of such groups tends to grow in direct proportion to general dissatisfaction with the political status quo among Germans. A survey conducted the week of August 21, revealed support for the conservative Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, had fallen to 30 percent, a drop of 13 points in a year to its lowest level in six years. “People can’t see which way this government is going,” Peter Grottian, a political science professor at Berlin’s Free University, said (Bloomberg, August 30). When Germans are unhappy with their current government or the direction of their nation, they take their worries to the ballot box.
While we don’t expect another Beer Hall Putsch or the npd to take over the German government, the direction Germany is heading in should be taken seriously. The German populace is not satisfied with the grand coalition and is increasingly looking to more radical alternatives.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
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