A resurgent right
Suddenly a resurgent far-right is taking centre political stage in Germany just as the nation marks the end of the war and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Leon Mangasarian reports.
Sixty years after the Third Reich's defeat, German leaders seem at a loss to counter a tightly organised rightist party which is exploiting the Holocaust in a brazen bid to expand its power.
Germany bickers over what to do with radical right
In a carefully planned affront, NPD members in eastern Saxony state's parliament walked out of a memorial service for victims of the Third Reich. For good measure, they also issued a statement equating Auschwitz with abortion.
"Since the end of Auschwitz, 18 million unborn people have been murdered in Germany ... is Auschwitz really over?" says the NPD on its website www.npd.de
Turning up the political heating in the debate about the extreme right and the NPD, Bavaria's conservative premier, Edmund Stoiber, accused Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat-led government for causing the "economic failure" that was fuelling extremist parties.
In a weekend newspaper interview, Stoiber said that tackling high unemployment was the key to combating the far right.
Much of Germany is aghast over the NPD, which won 9.2 per ent, or 190,000 votes, last September in economically depressed Saxony. An Infratest Agency poll shows 63 percent want the NPD banned.
Germany's tough-minded interior minister, Otto Schily, is furious.
*quote1*His ministry outlawed the party in 2000 only to see Germany's highest court overturn the ban in 2003. The reason given by judges was that too many NPD members had been recruited by Schily's ministry as informants.
The Constitutional Court justices alleged the informants were "steering" the NPD.
Schily, who remembers seeing the 1938 "Kristallnacht" or night of broken glass as a six-year-old boy when Nazis launched the Holocaust, angrily rejects this.
"A criminal does not become a state employee just because he gives the police information," says Schily.
Leaders in Berlin are arguing over a possible new bid to ban the NPD - but many are warning this might spark even more support for rightists.
"A second failure [of a ban] would be a disaster," admits Schily.
Political extremism experts, such as Eckhard Jesse of the Technical University of Chemnitz, say banning has not worked in the past and that democratic parties must meet rightists head on with better arguments.
"There is now an intellectual right-wing extremism in Germany," warns Jesse.
The news weekly Der Spiegel agrees, saying, "Neo-Nazis have managed to establish themselves in the mainstream."
Worrying as this may be, the rightists need to be kept in perspective: For years, polls have shown that the far-right has a maximum potential of 10 to 15 percent in Germany which is about on par with other European countries.
Meanwhile, the NPD and their German People's Union (DVU) ally have been cleaning up their act to escape the skinhead and streetfighter image they had in the 1980s and early 90s.
Suits, ties and courses in rhetoric are now the order of the day with private donors funding party thinktanks and rightist academics who serve as advisers. The NPD has temporarily frozen informal ties with Saxony's "SSS" skinhead group.
The NPD's chief strategist and spin doctor is a slick lawyer who, ironically, is named Peter Marx.
Under the ever-smiling Marx, the NPD has focused on east German anger over cuts to unemployment benefits as a way of broadening its appeal and seeks to be both a nationalist and a socialist party.
"The goal is supporting native families ... German money for Germans!" says the website of Holger Apfel, the NPD leader in Saxony's state parliament.
If a party ban is not on the cards, what is to be done? The established parties in Saxony appear clueless, according to Der Spiegel, and notes, "Up until now they have reacted helplessly."
NPD leader Holger Apfel: The radical right's new technocratic look
Der Spiegel argues that the far-right has profited from a new willingness among Germans in books and films to examine their own suffering during the war including the firebombing of cities, mass rape by Soviet soldiers and the expulsion of 15 million ethnic Germans from eastern Europe in 1945.
A letter to the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper by Juergen Schulz expresses this increasingly held view.
Schulz begins by underlining his distaste over the NPD's refusal to honour Holocaust victims.
But he adds: "When we remember the firebombing victims, isn't it time that we can say their death was murder and a war crime? Are not the established parties also partly guilty for the rise of the NPD and anti-Semitism in Germany, if they continue to treat this problem as a taboo and leave it to the far-right?"
The confused and uncertain response of established parties seems even stranger given the militant stance of the NPD.
NPD objectives are brutally clear to anybody who bothers to view the party's website or the latest edition of the German domestic security agency's annual report.
*quote2*The NPD's geopolitics are shown on a map of Germany from 1938 - including parts of the country lost after World War II to Poland and Russia - which is available as a silver coin to raise funds for the movement. The map has a sword across it with the words, "The Reich, our Mission".
The weekly Stern magazine says the NPD sells T-shirts, sweatshirts and posters emblazoned with the number "88". The letter "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet and "HH" stands for "Heil Hitler" an expression which has been banned since the Federal Republic of Germany was created in 1949.
The NPD treats Nazi leaders such as Rudolf Hess as heroes and takes aggressive, anti-foreign and anti-Semitic positions, says Germany's home security agency, the Verfassungsschutz.
A commentary in the party newspaper, "Deutsche Stimme" (German Voice), provides just one example: "The Torah is the original document of Jewish hatred of (other) nations."
Another NPD commentary warns that immigrants are threatening what it terms "the continent of the white nations with disintegration and decomposition".
Following their propaganda success with the Holocaust in Saxony, NPD activists plan at least two more big demonstrations aimed at upstaging Germany's established parties.
The NPD has called for a march through Dresden on 13 February to mark the 60th anniversary of the World War II firebombing of the city by British and US aircraft which left at least 25,000 dead.
An even worse public relations disaster for Germany could be in store on 8 May - the 60th anniversary of the Third Reich's defeat - when NPD leaders plan to march past the new Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
"Sixty years of Liberation Lies - End the Cult of Guilt," is the NPD's motto for the demonstration.
The party is also gearing up for state elections and functionaries have high hopes of winning seats in Schleswig-Holstein on 20 February and in North Rhine-Westphalia on 22 May.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: German news, National Democratic Party, extreme right, Holocaust