Neo-Nazis crushed in German general elections
19 September 2005, HAMBURG - The far-right parties that scored gains in two regional elections last year were beaten into insignificance in polling Sunday in German federal elections, but still have one card left to play with a delayed vote to be held in an eastern city. The National Democratic Party (NPD), the main rightist group, did not qualify for any seats in the new federal parliament. Under a rule that excludes parties unable to win at least 5 per cent of the vote nationwide, neither the NPD, the al
19 September 2005
HAMBURG - The far-right parties that scored gains in two regional elections last year were beaten into insignificance in polling Sunday in German federal elections, but still have one card left to play with a delayed vote to be held in an eastern city.
The National Democratic Party (NPD), the main rightist group, did not qualify for any seats in the new federal parliament.
Under a rule that excludes parties unable to win at least 5 per cent of the vote nationwide, neither the NPD, the allied German People's Party (DVU) nor any other German rightists have ever managed to enter the Bundestag during the post-World War II era.
On Sunday, the NPD gained less than 2 per cent of the vote in most western states. In a few eastern states, its support ranged higher, between 3 and 4 per cent. The party has been strongest in the eastern state of Saxony.
Some of Saxony's votes have yet to be cast. In its capital city, Dresden, about half the voters will cast their ballots on October 2, due to a two-week postponement for one of Dresden's two Bundestag seats after the death, as it happens, of an NPD candidate. Her name must be replaced on the ballots.
The NPD has nominated in her place a nationally-known rightist, Franz Schoenhuber, 82, whose books glowingly describe his wartime service in the Nazi regime's Waffen SS military force.
While either a Social Democrat or Christian Democrat is expected to win the Dresden seat, the right is hoping that it will have optimal conditions to achieve perhaps a fourth place, and by doing so win nationwide attention.
Over the last year, Dresden has emerged as the NPD's main centre. It is the only capital among Germany's 16 states with NPD members in the state assembly, though they were mainly elected from rural areas of Saxony, not by urban voters.
While agitation by neo-Nazis in Germany often wins worldwide attention, rightist parties have never progressed over the last half century beyond the status of a small minority in German politics.
Professor Juergen Falter of the University of Mainz has surveyed rightist views in Germany's population. The political scientist said before the general election that German far-right parties can at best win between 5 and 10 per cent of votes nationwide.
The "optimal conditions" for the rightists to achieve that mark at the federal level had never occurred so far, underlined Falter.
Europe's far-right is generally seen as having a potential of up to 15 per cent. But unlike rightist movements in Austria, Italy, France and the Netherlands, the German far-right has mainly lacked a single charismatic leader since 1945.
The right is also prone to feuds and splits. Strains are already evident in a one-year-old alliance between the NPD - which is known for its anti-Semitism and links with neo-Nazi youth groups - and the DVU, which is bankrolled by newspaper publisher Gerhard Frey.
The rightists scored two high-profile victories in last year in the former East Germany. In September 2004, the NPD won 9.2 per cent of the vote in Saxony, and the DVU won 6.1 per cent in Brandenburg, after agreeing that each would be the sole standard-bearer in those states.
This followed a series of rightist wins in regional votes since the late 1980s. The extremists have usually only lasted one term in assemblies, with their deputies often proving to be incompetent.
The strong rightist showing in Saxony and Brandenburg states may have had more to do with anger over German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's cuts in jobless benefits than with anti-foreigner sentiment.
"They won votes from a wave of protest against social-welfare cuts," said political scientist Werner Patzelt of the Technical University of Dresden. Both states are in former communist eastern Germany, where unemployment is high.
"But this year there is a new alternative: the Left Party, which advocates a bigger welfare state," Patzelt said.
Analysts say the Left Party scooped up most of those protest votes on Sunday, leaving the rightists with far fewer hard-core supporters.
The DVU is not on federal ballots this year. Instead, the better organized NPD included DVU activists in its candidate slate.
The NPD houses a range of right-wing views, including young neo- Nazis and skinheads who make no secret of their admiration for Adolf Hitler. But increasingly the rightists are eschewing the clothes and symbols that make them stand out.
The party is united, according to Patzelt, by old-fashioned chauvinism, hostility to democracy and an economic system based on market principles, and a rejection of the pluralist idea that a modern society must be tolerant of political and racial differences.
Falter says the NPD follows a two-pronged strategy, both running in elections and seeking "extra-parliamentary" power on the streets.
One element of rightist street power has been the creation of what neo- Nazis term "liberated zones", which they claim are "purged" of foreigners.
"(The NPD) is willing to go into alliance with skinheads who intimidate the police and make life unpleasant for foreigners," says Falter.
Thanks to Germany's public financing of political parties, the NPD can count on substantial government funding in line with the number of votes it receives.
With the coffers refilled after the election, the party, which only has 5,000 to 6,000 members, will continue to seek support in its most promising terrain, the former communist east, Falter predicts.
Grumbling has already been heard from the DVU at the way the NPD ran the 'joint' campaign.
Gerhard Besier, who heads Dresden's Hannah Arendt Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism, says things will not stay muted much longer.
"After the setback, there'll be friction," said Besier, adding that the DVU and NPD only managed to bury their rivalry and ally in the hope of success.
"Powerful ruptures" are likely to follow failure, he predicted.
Subject: German news, German elections