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Far right gains ground in Germany's east

By Rosie Goldsmith
Reporter, Crossing Continents

There have been calls in the German parliament for a ban on a far-right party that has been winning increased support in poorer parts of the east of the country.

An NPD demonstration in East Germany
Frequent NPD demonstrations are held in parts of eastern Germany

"The National Democratic Party (NPD) provides the core infrastructure for neo-Nazis in Germany. That's why we are considering a ban," says a determined Sebastian Edathy.

He is a Social Democrat MP in the German Bundestag and is the main voice calling for a federal ban of the far-right NPD. He has just got his party to agree to begin the long, slow process towards a ban.

In 2003, the proposal got as far as the Constitutional Court, and stumbled. Next time, Edathy says, it will work. He rattles off his reasons:

"The NPD is anti-Semitic and very racist. It is oriented on Hitler's old party, the NSDAP. It is against a multiple party system. It is undemocratic," he says.

"The NPD is quite obviously working openly against the constitution. For example, every weekend demonstrations take place organised by the NPD but involving radical, violence-prone neo-Nazis."

Resurgence

The NPD was created in West Germany more than 40 years ago, mainly by Nazi war veterans.

It lost members and direction until German reunification in 1990. As unemployment and unhappiness increased in the old east, the NPD gained ground.

Toralf Staud
This is one of the most interesting political developments in Germany - how the far right is gaining influence in rural areas and the provinces.
Toralf Staud
Author 'Modern Nazis'

The NDP sent over its money and best people from the west to deliberately target the neglected areas of the east.

Toralf Staud is the author of Modern Nazis, an important study of the recent growth of the NPD party and of the neo-Nazi movement.

"This is one of the most interesting political developments in Germany - how the far right is gaining influence in rural areas and the provinces," he says.

"There is little resistance because there are fewer democratic alternatives in eastern Germany, fewer churches, trade unions and NGOs, so civil society is much weaker there. And the mainstream parties are just not active in many places."

Mr Staud calls the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the far north-eastern corner of Germany "a laboratory of the far right". Of the 16 Laender - or states - it is the most sparsely populated and has some of the highest unemployment.

Michael Andrejewski
I have street credibility with them because I have been unemployed myself. I have shared their sorrows
Michael Andrejewski
NPD MP

After just a few years, with its focus on social outreach and local issues, the revamped NPD now boasts an average of about 10% support in that state.

In one community, Postlow, on the Polish border, it got nearly 40% of the vote in last year's state elections. Then, for the first time six NPD members were elected into the state parliament.

Today two out of 16 Laender have NPD MPs. And the NPD is hungry for more.

Reaching out

Michael Andrejewski "emigrated" from west to east in 2003. He is a lawyer by profession with no political training. Last year he became an MP for the NPD in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. I spoke with him at an NPD rally in the town of Pasewalk and asked him about the aims of the party.

"We want an independent Germany. We do not want alien powers like Brussels and the EU taking away our powers," he said.

"First, we have another concept for another society. Second, we help in daily problems, we listen to people and help them with admin and social services. I have street credibility with them because I have been unemployed myself. I have shared their sorrows."

Up to 500 far-right activists took part in the demonstration through Pasewalk. They waved banners and flags with slogans such as "National Resistance" and "More jobs. Fewer immigrants."

An NPD rally in Pasewalk
NPD rally in the East German town of Pasewalk

They wore mainly black clothes and marched to the beat of eight drummers.

Most of the demonstrators belonged to Kameradschaften - or comradeships. The police describe some of these groups as "militant neo-Nazis" and say many are violent and racist.

The fact that the groups have decided to support the NPD is crucial to the success of the party in this region, because this is their home turf and these are their local issues.

"This is not a racist party"

Crossing Continents asked Mr Andrejewski about this support for his party.

"I do not see them as neo-Nazis. If they were, they would want to restore the Third Reich, which they do not.

"They are young people from the region. The way they dress is just fashion. There is no violence behind it. If there were, they would be punished.

"This is not a racist party. It is a German party. We want Germany to stay German and we do not want to be overwhelmed by invaders or intruders."

Tino Mueller, NDP MP
We were lied to by politicians before the changes and we are being lied to again
Tino Muller
NPD MP

And when asked why he had moved from the west to the east, Mr Andrejewski replied:

"I came here because the ruling system is weaker here and easier to defeat. You have to attack an enemy where it is weak. "

Tino Mueller, the leader of the radical right comradeship called the National Germanic Brotherhood, was also at the demonstration. He is an NPD MP in the state parliament.

"I am a child of German unification. We were lied to by politicians before the changes and we are being lied to again. The NPD is the only alternative," he said.

"This is a party for young people - our average age is 37 - in the other parties it's 50. They have nothing to offer us."

I asked Tino Mueller if the party distanced itself from Hitler and the old Nazi party?

"We have got to look at these things in a balanced way," he said. "There are negative and positive aspects to that time - you cannot condemn the whole German tribe just because of those 12 years.

"The NPD wants to make politics for the German people but we are not the party of Adolf Hitler. We have new ideas and new problems today. And the NPD plans to act."

Wake up call

Toralf Staud, author of Modern Nazis, does not believe in a ban of the NPD party because he believes would drive the ideology underground. He says they need to be confronted head on to weaken their relevance.

"There has to be more argument about them and with them. Most people reject them or ignore them. But the NPD is already strong enough that you cannot ignore them," says Mr Staud.

"So far they are not at the doors of the Bundestag so the government does little. The danger has been in the provinces and rural areas (of the east). But in one or two years the NPD will run town halls and hold mayoral positions for the first time. Maybe then it will be a wake-up call."

Extremist parties are always a threat to democracy but I think our democratic system is strong enough to handle this challenge
Sebastian Edathy
SPD MP
So is SPD man Sebastian Edathy's call for a ban of the NPD too late?

"It would have been good if the first trial had led to a ban of the NPD [in 2003] but it is not too late. Education and prevention are also part of the tool box of stopping the NPD.

"I do not think they will make it into the Bundestag. Extremist parties are always a threat to democracy but I think our democratic system is strong enough to handle this challenge."

Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 reports on the rise of the NDP on Thursday, November 22 at 1100 GMT.



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SEE ALSO
The Far Right In Germany
14 Nov 07 |  Crossing Continents
Country profile: Germany
18 Sep 07 |  Country profiles

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