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Wednesday, September 16, 1998 Published at 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK

The rise of the extreme right

Dozens of extreme right-wing parties have been banned

German Elections
Post-war Germany has vowed never again to allow ultra-nationalism or racism to play any part in its politics.

That principle is now under threat.

One far-right party, the Republicans, assert that "unrelenting mass immigration has brought criminal foreigners into Germany".

The Republicans and another group, the German Peoples Union or DVU, are both under surveillance by Germany's counter-intelligence agency, suspected of anti-democratic or unconstitutional behaviour.

The Republicans hold seats in the state parliament of Baden-Wuerttemberg, around Stuttgart.

And last April, the DVU gained the highest vote for a far-right group ever - 13% - in elections in Saxony-Anhalt, an economically depressed part of eastern Germany.

That was a success for the DVU's leader, an ultra-nationalist businessman from Munich, Gerhard Frey.

Focus on jobs

The heart of his campaign was the crude demand that jobs should be taken away from foreigners and given to Germans.

In Saxony-Anhalt, nearly one-third of all voters under the age of 30 supported the DVU.

In the country as a whole, opinion polls show some 10% of voters sympathise with far-right groups.

Alongside these changes in the political scene, more than 100 neo-Nazi or skinhead groups have grown up which glorify violence and praise the ideas of Hitler.

Assaults rising

Official figures show that assaults by such groups on foreigners, including Asian or African refugees and Turkish, Italian, and other immigrants, are on the rise.

Last year more than 400 injuries resulted from such assaults.

The German authorities' response has been to ban dozens of extreme right-wing groups.

But critics of Chancellor Kohl's government say it must itself bear part of the blame for their rise.

Conservative politicians have loudly complained about "foreign criminality" and Germany's "immigration burden", ignoring warnings that such talk would encourage racist attitudes.

Mr Kohl's followers' deny that, but they have vigorously staked their claim to the right-wing ground of German politics, in an attempt to ensure that no other group takes root there.

Vote expected to be split

Up to now, the extreme right has failed to reach the threshold of 5% of the vote needed to enter parliament.

This time, it has a chance to win close to 5%, but will still probably fail because that vote will be divided between the Republicans and the DVU.

But in one sense the far right may already have won, because it has begun to influence the large parties in their policies.

Even if the extremists do not get in, they will be a force to be reckoned with after the elections.

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