by Maja-Aleksandra Lisov (University of Regensburg)
When addressing a topic such as right-wing extremism in Germany, many may ask themselves how such tendencies in the political spectrum are even possible in this country after World War II. It is a widespread belief that all people, even the following generations that had nothing to do with the war, should learn from the mistakes of the past in order to make a rebirth of extreme right-wing policies in Germany impossible. However, when one examines the political happenings in Germany today, especially with regard to the right-wing of the spectrum, there is one party that stands out the most: the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).1 The most frequently asked questions regarding this party are simple ones: how and why? How was it possible for the party to gain even an ounce of popularity and why do people vote for it? Additionally, who exactly are the party activists? It is important to note that it is not possible to discuss every relevant when trying to briefly analyze the problem. Over the years, many different circumstances and factors played a major role in the development of the party, as well as its highs and lows. In this essay, the main focus lies in giving an overview about the topic which might encourage further personal research in these areas.
When the Federal Republic of Germany was established in 1949, it was given an anti-totalitarian foundation and conceived as a clear break with National Socialism. Many of the ‘founders’ had actively fought against the Hitler dictatorship, or had simply kept to themselves during the regime. After the Second World War, National Socialism and right-wing extremism were highly discredited among German society. According to Bergsdorf, however, after the German capitulation on May 8/9, 1945, there remained millions of devoted Hitler supporters. They did not see the democratic model of the Weimar Republic as a positive experience. Among those people, democracy was associated with impoverishment and politically motivated urban riots. This left post-war Germany with a large number of eligible voters who still held sympathies for fascism, as well as resentments against democracy.2
As time passed, National Socialism lost its support and the democratic parties succeeded in convincing most of the politically disoriented people of their cause. The question is, however, whether these people were convinced out of pure inner belief or whether their change in opinion was due to opportunism during the economic miracle. It was mostly those who supported the democratic parties purely to gain profit or a better social standing, who later started to support right-wing parties like the NPD.3
The NPD was founded by leading right-wing extremists in Hannover on November 28, 1964. Friedrich Thielen was their first chairman. The aim of the NPD was to gather all dispersed right-wing extremists in order to found a party that had no relation to the image of racket and riot making that had characterized the movement in the past. The NPD was based on the postwar German Reich Party (DRP)4, which had declared itself as democratic. However, from 1950 until 1965, the DRP’s programme had clearly extreme right-wing tendencies. The NPD sought a fresh start; they wanted to emerge as a party without burdens.5
One of the reasons for the party’s success is the fact that the NPD was able to win a number of votes from people who completely opposed the idea of communism. During this high, the NPD achieved a degree of success, the likes of which they would never again attain: a total of 9.8% of the vote during the state elections in Baden Wuerttemberg in 1968. The party never achieved such a success at the state level again.6 It is also said that East Germany is fertile ground for right-wing extremists. According to Bergsdorf, one of the reasons for this trend was the isolation of the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War. Neo-fascism was present there, but people were not allowed to talk about it. Furthermore, there were hardly any experiences of contacts with foreigners and immigrants to learn from, since the Soviet soldiers and Vietnamese contract workers living there were ghettoised and therefore not a part of East German society.7 East Germans did not learn to live with different cultures.
Since 2013, there have been new attempts by state governments to put proceedings into motion which would prohibit the NPD. These attempts, the first of which failed in 2003, were revisited following the release of information to the public regarding nine murders committed between 2000 and 2006. These murders, which targeted small businessmen with foreign roots, were committed by a right-wing group called “National Socialist Underground”.8 Among the victims was Theodoros Boulgarides, who was killed in 2005. Boulgarides was a Greek who was likely mistaken for a Turk, since all of the victims before him were of Turkish origin.9 Despite the fact that to this day no connections between the NSU and the NPD have been found, the proceedings against the right-wing party continue. The party informs their supporters of the newest developments through their website.10
In order to fully understand the ideological development of the NPD, one must look beyond their official party statutes. Parties like the NPD tend to use double speak. As such, the listener must decode the party’s language in order to understand what the officials are actually saying. Such parties have to ‘disguise’ themselves, otherwise they would be forbidden by the government. With their double speak, members of the NPD downplay, negate or even praise Hitler and his atrocities without being in danger of prosecution. When analyzing the ideology of the NPD, one has to differentiate between programmatic appearance and ideological reality.11 The best example of this form of double speak is found in a statement given by former party chairman Udo Voigt. During an interview, Voigt was asked what he thought of Hitler, to which he replied: “Because of running judicial inquiries, I’ll listen to the advice of my lawyer and won’t expand upon this topic.”12
When it comes to democracy, the NPD presents itself as its main champion. The NPD argues that there is no democracy in Germany and that they alone are fighting against foreign domination. This subjection of the country is said to stem from the activities of the Allied Countries, foreigners, the Jews, the EU and the US, as well as inner enemies. The NPD’s pseudo-democratic propaganda is used to weaken democracy in Germany.13 In order to denigrate the Federal Republic, the NPD has declared it a political system based on lies and disparagements; it is the job of the party to reveal this net of falsehoods.14 The NPD has no declared belief in liberal democracy, nor have they declared themselves to be against all forms of extremism, violence and dictatorship. Instead, they emphasize to a great extent their democratic character, but in reality they maintain an undemocratic agenda.15
When confronted with accusations of xenophobia, the party simply denies the allegations by saying that they are not xenophobic, but rather a native-friendly and immigration-phobic alternative to a policy that has declared ‘foreigners in Germany’ a taboo issue.16 Yet, foreigners tend to act as the NPD’s central scapegoats and the incarnation of their concept of enemy. The NPD sees integration as an infiltration of the country and positions foreigners as the primary cause of unemployment and crime.17 In their opinion, mass immigration will flood Germany and this, in turn, will lead to “over-alienation” and tensions, ultimately resulting in a civil war. The NPD depicts immigration as a horror scenario in which foreigners are always the culprits and Germans are always the victims.18
By and large, the NPD does not emphasize its ideas on foreign and European policy. Nevertheless, the party’s main goal is to isolate Germany. They advocate the return of the Deutsche Mark, demand the decampment of all foreign troops in Germany, and call for the country’s withdrawal from NATO and the German Armed Forces from foreign assignments. Instead, the German forces should be strictly used only for homeland security. The NPD rejects the “EU-dictatorship”, but does not take into account that with Germany’s withdrawal from the Euro and the EU, that the US would become stronger in relation to Europe.19 This contradicts their aim to lessen the influence of the US over Germany.
During the past few years, the NPD has seen a constant annual decrease in membership. This decline totals nearly a few hundred people every year. In 2014, approximately 5,200 people were registered as members of the NPD, whereas during the period 2005 to 2014, the party reached their peak number of supporters with 7,200 members registered in 2007.20 Yet, even a small number of people can inflict significant damage (see the National Socialist Underground).
The NPD’s political offspring are recruited from the considerable youth organization “Young National Democrats”21, which reportedly has connections to neo-national socialists and skinheads. Moreover, in order to gain new supporters, the party executives also work as the publishers of the NPD’s most important newsletter, German Voice.22 The newsletter is published once a month with a circulation of over 20,000 copies. German Voice cannot be purchased at kiosks, though the articles are published online on the paper’s website. The NPD also relies heavily on the Internet so that they are not so dependent on television, radio and the newspapers of other publishing houses.23 The party also regularly uses social media to attract new supporters and to keep existing supporters informed of the NPD’s narrative concerning current topics of discussion.24
Those who vote for the NPD are primarily from the middle and the lower classes of German society. Education also plays a role: people with a high-school degree (German Abitur) are less likely to support the party than people who are less educated. Where they enjoyed electoral success, the NPD is relatively popular among low-paid workers and the unemployed.25 Their voters tend to refer to themselves as deprived when compared to other voters, and they are more likely to think that Germany has a problem with too many immigrants.26 More men, especially those between the ages of 18 and 24, tend to vote for the NPD than women.27 Additionally, many pensioners and people in early retirement belong to the party’s supporters. All in all, while people may not join the party itself, the number of people that agree with the NPD’s extreme right-wing discourse has risen in the past few years.28
Concerning the crisis in Greece, the NPD has been one of the loudest voices against further bail-out packages.29 However, upon closer reading it becomes clear that the whole narrative is not primarily oriented against Greece (even though Greece is called a “barrel without a bottom”30), but more so against the current German government. The NPD does this out of self-interest; they want to discredit the government in order to gain more supporters themselves. Attacking the government and making it seem like Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party are the ones to blame for everything, appears to be the NPD’s primary strategy in this.
However, no matter how much the NPD may or may not attack Greece during this whole crisis, there is strong solidarity between the NPD and the Greek right-wing party Golden Dawn. The first connections between these two parties were made in 2004 within the scope of the European National Front, which was a coordinating structure of European National Parties.31 The best bond between the NPD and Golden Dawn seems to lie within the latter’s connections with Bavarian right-wing extremists. According to a report by the neo-Nazi umbrella organization Freies Netz Süd, a joint “cultural policy trip” was organized in November 2012, in which both NPD and Golden Dawn members took part. Together they visited the Nazi party rally grounds as well as other former places of Nazi activity. Afterwards, they held a meeting in Fürth concerning the “conditions in Germany in Greece.”32 On February 13, 2011, delegates of Golden Dawn took part in a memorial march for the victims of the Allied bombings during World War II in Dresden. They did so upon receiving an invitation from the NPD. Additional events and meetings between the NPD and Golden Dawn in Greece are also known to the German government.33
According to their Internet proclamation, Golden Dawn founded a foreign office for their party in Nuremberg, whose first public appearance took place on January 7, 2013. On their website it is said that the, “external Greeks answer to the dirty hippies and the regime of the democratic dictatorship in [their] country,”34 and that they are, “waiting for the trumpet call of [their] leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, in order to spread over the whole world like a tremendous storm and to achieve the final victory.”35 However, upon hearing about this, the OEK (Union of Greek Communities) declared the foreign office of Golden Dawn to be undesirable and a disgrace for Greece and Europe.36
The NPD uses its website to demonstrate its support for Golden Dawn. Even now, Euro-MP Udo Voigt emphasizes the friendship between the two parties by taking a stand against the “injustice” Golden Dawn faces, such as the imprisonment or house arrest of party members. He even personally traveled to Athens, accompanied by Roberto Fiore, the chairman of the Italian right-wing party Forza Nuova, in order to visit the imprisoned party members.37 The NPD also publishes short party statements on their website concerning Golden Dawn. Articles, which also often mention Udo Voigt, are titled “Freedom for Golden Dawn!“38, “A Case for the ECJ!”, “Yes to Europe! European rightists close ranks!” and “Together for Europe!”. It is clear that the NPD supports Golden Dawn and that they have a friendly relationship, even throughout the crisis. This may be due to the NPD blaming the current government for the crisis instead of the Greeks; something Golden Dawn surely sees as positive.
The relationship between the NPD and Golden Dawn is not the only one between right-wing extremists in Europe. Both parties belong to a larger extreme rightist network in Europe: “Europe’s patriots show solidarity with Russia!”39 is one of the party statements on the NPD’s official website.
- German: NPD = Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands. ↩
- Bergsdorf, Harald: Die neue NPD. Antidemokraten im Aufwind. Munich 2007, 27-8. ↩
- Ibid., 29-30. ↩
- German: DRP = Deutsche Reichspartei. ↩
- Bergsdorf, Die neue NPD, 33. ↩
- Ibid., 38. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Schwaabe, Christian: “Rechtsextreme Gewalt in Deutschland” (2012), http://www.goethe.de/ins/gb/lp/prj/mtg/typ/rec/de9340047.htm (last access: 25.09.2015) Also available in Greek. ↩
- Sundermann, Tom: “Ein Mord ohne Plan?”, in: Die Zeit Online, 2013, http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2013-09/nsu-prozess-boulgarides/komplettansicht (last access: 27.12.2015) ↩
- https://npd.de/verbotsverfahren/ (last access: 27.09.2015). ↩
- Bergsdorf, Die neue NPD, 79. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., 80. ↩
- Ibid., 84. ↩
- Ibid., 89f. ↩
- “Ist die NPD ausländerfeindlich?”, https://npd.de/ist-die-npd-auslaenderfeindlich/ (last accessed: 20.09.2015). ↩
- Bergsdorf, Die neue NPD, 98. ↩
- Ibid., 100. ↩
- Ibid., 103. ↩
- “Mitgliederzahlen der rechtsextremen Parteien in Deutschland von 2005 bis 2014”, de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/4760/umfrage/entwicklung-der-mitgliederzahlen-von-rechtsradikalen-parteien/ (last access 29.09.2015). ↩
- In German: “Junge Nationaldemokraten”. ↩
- In German: “Deutsche Stimme”, https://deutsche-stimme.de/ (last accessed: 28.09.2015). ↩
- Bergsdorf, Die neue NPD, 110. ↩
- Social media include NPD profiles on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/npd.de), Twitter (https://twitter.com/npdde) and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/offensivTV) , as well as the Facebook page of the “Deutsche Stimme” (https://www.facebook.com/DSVerlag/timeline) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/DeutscheStimme) (All last accessed 28.09.2015). ↩
- Bergsdorf, Die neue NPD, 114. ↩
- Ibid., 116. ↩
- Ibid., 118. ↩
- Schwaabe, Rechtsextreme Gewalt in Deutschland. ↩
- “No further tax-billions for Greece!”, https://npd.de/keine-weiteren-steuermilliarden-fuer-griechenland/ (last access: 10.09.2015). ↩
- http://www.npd-bayern.de/index/menue/63/thema/2475/id/2624/akat/16/anzeigejahr/2010/infotext/Griechenland_ist_pleite_die_Bundesrepublik_zahlt_in_ein_Fass_ohne_Boden/Startseite_NPD_Bayern.html (last access 30.09.2015). ↩
- “Antwort der Bundesregierung: Aktivitäten der neofaschistischen griechischen Partei Goldene Morgenröte in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/17/127/1712791.pdf (last accessed: 28.12.2015) ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- http://www.udovoigt.de/index/menue/24/thema/4678/id/4762/akat/2/anzeigejahr/2014/infotext/Ein_Fall_fuer_den_EuGH/Startseite.html (last access: 27.12.2015). ↩
- https://npd.de/?s=goldene+morgenr%C3%B6te (last access 30.09.2015). ↩
- Ibid. ↩