BERLIN—A rightist German party known for agitating against foreigners and Jews narrowly failed to win seats in state parliament elections last weekend—but experts warn the far-right is likely to sweep to victory in two upcoming polls later this month.
The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) stunned observers by winning 4 percent in the western Saar state election Sunday.
Germany’s proportional representation electoral system—which requires a party get at least 5 percent to enter parliament—means the NPD will not be represented in the state’s Landtag.
But the upswing for Germany’s oldest rightist party, which is widely viewed as the best organised and most dangerous in the country’s far-right field, has many people nervous.
Unlike other rightist parties, the NPD has close ties to violent neo-Nazis and skinheads who are estimated by the Verfassungschutz, Germany’s domestic security agency, to number 13,000 nationwide.
Boosted by its success, the NPD is now campaigning hard in eastern Saxony state which holds elections in 19 September. Another far-right party, the German People’s Union (DVU) is running in neighbouring Brandenburg state which votes the same day.
Both parties have backed protests over the German government’s planned cuts to unemployment benefits and they provide an alternative for people who can’t bring themselves to vote for the former East German communists.
Indeed, the NPD preaches what it terms “social-revolutionary nationalism” and voter surveys in the Saar show it drew former supporters of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SPD) from either the working class or the ranks of the unemployed.
Peter Loesche, a political party researcher at the University of Goettingen, said the publicity splash won by the NPD in the Saar is giving both parties a crucial bounce in final weeks of campaigning.
“The NPD in Saxony and the DVU in Brandenburg will make it into parliament,” he predicted in a Thueringer Zeitung newspaper interview.
Opinion polls show the NPD in Saxony at 5 percent with a further 9 percent saying they “may” vote for the far-right. Polls have in the past sometimes underestimated rightist support in Germany because voters refuse to reveal their true preferences to pollsters.
In Brandenburg polls currently put the DVU at 3 percent.
Both the NPD and DVU make no secret of their dislike of foreigners who comprise about 7 percent of the German population with Turkish nationals, who number almost two million, being the biggest group.
“Have a good trip home,” declares one NPD poster with a picture of Turks carrying bags over their shoulders walking toward a minaret.
The DVU is even more direct and its campaign banners plastered along Brandenburg’s roads demand “German jobs for Germans first” or for “criminal foreigners” to be expelled.
Germany’s Verfassungsschutz says the 5,000-member DVU, led by Udo Voigt, has a strong “affinity” with Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Former Third Reich leaders including Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess are viewed as heroes and regularly celebrated in NPD marches.
The Schroeder government tried to ban the NPD but this was slapped down by a high court ruling last year.
“The NPD agitates . . . in an unchanged and aggressive racist and anti-foreigner manner,” says the Verfassungsschutz in its latest annual report.
NPD officials talk about “bio-cultural roots” and warn allowing Turkey to join the European Union is nothing less than a question of Germany’s “survival or fall.” Turkish membership, says the NPD, threatens “the continent of white nations with disintegration and decomposition.”
The NPD candidate in Saxony, Holger Apfel, calls for recreating Germany in its old borders prior to 1945. This would mean seizing lands belonging Poland and Russia since World War II.
“Nothing and nobody will keep us from our struggle for the Reich,” said Apfel as quoted in the news magazine Der Spiegel.
NPD leaders also “spread anti-Semitic propaganda,” says the domestic security agency.
The party claims with regard to the Iraq war that the “beaming winners are under the Star of David with neo-conservatives in the U.S. being either Jews or serving the state of Israel.”
An NPD document quoted by the security agency describes Judaism’s Torah as being “the orginal document of Jewish national hatred.”
Unlike other European countries such as France, Austria, the Netherlands or Italy, Germany has never had a united far-right with a single charismatic leader.
Instead, three rightist parties have struggled to win support with the NPD having been founded in 1964 but only winning its last seats in a regional election in 1968.
In the early 1990s the Republikaner (Reps) party, founded in 1983 and led by a burly former Waffen SS trooper, entered several regional assemblies but after infighting was tossed out of office.
More recently the DVU, founded in 1987, scored its biggest victory in eastern Saxony Anhalt state in 1998 winning a stunning 12.9 percent. It also won a more modest victory in western Bremen. But like the Reps its deputies were later voted out of office.