Nov 112015

I got some flak for my piece on the Pegida movement, which I wrote for the Monkey Cage, but it was mostly surprisingly polite (my favourite one was “Professor of Fairies”. That one will definitively go on my new calling cards). Most of the commenters suggested that I was trying to brownwash Pegida when I suggested that the movement is radicalising, and that there are links to the Extreme Right. Well, here is another one.

dresden 1938 photo

Photo by nemodoteles

Last Monday was the 77th anniversary of the nation-wide November pogroms directed against Jewish citizens, business, schools, hospitals, synagogues, and private homes that preluded the holocaust. While the day itself enjoys no special legal protection, it is widely seen as an occasion for quiet introspection and public remembrance. In this context, many had appealed to the Pegida organisers to cancel their usual Monday night rally.

The demonstration went ahead nonetheless, including the usual rituals. It was capped by a speech by Tatjana Festerling, a former member of the AfD. Festerling channeled the spirit of the day by demanding an end to “Nazi paranoia” and the “cult of guilt”. “Cult of guilt” (Schuldkult) is a phrase that was coined in the early 1990s. It is a highly loaded term that is used almost exclusively by the NPD and other right-wing extremist groups whenever the crimes of the Nazis are mentioned. That Festerling would use that word, on that day, and that the crowds would cheer, is significant.

May 152015
NPD photo

Photo by ubiquit23

If you are following the latest attempt to have Germany’s right-wing extremist NPD declared unconstitutional, you might be disappointed by the lack of news. Today, the federal states that push for such a ban have submitted four folders with additional evidence requested by the Federal Constitutional Court – evidence corroborating the states’ claim that they have “switched off” their many informers in time for the new trial. Last time round (in 2002/3), a qualified minority of judges had refused to hear the case against the NPD, because in their view, the party’s leadership had been infiltrated on a scale that made it impossible for the party to act autonomously. The request for new evidence does not bode well for the prosecution. The court is expected to decide in autumn whether they allow the case to go past the pre-trial stage.

Apr 072014

You could not possibly make this up. Amidst a legal-constitutional battle over the NPD’s survival, the General Secretary (top executive manager) of Germany’s oldest right-wing extremist party NPD resigns over what is by now affectionately known as the Saarbrücken Penis Cake Affair. The story (as ridiculous as it gets) also involves Miss Nationalist Santa, and a lot of backstabbing hidden behind the moral outrage. Publikative has the full story and the original reporting (in German), whereas Spiegel Online (also in German and apparently a bit lax on the reporting part) has the pictures (if you absolutely have to see them).

Feb 262014

What Did the Court Say?

The German Constitutional Court ruled today that Germany’s three per cent electoral threshold for European elections is unconstitutional because it violates the principle of equality. The ruling was not exactly a surprise: In 2011, the court had already abolished a five per cent electoral threshold on account of the European Union not being a parliamentary system that would require large and coherent parliamentary groups and stable majorities. The three per cent threshold was enacted only last October in a constitutional gamble. Lawmakers wanted to keep smaller parties out of the EP, although they were perfectly aware that the logic of the first ruling would probably rule out a lower threshold, too.

Verhandlung über das Bundeswahlrecht vor dem Bundesverfassungsgericht
Mehr Demokratie e.V. / Foter / CC BY-SA

What Are the Consequences?

The court has just made a bunch of smaller parties very happy. Germany has 99 seats in the EP, so without a legal threshold, the effective threshold is just over one per cent. The AfD is currently polling around six per cent, so unless something dramatic happens, the ruling virtually guarantees them representation in the next parliament. That would give the AfD  a parliamentary foothold that they will use to establish themselves firmly in the German polity.

Things also haven’t looked so good for the Pirates and the NPD in a long time. The latter case is particularly interesting: If the Constitutional Court should ban the NPD further down the line, their MPs would lose their seats under German law. Will this also apply to MEPs?

Jan 202014

Germany’s ultra right-wing NPD is the party that never fails to amaze. After leader Holger Apfel was forced to resign over the (alleged) harassment of ‘young comrades’ just before Christmas, his predecessor Udo Voigt made it clear that he wanted his old job back. But Udo Pastörs (what is it about this name?), who helped Apfel to topple Voigt two years ago emerged as a caretaker instead. Shortly afterwards, Pastörs was appointed leader, though only for a nine-month period.

This weekend, the NPD selected their candidates for the upcoming European election, with both Voigt and Pastörs vying for the top spot. Voigt won, and Pastörs subsequently withdrew from the selection process altogether. I’m sure there will be another leadership challenge in September, or even earlier if the party takes a beating in the May election.

This is all against the backdrop of bankruptcy, political irrelevance and a looming ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court that may (or may not) declare the party unconstitutional. I have said this before and I’m saying it again: This is more than a bit like a struggle over who is in charge on the bridge of the good ship Titanic.

Dec 302013

Germany’s National Democratic Party in Turmoil

The NPD ended 2013 with a veritable Christmas Panto. On December 19, Holger Apfel, who had become party leader in 2011, stepped down from this and other party offices citing his ill health – a proposition that seemed implausible to your humble blogger (and many others). On December 22, the party’s highest decision making body appointed Udo Pastörs as interim leader. They also published a communique that urged Apfel to ‘disprove allegations directed against him’ and threatened to expel him from the party. Within hours, the nature of these allegations emerged, first in the blogosphere, then in the mainstream media: One (or two, according to other sources) ‘young comrades’ (male) claimed that the (drunken) leader had sexually harassed them during the electoral campaign. Shortly afterwards, Apfel left the party for good.

Homosexuality and Ultra-Nationalism

Sexual harassment is a crime. Homosexuality is not a crime. But it is the latter which ended Apfel’s long and distinguished career within the NPD. During thecurrent legal proceedings against the NPD, it emerged that a quarter of NPD functionaries has criminal convictions, mostly for hate crimes. Apfel’s predecessor (and potential successor) Udo Voigt as well as the interim leader Pastörs were convicted for inciting racial hatred. Voigt’s predecessor Günter Deckert, who was leader in the 1990s, served several years in prison.

Adolf Hitler
cliff1066â„¢ / / CC BY

Back in the 1990s, Herbert Kitschelt, in his seminal study on the ‘Radical Right in Western Europe’, traced the electoral weakness of the German Extreme (or Radical) Right to its obsession with the past. Part and parcel of this obsession are the style and culture of the interwar right. The Extreme Right of the 1920s and 1930s, with its images of hypermasculinity, became the spiritual home for scores of young men traumatised in the trenches. The NPD’s insistence on comradery echoes the spirit of these all-male paramilitary organisations.

The Nazis purged homosexuals from their own ranks and killed them on a large scale in the concentration camps while turning women into breeding machines for Reich and Führer. It does not take a great deal of psychoanalysis to make you wonder.

The latest NPD electoral manifesto is an arguably much tamer version of these homophobic (and possibly schizophrenic) tendencies within the right. The party wants to ban single homosexuals (let alone homosexual couples) from adopting children and opposes the notion of ‘homosexual families’ or marriages. According to the NPD, there is a biological struggle between (ethnic) Germans on the one hand and ‘foreigners’ on the other, and Germans must be encouraged by all means (including mini skirts) to breed faster, and more.

Apfel is married with three children, and that was part of his political persona. But while ‘respectability’ was at the core of his personal brand and his strategy for the party, ‘allegations’ of homosexual acts involving consenting adults would kill any political career in the party. And Apfel came to power by a narrow majority vote and was always controversial during his term as leader, making more than enough enemies within the party.

What’s Next?

The NPD is bankrupt, has very little electoral support and is embroiled in internal strife. The current leadership crisis will obviously not help the party. Apfel’s predecessor Voigt has already declared that he wants his old job back, while interim leader Pastörs will have his eyes on a more permanent arrangement. That is one lousy start of the European Parliamentary campaign.

I have often argued that trying to get the NPD banned by the Federal Constitutional Court is unnecessary and imprudent. Without the publicity brought about by the Court proceedings, it might simply have faded into virtual oblivion, just like the Republikaner party of 1990s fame. But even if the FCC refuses to ban the NPD (or, god forbid, if the ECHR overturns a ruling by the FCC), the NPD’s future does not look too rosy. While there is certainly a demand for eurosceptic and xenophobic policies, most voters find the NPD’s tarted-up version of grandpa’s fascism unpalatable. My medium-range prediction is therefore the emergence of a more modern anti-immigrant party in Germany.

Dec 192013

NPD leader resigns in shock move

Holger Apfel, the leader of Germany’s right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), resigns, citing health reasons. He also steps down as head of the party’s caucus in the Saxonian state parliament.

Apfel’s move adds to the party’s many woes: The NPD is very nearly bankrupt as a result of financial irregularities. Moreover, the party’s constitutionality is currently being investigated by the Federal Constitutional Court. These proceedings could result in a ban of the NPD.

daklebtwat / / CC BY-NC-SA

Following an acrimonious leadership contest, Apfel became party leader just over two years ago in November 2011. His main strategic aim was to slightly tone down the party’s radical ambitions in a bid to make it more acceptable to conservative voters. In this respect, he was not in any way successful.

Why, and why now?

Apparently, the party and its leadership were taken completely by surprise. Within minutes, it was leaked that Apfel suffers from ‘burn out’, which could boil down to ‘too much interaction with dear comrades’. [It is up to the reader to insert a silly pun on the NPD’s obsession with “the Leader”/their leadership troubles at this point]

Apfel’s predecessor Udo Voigt, who was leader from 1996 until 2011 and then grudgingly became Apfel’s deputy, has certainly made life miserable for Apfel during the last two years. Also within minutes, Voigt has declared that he was ready to take the helm once more ‘under certain conditions’.

But citing health reasons and stepping down is not the way things are done in the NPD. And while infighting is common enough within the NPD’s national leadership, it seems odd that Apfel should also give up his position in Saxony, which is his power base, unless he is really seriously ill. Therefore, fellow anoraks and conspiracy theorists will contemplate another explanation: That Apfel could have been one of those informers (paid by the government’s many secret services) whose involvement with the leadership led to the collapse of the first bid to ban the NPD back in 2002.

Apr 252013

German political parties enjoy a special constitutional protection. Only the Federal Government, the Bundestag (parliament), and the Federal Council can apply for a ban, and only the Federal Constitutional Court can declare a party unconstitutional and subsequently dissolve it. Over more than six decades, the court has banned two parties: the neo-Nazi SRP in 1952 and (slightly more controversially) the communist KPD in 1956. In both instances, it was the government who initiated the process.

Back in 2001, the then Red-Green government sought to ban the NPD. The attempt failed spectacularly because a qualified minority of the judges raised procedural concerns about the very large number of informers within the party, and the unwillingness of the state to provide the names of these people. While the whole thing was ill-advised, it is best seen as part of a larger symbolic drive against right-wing extremism, which was rampant after unification and fuelled a whole host of violent hate crimes. Back then, the government cajoled the CDU/CSU and FDP into supporting the cause, and all three institutions jointly applied for a ban, thereby raising the stakes and putting a lot of pressure on the court.

This time round, the Federal Council (dominated by the SPD and Green, but with support from the centre right-led state governments) pushes for a ban, while the government has long dragged its feet and finally came up with a statement saying that they would not co-sponsor the bid but still provide assistance. While this sounds half-baked, it might actually be a sensible position, given what sort of evidence against the NPD has been collected.

The most bizarre performance, however, was delivered in today’s debate in the Bundestag. CDU/CSU and FDP tabled a motion not to support the ban and won with their majority, while the opposition voted against. Then the SPD table a motion in favour of a ban. The government parties voted against, the Left and some Greens supported the move, of course to no avail. Next came the Left with their own motion, which was supported by the SPD while the Greens abstained. Finally, the Greens argued that issue should not be rushed through parliament. Now the government and the SPD voted against, while the Left abstained. Throughout the day, everyone agreed that the NPD (which, although bankrupt and electorally battered beyond recognition held their party conference last weekend) was indeed a very nasty party. Five months to go until election day.

Feb 232013

Gerhard Frey, one of the most colourful characters of the German Extreme Right, has died one day after his 80th birthday. Frey, a famously rich businessman and right-wing journalist, began building his empire in the late 1950s. Over the decades, he published two rightist weeklies (which he was later forced to merge in a declining market), countless revisionist and openly racist books, and ran a mail-order service for Nazi memorabilia. He was one of only four persons who ever stood trial under a procedure called “Grundrechtsverwirkung”. Basically, the Federal Government tried to strip him of his right to freedom of speech (and also his right to vote, to stand in elections and to take public office) because – according to the government – he had abused these rights to incite racial hatred and glorify Nazism (the Federal Constitutional Court squashed this and all similar cases on the grounds of these measures being disproportionate).

Frey made various forays into politics, but was repeatedly rejected by Germany’s oldest relevant Extreme Right party NPD (although sat on the party’s leadership committee for a short while). Over the years, many a right-winger has accused him of being only in it for the money.

In the 1980s, he converted his German People’s Union DVU (“Deutsche Volksunion, essentially a right-wing book club) into a political organisation that during the decades successfully contested various land elections, only to tank abysmally once they had entered another land parliament.  The DVU was never a proper party. Leaving the DVU immediately after assuming office, embezzling money or getting caught while downloading child porn in their parliamentary office was more or less de rigeur for its MPs.

For most of its existence, the DVU wholly depended on its party chair, Gerhard Frey, who had taken out considerable loans from Gerhard Frey, the publisher, to safeguard his position. As far as we know, there was never any meaningful political competition or genuine party life within the DVU, which has been dubbed a “virtual” or even “phantom” party. In 2009, Frey, already in his late 70s, finally stepped down from the leadership and dispensed with the money the party owed him, thereby paving the way for the eventual merger with its longtime rival NPD.