Nov 142011
 

Unless you spent the last couple of days under a rock, you will have heard about the terrible series of (at least) ten neo-Nazi murders that has stunned Germany. In my view, three things are particularly remarkable about this crime.

First, the mainstream media including the public broadcasters and the left-liberal press refer to the series as ‘Dönermorde’, i.e. ‘Kebab Killings’, because most of the victims were small businessmen of Turkish origin. This is impious at any rate, and not exactly sensitive in the context of ethnically motivated violence.

Second, for most of the media the victims are ‘foreigners’ (‘Ausländer’), although they spent much of their lives in Germany. The BBC and other English-speaking media refer to ‘ethnic Turks’ or ‘persons of Turkish origin’. Much food for thought here.

Third, Germany has seventeen offices for the protection of the constitution (one in each state as well as a federal institution), effectively secret services that are given the task to observe extremists. Add to that the same number of federal and state criminal investigation offices, plus seventeen crime prosecution services, plus countless special branches and task forces who are supposed to keep an eye on Neo-Nazis.

These agencies are not understaffed or underfunded, and their employees are not lazy: In 2003, an attempt to ban the NPD collapsed because the party leadership had been infiltrated by so many undercover agents that some of the judges sitting on the Federal Constitutional Court were not sure the NPD had any political life of its own. How could the killers possibly escape this machine?

 

Three possible answers spring to mind:

  • Parts of the left claim that the state still turns a blind eye when it comes to right-wing extremism. That may or may not have been true in the past but is certainly not a correct description of the situation today. The various agencies’ performance has much improved over the last decade, and much of the increase in the number of reported hate-crimes is due to the fact that officers are now trained to look very carefully for extremist motives, and that the rules for collecting statistics have been harmonised.
  • Quite predictably, the right (and many politicians who specialise in Home Affairs) argue that coordination and communication between the various agencies need to be improved. While this may seem reasonable, this is a perennial and very delicate issue in Germany. For historical reasons, the constitution puts strict limits on the cooperation between secret services and the regular police. Moreover, policing is generally the domain of the states, which jealously guard their rights.
  • Finally, many observers just begin to wonder if one or more agencies were involved much closer with the killers than they let on at the moment. Nobody really seems to know how many Neo-Nazis are moonlighting as undercover agents for whom. Is it possible that agencies did not share their information with other institutions in order to protect their sources? Given the scale of the NPD disaster in 2003, it seems quite possible. I strongly
    suspect this is how the story will pan out over months to come.
Nov 152009
 

Here is a short presentation on the electorates of the Western European Extreme Right I gave last Thursday at the Collège Doctoral Européen de Strasbourg.

And here is the

Summary

  • Clear socio-demographic profile: young, male, working/lower middle class
  • Clear attitudinal profile:
    • Not necessarily fully paid-up extremists
    • But dissatisfied with politics and suspicious of immigrants and elites
  • Little support for disintegration thesis
  • Personality traits and additional factor?
  • Findings in line with theories of values, preferences, group conflict
  • Contextual factors often make a difference

But …

  • Very strong country effects remain after controlling for context
  • Serious limits on the number and quality contextual control variables
  • More/better information on parties needed
  • Comparative media studies sorely lacking
Oct 122008
 

“Colourful” did not even begin to describe him. If Bill Clinton was America’s first rock&roll president, Jörg Haider, who died in a car crash early on Saturday morning, was Austria’s first pop politician. Apt for a future right-winger, Haider was born into a national-socialist family. A gifted public speaker, he was active in right-wing circles and in Austria’s national-liberal party FPÖ from an early age on. In 1986, he rose to international prominence when he won (with the support of the party’s nationalist wing) a leadership contest against the FPÖ’s liberal figurehead Norbert Steger. Within months, Haider transformed the slightly dusty FPÖ into one of the most modern, controversial, populist and electorally successful parties of the European Extreme Right.
Under his leadership, the party went from strength to strength. In 1999, the FPÖ won over 20 per cent of the popular vote and entered a coalition with the Christian Democrats, thereby bringing Haider one step closer to his life-long ambition: to become chancellor (prime minister) of Austria. However, his involvement with the Austrian government triggered international backlash and the European Union’s ill-advised “sanctions” against Austria. Subsequentially, the party lost much of its support.
Haider retreated to subnational politics (he was “Landeshauptmann” (minister president) of the state of Carinthia from 1989-91 and then again from 1999 on). In 2005, he and a group of supporters left the FPÖ and formed a new party, the BZÖ. Considered a one-man show by many, Haider and the party garnered almost 11 per cent of the national vote in the general election two weeks ago, and Haider seemed destined to return to the forefront of Austrian politics.
Like many politicians, Haider was many things to many persons. His remarks on the “reasonable” economic and social policies of the Nazis predictably led to an international outcry. He was famous for political gaffes and insults but was described as courteous and friendly once the cameras were switched off. He also played an instrumental role in a referendum campaign against a nuclear power plant in 2002. Of course, he claimed the plant was insecure by definition because it was Czech, allowing Haider to play the national card and to exploit animosities that go back to the days of the Hapsburg Empire. Oddly enough, he also supported Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union.
Haider carefully controlled his public image. Papers haven been written (and published) on his attractiveness for both male and female voter. Back in the 1980s, Austria’s other international pop star Falco quipped that people liked Haider because he was sexy and right-wing. At 58, Haider still projected the image of a youthful sportsman, which might explain that Austrians are so shocked by his sudden death. Politicians from all political parties are now praising his more positive qualities. Carinthia, where he was genuinely popular with large parts of the population, is rife with conspiracy theory.
Oddly enough, the death of its most prodigious leader might make Austria’s Extreme Right even stronger: without him, the BZÖ is an orphan that might soon be brought back into the FPÖ fold.
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Mar 282008
 

Udo Voigt, the leader of the NPD, has been charged with inciting racial hatred. During the 2006 World Cup, the party published a pamphlet that questioned the right of non-white players in the squad to represent Germany in the tournament. The NPD is the oldest amongst the three relevant extreme right parties in Germany. Founded in the early 1960s, the party was successful in a number of Land elections but could not overcome the 5 per cent threshold in the General election of 1969. For more than three decades, the party that once had tens of thousands of members and even set up its own student organisation barely survived as a political sect but played no role in electoral politics. If you can read German, here is a chapter on extremist parties and their voters with lots of fascinating details on Germany I wrote for a handbook on electoral behaviour.

Voigt was elected as party leader in 1996 and quickly modernised the party. His aggressive and dynamic stance persuaded the Federal government to apply for a ban of the party in the Federal Constitutional Court in 2003. The case was thrown out on procedural grounds, and for the first time in 40 years, the party managed to win seats in two state elections in 2004 and 2006.

However, the charges against Voigt are just the latest political blow for the party and its current leadership. After 2006, there have been no more electoral successes. Moreover, the party is involved in dubious financial transactions. The party treasurer was taken into custody in February, and the party must repay huge amounts of money it had claimed under Germany’s state-sponsored party-funding scheme. Voigt stands for re-election as party leader in May, and there might well be a leadership contest.

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