Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Resurrecting Nazism

[Photo courtesy of the Guardian.]

-- by Dave

It's been something of an article of faith in Germany for a couple of generations now that the Nazis could never manifest themselves again in the German populace. After all, Nazi organizing and its associated hate speech have been banned in the country ever since it reconstituted itself from the ashes of World War II. Germans surely could remember firsthand the costs of that kind of politics, right?

Well, maybe not:
News that the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) is nudging ahead of the mainstream Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the east German state of Saxony has shocked many Germans.

According to a recent opinion poll by the Forsa Institute, support for the neo-Nazi NPD is at 9%.

The poll suggests that the SPD would pick up only 8% of the vote if there were regional elections, while the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) would still maintain a clear lead at 39%.

The main losers are the Social Democrats, whose support has shifted to the new Left Party, at 27%.

For the last few years, voters in Saxony have turned to the neo-Nazi party because they are disillusioned with mainstream politics and they are increasingly fed up with the region's high unemployment rate.

... "The survey shows that the NPD is a party that has strong support in Saxony. The NPD is accepted as a normal party in some parts of the state," said Manfred Guellner, director of the Forsa Institute.

"Many young, unemployed men support the NPD. They're attracted to the far-right ideology and the sense of belonging, and hope for the future, which the NPD seems to offer them."

And -- imagine our surprise -- this resurgence of Nazism in the former communist half of Germany has come hand in hand with street thuggery and violence:
Alarm about the rise of the far right in Saxony was fuelled by last month's attack on a group of Indian men in the town of Muegeln, near Leipzig.

During a town festival, eight Indian men were chased through the streets of Muegeln by around 50 youths, who are reported to have hurled racist abuse at them, including chanting slogans such as "Foreigners Out!"

The men were beaten up and police are investigating.

The incident dominated the headlines and provoked outrage among many Germans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack as "extremely deplorable and shameful".

Well, surely the Germans will find the political will to ban them, as they have before, and crack down on this kind of nonsense, wouldn't they?

Um, maybe not:
Politicians on all sides called for new measures to tackle xenophobia and far-right extremism, particularly in the former communist east of the country.

With many far-right gangs, known as Kameradschaften, operating freely in towns and villages, some politicians have once again demanded that the NPD should be banned.

SPD leader Kurt Beck said he was going to put together a new legal initiative designed to outlaw the NPD.

But other politicians are sceptical about such a move. Although many Germans feel revulsion when they see NPD supporters during demonstrations in city centres, when it comes to a political initiative to ban the party, any attempt degenerates into bickering.

It is a controversial idea because the last effort to ban the NPD, back in 2003, failed.

Germany's constitutional court in Karlsruhe rejected the ban after it established that most of the evidence against the far-right party was inadmissible because it had been collected by government intelligence agents who had infiltrated the organisation.

Here we go again: The impotence of democratic institutions in the face of the Nazis' cynical manipulations of the system, aided by conservatives' wishy-washiness, helped usher in their reign in 1932.

But before Americans go patting themselves on the back, they should perhaps reflect on their own self-certainty that it couldn't happen here, either.

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