Germany's neo-Nazis gain in Saxony elections

The New Zealand Herald/September 20, 2004
By Tony Patterson

Germany's neo-Nazi, National Democratic Party made sweeping gains in key elections in the eastern state of Saxony yesterday in a shock protest vote that reflected the widespread unpopularity of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's economic reform programme.

In the conservative-controlled state, the, National Democrats (NPD) won seats in a regional state parliament for the first time in 36 years after first exit poll results showed that party had won nine per cent of the vote.

The extreme right Deutsche Volks Union also retained seats in Brandenburg state elections.

However, Mr Schroeder's Social Democrats remained the strongest party in the state despite substantial gains by the reform communist, Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS.)

In Saxony, Mr Schroeder's party suffered humiliating losses and emerged only half a percentage point ahead of the neo-Nazi NPD with 9.5 per cent of the vote.

The state's conservative party lost its absolute majority and was expected to form a coalition with the liberal Free Democrats.

The NPD, which last entered a German state parliament in 1968, campaigned on a "German money for German interests" platform, which included vigorous opposition to EU enlargement, foreign immigration, and government plans to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Both far-right parties and the communist PDS have played a prominent role in nationwide protests against the Schroeder government's Agenda 2010 programme that aims to reform the German economy through cuts to welfare and unemployment benefits.

The far-right gains followed warnings by Chancellor Schroeder and business leaders that they would deter investment in eastern Germany where unemployment is currently at 20 per cent.

"The rise of the far-right will also damage Germany's image abroad," Mr Schroeder said.

The German government attempted to impose a constitutional ban on the NPD last year because of the party's links to violent skinhead organisations that have been responsible for the deaths of more than 100 foreign immigrants since German unification in 1990.

However, judges rejected the move after declaring that the government-backed intelligence services had used agents provocateurs to gather incriminating evidence against the NPD.

Ottto Schily, the German Interior Minister, provoked a row at the weekend after he blamed constitutional court judges for failing to outlaw the party.

He claimed that the far-right would not have made political gains if the ban had been imposed.

National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD)

  • The government has likened it to Hitler's embryonic Nazis of the 1920s and tried to ban it, but the legal case collapsed.
  • Among voters under 30 in Saxony, the NPD got 17 per cent.
  • Founded in 1964, the party, headed by Udo Voigt, has around 5,000 members.
  • It scored the far right's biggest general election success with 4.3 per cent nationwide share of the vote in 1969, when it was represented in seven state parliaments.
  • Viewed as more radical than other right-wing parties and organises periodic marches, often joined by skinheads.
  • Manifesto talks of "multi-cultural excesses" and the need to revise Germany's borders.
  • Domestic intelligence says party members seek to lie about the Nazis' responsibility for the outbreak of World War Two and to deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
  • Currently the only party to hold seats in a state assembly, that of Brandenburg.
  • Formed in 1971 under millionaire publisher Gerhard Frey, it became a political party in 1987. It has 11,500 members.
  • DVU scored the far right's best result in a state election in Saxony-Anhalt in 1998, winning 12.9 per cent of the vote. It also won assembly seats in western Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein in the early 1990s, although it was thrown out after one term.
  • Founded in 1983, with around 8,000 members.
  • Won seats in assembly in southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg, with 10.9 per cent of the vote in 1992, then retained some seats in the 1996 election, although fell under five per cent in 2001. The party also won seats in the Berlin state parliament in 1989.
  • Little in evidence outside election time.
  • The number of violent acts is three times higher per capita in the east than in the west.
  • More than 100 people have been killed in racist violence in Germany since unification in 1990. Most of the attacks are opportunistic -- skinheads picking on foreigners in the street.
  • Attacks on property include swastikas daubed on Jewish gravestones and firebombs at asylum hostels.
  • In 2003, the domestic intelligence service recorded 759 cases of violent crime "with right-wing political motivation."

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