November 25, 2009

Germany's far-right flops

Support for the National Democratic Party of Germany is sliding, and it's resorting to premium-rate phone lines to stay afloat

When the Berlin wall fell apart, back in November 1989, fears that Germany's forthcoming reunification would lead to the revival of violent nationalism and bitter revisionism were looming all over Europe. Were those anticipating the Third Reich spirit's renaissance right? Looking at the reunified Germany 20 years on, they surely were not.

Ever since the wall came down, Germany's political establishment has made efforts to ease the anxieties of its neighbours to the east, namely Poland and the Czech Republic. Critics of Germany's d├ętente with both countries have been marginalised and deprived of any tangible influence on German politics.

Evidence of this tendency was visible this week, when foreign minister Guido Westerwelle intervened to stop a figure unpopular with Poles being appointment to a museum post. The Federation of Expellees (Bund der Vertriebenen) had been trying to place its chairwoman, Erika Steinbach, on the board of a planned museum about the ethnic Germans expelled from countries in central Europe after the second world war. Steinbach's candidature was unacceptable to many Poles, as back in 1991, she was one of the Bundestag members who voted against the recognition of the German-Polish border. By blocking her bid, Germany's incumbent government has once again proved its commitment to the reconciliation process.

Still, German nationalism is not quite dead, and if it has a face, it is that of the BNP's sister organisation, the NPD (National Democratic party of Germany). There was a time when the neo-Nazi party was on the ascendancy. In 2004, the NPD managed to break into Saxony's state parliament with a 9.2% share of the vote, followed by its success in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern two years later. Prior to 1989, both states were part of East Germany, and since the reunification they have suffered from soaring unemployment, deindustrialisation and migration to the west. The NPD has managed to spin political capital from the eastern Germans' dissatisfaction, just like the BNP has seduced a section of British society.

But the similarities end right there. While the BNP's leader rejoices in his Question Time debut, and his party benefits from two recently gained seats at the European parliament, his fellow travellers in Germany are making desperate attempts to save their own party from imminent bankruptcy. The NPD has found itself in financial dire straits owing to a series of accounting irregularities, for which it was fined a total of €2.5m in April. Last year the party's treasurer was arrested on suspicion of transferring €627,000 from the party's accounts to his own company. Perhaps the best measure of the NPD's desperation is that it launched a 0900 prefix phone line, mostly employed by German sex-line operators, through which its supporters can donate much-needed euros. "Every phone call counts!", encourages the NPD's website.

In the most recent Bundestag elections, the nationalists pulled a meagre 1.5% share of the vote, overtaken by the German Pirate party, who received 2%. In the light of all these setbacks, it seems that, after years of rising fortunes, the BNP's German allies have found themselves at the edge of a steep political slope. This rise-and-fall scenario could very well repeat itself in the UK.


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