The NPD, Germany's leading neo-Nazi party, got just over 7% of yesterday's vote in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and in Berlin. This makes the party stronger than the Greens and the Left Party.
The NPD is often described as "anti-democratic" but this is a misnomer. The NPD is democratic if (and it's a big if) one identifies the German demos as being exlusively (racially) German. It is also democratic in that in an effective populist way it is articulating important issues - if politically incorrect ones - issues left largely untouched by "mainstream" parties and media. The specific policies advocated by the NPD on its website are as follows:
- Repatriation of all foreigners from German soil (one presumes this includes all Jewish citizens, although this is left unspecified, perhaps out of sqeamishness);
- Withdrawal from NATO, the EU and the euro;
- The creation of an "Interventionsfähigen National- und Sozialstaates" (interventionist national- and social-state), priorising the State over the market economy;
- "Resistance" to the US' "Frankenstein-concept" of nation building and the "Imperium Americanum";
- Removal of all foreign troops from Germany.
It is the familiar mixture of nationalism and socialism which has always characterised the Nazis.
In some ways, however, especially in its anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism, it is quite similar to the bien-pensant bromides embraced by the mainstream left and centre of German politics. Indeed, the NPD sees itself as the "Third Way" between capitalism and communism, quaintly reminiscent of Tony Blair and of Gerhard Schroeder.
There is also a strong "environmental" aspect, which echoes both historical Nazi, and current mainstream preoccupations. One feels sure that these NPD chaps and the tree-hugging Al Gore would have much in common beyond their abhorrence of George W. Bush.
Beyond this resonance with the Zeitgeist, one secret of the NPD's success is its acitivists´ targetting of young voters in relatively disadvantaged, unemployment-blighted areas, especially in the east, and its exploitation of widespread dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. Germany is having a harder time coming to terms with globalisation than, say, the UK, Switzerland and Holland, and political debate is inhibited by a set of outdated, politically-correct assumptions.
The only sure way mainstream parties can spike the appeal of parties like the NPD is to reconnect with voters and work out effective policies to deal with unemployment. Unfortunately, the current coalition gopvernment is hamstrung by its inherent contradictions, and current polls show that its support is weakening.
Whilst this doesn't mean that Germany as a whole is about to embrace the NPD's endearingly dotty policies, it does make it unlikely the NPD will just fade away - as the media and political mainstream appears to hope. It isn't enough - nor even accurate - simply to denounce the NPD as "anti-democratic". That makes a mockery of their electoral success. The NPD may in some ways be a pathetic throwback, but it articulates important themes, in a taboo populist rhetoric. Its notions also to a large extent overlap with those of the German mainstream, as with their opposition to the war in Iraq, George W Bush, and their environmental scaremongering.
It is the vocal populism of the NPD - not just the impractical, wobbly, wrongheaded policy platform - which frightens off the mainstream parties; it inhibits them from grappling with the issues, from taking the NPD to pieces by argument, rather than falling back on their practised, ineffectual "anti-democratic" reflex-cries.
The success of the NPD is a disgrace to Germany - not because of what the NPD represents, but because its success is bred by indifference, on the part of the German mainstream, to what it represents.
Link to the NPD site (German only)