April 28th, 2008

Some thoughts on the debate about NPD ban

Column of the week for the ddp news agency by Stephan J. Kramer, Secretary General of the Central Council of Jews in Germany

"We enter the Reichstag to arm ourselves with democracy's own weapons. We become Reichstag deputies in order to paralyze the spirit of Weimer with its own assistance. If democracy is foolish enough to give us free tickets and salaries, that is its problem. It does not concern us. Any way of bringing about the revolution is fine by us," said Hitler's Minister for Propaganda Josef Goebbels nearly 80 years ago.

The Berlin of today is not Weimar! Nevertheless, it would be careless to let this fact lull us into a false sense of security. The number of acts of far-right violence remains high at 18000 last year. Meanwhile they have become part of everyday life in all of Germany.

The organized far-right community resembles an iceberg: The tip of it is the NPD ( National Democratic Party of Germany) and below are the violent "Freie Kameradschaften" (free associations) and associations like the "Heimattreue Deutsche Jugend" (HDJ) (Patriotic German Youth). They do "battle in the streets" in order to win together the "battle for the minds".

International demonstrations, concerts of neo-Nazi bands, trade in CDs with far-right content, paramilitary training of young people, concealment of criminals, and propagandist support show how versatile far-right associations are. The common goal of these groups is to revive National Socialism.

Today, there are members of the NPD, posing as respectable citizens, in some parliaments of the Laender, in an increasing number of district parliaments and in many communal parliaments. These wolves in sheep's clothing pretend to be committed to solving various economic and social problems. For example, they oppose the Hartz IV labour reforms and come out for more employment, better family policies and environmental protection. They do not just pose as the "true representatives of the people" but they still are, from the legal point of view , a regular democratic party and thus enjoy growing acceptance.

Today's political and social situation is incomparable to that in 1930. Nevertheless, just as nobody could foresee the events that were to come after 30th January 1930, so we are possibly overlooking some grave weaknesses and risks of our society. The question is how to deal with the shift to the right that has taken place not just in Germany but also in Europe.

Are we willing to put up with and to become accustomed to the everyday violence, the militant Neo-Nazism? Should those who derisively referred to the Federal Republic as a "sunshine democracy", whose republican and civil consciousness will last only as long as the gross national product continues to grow, prove right after all?

Bans alone do not suffice as methods of education. Far-right ideas cannot be banned. Neo-Nazi structures cannot be completely destroyed by bans. It is therefore important to realise that far-right extremism poses a legal as well as political problem and to fight it accordingly.

In addition to moral appeals, we need constant social opposition, educational initiatives for all age-groups, and political confrontation at all levels of social life. In our society, there has to be unconditional condemnation not only of militant Neo-Nazism but also of rightist sentiments, discrimination and exclusion of minorities.

It is the common duty of all democratic forces in our society to confront far-right extremism. Let us make sure that the differences between democratic political parties do not lead to neo-Nazis gaining ground. Those criticising the institutionalization of the fight against Neo-Nazism in the left political spectrum must ensure that our country's conservative and liberal elites show an equally strong commitment and do not fail once again.

While bans rather compromise the fundamentals of our open society than help to fight Neo-Nazism effectively, we have now arrived at a situation where our democratic rule-of-law state has to take measures to protect itself. To achieve this the state can, as ultima ratio, use its right to ban parties laid out in article 21 of the Basic Law.

If the NPD is not only ideologically akin to National Socialism but also openly seeks to abolish our constitutional order, then it is the duty of the rule-of-law state to initiate a banning procedure, for reasons of our history as well as because of our responsibility for victims of far-right violence. Those who hesitate to make use of this measure justifying their hesitations with poor chances of success not only send out the wrong message to society but also damage people's trust in our democracy.

Any extremism is inhumane. The Weimar Republic failed not because there were too many far-right extremists, but because there were too few democrats. I believe that the situation is different today. This gives me hope for the future.