Some politicians have recently made renewed calls for a ban of Germany's far-right NPD party. But author and neo-Nazi expert Patrick Gensing tells DW the debate should focus on right-wing populism - not a single party.
Despite holding marches, the NPD is politically meaningless
Right-wing extremist parties in Europe have come under fresh scrutiny in recent weeks, following the twin attacks in Norway which killed 77 people.
In Germany, the attacks re-launched a debate into the political legitimacy of the country's main nationalist party, the National Democratic Party (NPD). Politicians from the main opposition party, the SPD, have made fresh calls for the party to be banned.
But a spokesman for German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Deutsche Welle that Friedrich could not support another attempt at a ban.
"He doesn't seek a renewed case to ban the NPD," said the spokesman. Friedrich justified his position on the basis that a ban had already failed in 2003.
In 2003, a high-profile case for banning the NPD party came before the Federal Constitutional Court. The case, however, was thrown out after it was revealed that a number of the NPD's inner circle were in fact undercover agents or informants of the German secret services.
Since the government bodies were unwilling to fully disclose their agents' identities and activities, the court found it impossible to reach a verdict and the case was dropped.
Deutsche Welle spoke with author and neo-Nazi expert Patrick Gensing about the current state of the NPD in Germany.
DW: The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution believes that the NPD is currently in crisis. Do you agree with this assessment?
Germany's interior minister is against a new attempt at a ban
Patrick Gensing: I agree that the NPD has been in a serious crisis for a while now. The party experienced a series of electoral defeats. Their failure in Saxony-Anhalt was the most serious setback to date. Currently, the party also has reason to worry about its position in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state parliament where it has sat for five years. If these seats are lost as well, then it is possible that large parts of the NPD will sink into insignificance. On top of that, the party is suffering from financial problems and for months has been spinning itself in circles during strategy discussions. They have no solutions and they are nearing their political end. That's not to say that the party is dead, but essentially it is meaningless.
With that in mind, isn't it surprising that fresh demands are being made to ban the party? How unconstitutional and dangerous do you think the NPD still is?
In my opinion, banning the NPD would be absolutely justifiable. They use public funds to put out aggressive and radical right-wing propaganda. Nevertheless this current debate is a free advertisement for the party.
The SPD is calling for a ban which is also supported by several ministers from the union of conservative Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists (CDU/CSU). But there are other union ministers who say that we shouldn't implement a ban because it would be too dangerous.
They say we can't pull the undercover agents out of the NPD. But undercover agents are not secret service employees who have been smuggled into the NPD. They are neo-Nazis who sell information to the state and most of it is of questionable value anyway. The undercover agents allowed the 2003 ban attempt to fail at the constitutional court and there is a good chance that a new attempt to ban the party would fail for the same reason as it does not look like most states have removed their undercover agents. The situation has not changed. The union doesn't want to stop working with the under cover agents because they say that the NPD is too dangerous and that under no circumstances should we pull the agents out. Conversely, this means that the NPD is protected from being banned by its own radicalism. It's an absurd situation.
What specific risks does the NPD pose?
Patrick Gensing believes a ban is justifiable but unlikely
The NPD poses no danger to the country as a whole or democracy in Germany. It is very strong in a couple of individual regions in Germany including Saxony and parts of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It is firmly anchored in these areas and places and important role in life there. Otherwise the NPD is politically meaningless. The danger posed by the NPD is their aggressive propaganda and association with militant neo-Nazis. It represents a militant scene and is the parliamentary branch of the so-called national resistance. This poses a danger to people like foreigners and people who don't fit into the neo-Nazi world view.
What can be done about this?
People have to stand firmly against it and not talk the problem down. But we should also not talk about the NPD like it is more dangerous than it is. Clearly the NPD is not about to come to power here in Germany and attempts to make that case are complete nonsense. Above all, we have to make sure that the NDP remains socially isolated, which is something that isn't happening in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania where pose as a caring political party. At children's parties, for example, they spread their propaganda unhindered and unfiltered on to children and adolescents. That's worth putting a stop to.
What specifically can politicians do?
The NPD has seats in two German state parliaments
Politicians should immediately stop engaging in such discussions. It is very important to NPD to be taken seriously in the public eye and being in the national media is free advertising. Politicians should focus their efforts on strengthening pro-democracy, anti-right wing extremist programs, instead of weakening them, which is currently the case.
One must deal with the problem and the phenomenon. By that I mean that we shouldn't be talking about the NPD straight after the attacks in Norway because Anders Breivik is not a classic neo-Nazi, but is characterized by right-wing populism. This is clear in his manifesto. If you suddenly point to the NPD, it is simplifying the problem too much. Almost everyone is against the NPD, but right-wing populist ideology is engrained much deeper in society than sympathy for the NDP. This is the reason we should be talking about right-wing populism and not an NPD ban.
Patrick Gensing is the author of "The attack from the right. Neo-Nazi strategies and what can be done to combat them." He also runs the internet project "NPD-blog.info" which monitors the extreme-right movement in Germany and Europe.
Interview: Andrea Grunau / ccp
Editor: Sean Sinico