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Political extremism

September 5, 2011

The far-right NPD have won seats in the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the second time. Experts worry the NPD is consolidating its base in rural areas abandoned by the mainstream parties.

An NPD demonstration in Kiel
Another election success for the NPD is bad news, say expertsImage: AP

The far-right National Democratic Party won seats in the parliament of the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the second election in a row on Sunday, with 6 percent of the vote.

While that's just barely above the 5-percent hurdle needed to enter parliament and down 1.3 percentage points from 2006, the small victory has mainstream parties calling for the NPD to be banned, and analysts warning that it's gaining ground.

Six percent is hardly enough support to describe the NPD as popular, according to Carsten Koschmieder, a lecturer and doctoral candidate studying right-wing extremism at the Free University of Berlin, but their re-election to the state assembly is still a bad sign.

"In some parts of the electorate they have become accepted," said Koschmieder. Right-wing extremists typically flame out after one term, he explains, with party members unable to compromise, failing to achieve any of their campaign promises and embarrassed by public rifts within the party. But now the NPD has again made it into the state parliament in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and in another eastern state, Saxony.

"You could say in some parts of these states they've really consolidated their bases," he said.

The concern is repeat voters. "It's not good that they have even a little bit of influence and that there are some people that constantly vote for them. That should worry us," said Koschmieder, adding that every single vote for the NPD is one vote too many.

The weekly German newsmagazine Der Spiegel warned "many protest voters were turning into party stalwarts."

Filling the gap

An NPD campaign poster that reads "Stop the invasion of foreign workers"
The NPD wants jobs for Germans and, as this poster says, to "stop the invasion of foreign workers"Image: DW

Koschmieder said the NPD is making gains in small villages and towns in eastern Germany, areas that the main parties have abandoned. The local youth club in a village might have no one else willing to run it other than the NPD, he said by way of an example.

Tapping into this need for services and help in sparsely populated eastern Germany has become a bit of a strategy for the NPD.

"I hope we're able to combine this community service with the possibility of establishing contacts with people who are normally rather apolitical," said Udo Pastörs, the regional leader of the NPD in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in a recent interview on German public radio. "We aim to raise an interest in politics among these people, notably, of course, for what our party stands for."

The major parties have created this opening for the NPD, according to sociologist Andreas Willisch.

"The established parties have virtually deserted rural areas," he told German public radio. "Due to a general lack of members they are no longer present in such small communities. The NPD fills this vacuum in a smart way by promoting their extremist policies among people who have nowhere else to go to raise legitimate concerns."

Experts like Willisch and Koschmieder agree more must be done to fight right-wing extremism at a grassroots level. They warn against cutbacks for anti-racism and extremism projects by the federal government in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition government wants to reduce state funding for such projects, from about 29 million euros ($41 million) to 27 million euros in 2012.

Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania's state premier and the leader for the state's SPD party, Erwin Sellering
Sellering may have won the election, but he still has to deal with the NPDImage: dapd

Call for a ban

The big winners in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on Sunday were the Social Democrats (SPD) lead by Erwin Sellering. They boosted their share of the vote to 37 percent, up from 30.2 percent in 2006. But Sellering said on German public television that he was disappointed the NPD would again be present in parliament.

"It’s a shame that they’ve made it in again and very regrettable," he said, adding that Germans need to unite against the NPD. "A very important sign of support would be if the western German states would help to ban the NPD party."

But such an attempt failed in 2001 and, according to Koschmieder, a ban could do more harm than good.

"If you succeed, then maybe some of the activists will become more radical, go underground and become more violent," he said. "Whereas now, to avoid being banned and to gain some votes from conservative voters, the party is not that openly racist."

The downside for now, he said, is that with their legal status they receive public funds to run their campaigns, are included in debates and allowed to hang their campaign posters.

Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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