German President Horst Köhler has called on all Germans to actively oppose anti-Semitism, while politicians across the spectrum debate banning the right-wing NPD party.
"Nazis out!" reads the poster during a protest march in Saxony
Freshly returned from a four-day visit to Israel, Köhler sounded the alarm for all levels of German society to take up action and protest what he fears is a broadening of anti-Semitism.
In an interview with Deutschlandradio Berlin, the president said although Germany was not experiencing a “giant wave,” there was ample reason to be concerned about new facets of anti-Semitism which expressed themselves most outwardly in criticism of Israel and the US. The events two weeks ago in the state parliament of Saxony, in which members of the National Democratic Party (NPD) boycotted a tribute to victims of the Holocaust, served as a “wake-up call,” Köhler said.
Horst Köhler next to the Eternal Flame in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2005.
Germany must now respond to these hateful sentiments not with panic but with well thought out and rational actions, he said. The 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 8, 1945, and the events leading up to the historic date provide the perfect opportunity to demonstrate Germany’s resolve in combating right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism of all sorts.
Government protests against far-right
The initiative purportedly has the support from the highest levels of German politics. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is said to have backed plans for organizing a mass protest against the far-right. According to his spokesman, Bela Anda, Schröder said he believed it is the responsibility of all major parties to join forces and organize an official demonstration on May 8 against anti-Semitism and intolerance.
There must be “powerful proof from the upright and righteous public” that Germany does not tolerate right-wing extremism, Anda said quoting Schröder.
On the 60th anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz, a German puts a candle on the former rail track leading from Berlin to Auschwitz.
Israel’s former ambassador to Germany, Avi Primor, recalling the chains of lights and rallies of the early 1990s when tens of thousands of Germans protested against right-wing extremism, said something similar is needed today.
Social Democrats leader Franz Müntefering said contacts were already underway between the mainstream political parties to organize a protest march on May 8 in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. “There are contacts between the parties, the churches and the trade unions. We all agree we should not leave the place to the neo-Nazis,” Müntefering told German public broadcaster ARD.
The announcement comes after Germany’s resurgent far-right parties, which last year scored electoral success in two eastern state assemblies and plan to join forces for the 2006 general election, let it be known that they plan to mark the end of World War II with their own marches in front of the Brandenburg Gate on May 7 and 8.
Party ban for right-wing extremists
In light of the recent attention the right-wing parties have generated in recent weeks – most specifically the NPD in Saxony with their criticism of honoring Holocaust victims – many in the government and across political parties have resumed the call to ban right-wing parties. A mass protest is not enough, they claim; the government needs to prove that such extremism is against the law.
"Nazis out" reads a poster during a protest in Kiel on Jan. 30, 2005.
Fraction leader for junior coalition partner the Greens, Katrin Göring-Eckard, said the NPD needs to be outlawed. If it is foreseeable that National-Socialism will be glorified and Nazi victims disparaged as part of a party’s ideology, then there must be a legal option for prohibiting the party’s assemblies and forcing it to disband.
Vice President for the Central Council of Jews in Germany Charlotte Knobloch criticized the government for not being more forceful in its opposition to the NPD and right-wing extremism. A party that is allowed to build itself on the basis of anti-Semitism and hatred of foreigners and can continue to demonstrate freely is a sign of a government’s weakness.
It is time for the government to push for a new ban on the NPD, she told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. The initiative, however, has yet to be officially embraced by Schröder’s government. In 2003, the center-left government tried to have the party outlawed on the grounds that it stirred racial hatred, but the case was rejected in the Supreme Court.
Since then the NPD has continued to grow in popularity, especially in the economically depressed eastern states such as Saxony, where it produced the far-right’s best showing in six years when it won nearly 10 percent of the vote in September’s parliamentary election.
Recollections of 1932?
Schröder’s government is largely to blame for the rise of the far-right, according to Christian Social Union leader Edmund Stoiber. “The failure of Schröder’s economic policies and the extensive unemployment creates the environment in which extremism thrives,” the former chancellor candidate told Welt am Sonntag.
With five million jobless, Germany has broken an absolute record, Stoiber said, and added that if the 1.5 million people Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement said are involved in work programs are added to the figure, “Germany will find itself in a situation not unlike that of 1932.”
SPD Party Leader Münterfering dismissed the parallel to pre-Hitler Germany. Speaking to the local newspaper Pinneberger Tageblatt, he said neither the SPD nor the opposition was responsible for the rise of the far-right in Saxony. “Only the voters are to blame,” he said.