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The unimportant NPD

Head shot of a man (Volker Wagener) with gray hair and a beard
Volker Wagener
January 17, 2017

Another attempt to ban the NPD has failed. That is annoying for those who sought the ban, yet it confirms the strength of the German constitution. After all, the NPD is no longer a real threat, says Volker Wagener.

Deutschland Karlsruhe Entscheidung des Bundesverfassungsgerichts zu NPD-Verbot
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

No, the renewed failure of politicians to ban the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is not a disaster. Rather, it is more of a blemish for the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament. The house has now failed to reach its goals, with scant factual evidence - for the second time in a row.

It seems its members once again sought to "crack a nut with a sledgehammer." Just as in 2003, when it suffered defeat before Germany's Constitutional Court alongside the Bundestag (the lower house), the Chamber of States and the federal government. No one is arguing that the NPD is not propagating an inhuman and racist political program. But that alone is not reason enough for a ban.  

A cipher for Germany's Nazi complex

A party ban is the most powerful weapon in the constitutional arsenal. It is only applied when the free democratic basic order of society is under threat; that means, when the state is in danger of being abolished. And that threat must be clearly proven.

Honestly: Do we really need to fear a party that has no representatives in any of Germany's state parliaments and has never had any in the federal parliament? No, we don't. The NPD is simply a cipher for Germany's Nazi complex. That complex is understandable, and confirms our decades-long attempt to nip any return to Nazism in the bud.

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App
DW's Volker Wagener

Such a historically and psychologically nourished feelings of disgust for the unsavoriness of days past is, however, completely unsuitable when dealing with the legal cudgel of a ban.

The justices in Karlsruhe have once again reminded politicians of that fact. Thus, the NPD can continue its irrelevant existence. The NPD is a splitter group that only makes headlines with its disastrous organizational and financial situation. No, our democracy does not need to circle the wagons to protect itself against these ideological, lightweight "brown shirt" contemporaries.

The legal tug of war is decades late anyhow. In the 1960s a party ban would have likely had more chance of success and would have been much more urgent. Back then, the NPD had representatives in a number of state parliaments, sometimes with as much as ten percent of the vote - more than the liberal FDP could muster. Yet at that time, no one took up the initiative, although they had the same constitution tools. Many Nazis were still in powerful positions and the societal climate was very different. If the NPD ever posed a theoretical threat to the young Federal Republic of Germany it was then. Yet no one dared to take it on, they missed their opportunity. 

The NPD was not marginalized until the Willy Brandt era (1969-74). And why? Because with Brandt (Dare more democracy!), German society moved to the center left, and the extreme right shrunk - all without the Constitutional Court or a proposed ban.

Fight right-wing extremism with good arguments, don't ban it

Our democracy should simply put up with the NPD. Restrictions only serve to make martyrs of the tiny party, martyrs that will soon enough create other replacement organizations. Right-wing extremist ideology cannot be banned - it must be confronted politically and intellectually.

Germany, its party landscape and its entire society have a completely different problem now. The supposedly dangerous bogeyman NPD is a historical relic. Our societal consensus, our democratic equilibrium currently faces a different threat: That of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) and the new populism that seeks, and has in fact found, adherents. The electoral success of the new protest party proves that. And the same rule applies here: Forget the ban, and instead grapple with those attracted to this oversimplified worldview.

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Head shot of a man (Volker Wagener) with gray hair and a beard
Volker Wagener Writer for DW's Programs for Europe department