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Talk of banning far-right party heats after Tröglitz attack

Gabriel Borrud
April 6, 2015

It is a seemingly endless source of controversy: the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), a far-right group purportedly behind recent protests in Tröglitz. DW looks at a running attempt to have the party banned.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Franke

Former Tröglitz mayor Markus Nierth, who during his tenure espoused and actively fought for open-mindedness with regard to housing refugees in his small village, resigned last month when opposition to a planned asylum house became too intense.

"When they showed up outside my family's house, that's when I knew the time had come to call it quits," he said on Saturday, referring to weekly protest marches organized by the NPD that were culminating at his house in Tröglitz throughout February. Insults and threats over his advocacy for accommodating the refugees had become a kind of weekly routine, and in early March, he tendered his resignation.

Nierth spoke just hours after the roof structure of the refugee house he had been fighting for went up in flames. Not long after, condemnation resonated throughout Germany and abroad: "Cowardly, abominable," said Berlin's federal justice minister, Heiko Maas. "Alarm bells should now be ringing," said the head of the Council of Europe, Thorbjoern Jagland, in Strasbourg, adding: "Democracy is increasingly endangered by the hatred motivated by racism and xenophobia."

How can the NPD, then, which is widely believed to have led the protests against the refugee house in Tröglitz, be allowed to exist as a democratic entity in Germany? Attempts to have it prohibited have been underway for years.

Brand in zukünftiger Asylbewerberunterkunft in Tröglitz
District officials claim the NPD is behind the protests in TröglitzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Schmidt

It's a lot harder than you may think to have a political party banned in Germany. Explicit proof that the party not only condones - but also takes an active part in - unconstitutional actions such as the propagation of racism and xenophobia must be successfully demonstrated before the country's leading justices. The case is to be made by the leaders of Germany's 16 federal states, who comprise the Bundesrat, or the upper house of federal parliament.

In 2003, an attempt to ban the NPD failed, after the Constitutional Court found that domestic intelligence informants who had partly provided the evidence used in the Bundesrat's case were part of the NPD's top brass. The case was immediately thrown out, and a second attempt to ban the NPD was started in late 2013, with proceedings currently pending. The topic, however, has been debated on myriad occasions in which the NPD's active role in xenophobic actions seemed too apparent to refute.

"The party has to be banned, as quickly as possible," deplored Charlotte Knobloch, former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in response to the Tröglitz fire. Speaking in Munich on Easter Sunday, Knobloch said the NPD represented a "state-funded breeding ground for National Socialist ideology," referring to the name of Adolf Hitler's former party, the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). According to German law, every party with state representation - the NPD currently has five seats in the northern federal state of Mecklenburg West Pomerania - is entitled to campaign subsidies from the federal government.

Köln Hooligans Ausschreitungen 26.10.2014
Public demonstrations in Germany against foreigners have spiked in recent monthsImage: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

Deadline approaching

"We will do everything in our power to convince the judges this time around," said Ralf Jäger, interior minister of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine Westphalia, of the current NPD ban appeal.

"The NPD provides the basis for neo-Nazi violence and spreads hatred against foreigners," Jäger told the German press agency DPA on Monday. "It would be an important signal for the German state if the party were banned."

Still, consensus as to the exact nature of the appeal has not been reached. Before the case can be viewed by the Constitutional Court, the judges have demanded that the Bundesrat present proof that no domestic informants contributed to the compiling of evidence against the NPD.

"We are all for a second run against the NPD," said Julia Klöckner, of the southwestern state Rhineland Palatinate, in an interview with DPA. "But only if we're completely sure it will go through. If there are any doubts, we shouldn't take this risk."

Judges from the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe have demanded that the evidence be submitted by May 15. If it were to go through and result in the banning of the NPD, it wouldn't be the first time for a party to be prohibited in Germany. But it would certainly be an influential signal for regional politicians like Markus Nierth in Tröglitz, who have witnessed first-hand the violence that groups like the NPD are able to bring about.