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Extreme right

December 5, 2011

The NPD - or German National Party - has already claimed seats in two state parliaments in Germany, even though it's officially listed as "right-wing extremist." The party is seen as racist, relativist and xenophobic.

An NPD demo
There are some 7,000 NPD members in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The German National Party (NPD) was founded in 1964, but its roots lie in the German Imperial Party (DRP), a West German nationalist party which broke up in 1965.

Early NPD members and leaders also came from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and from the German Party (DP), a right-wing party which rose to prominence in the late 1940s and '50s. From its foundation, the basic ideology of the NPD has been "German national." Critics call it racist, nationalist and revanchist.

The NPD's current party platform, laid down in the Bavarian town of Bamberg in 2010, carries the title "Work. Family. Fatherland." From the outset, it puts the proportion of foreigners living in Germany at the center of its case.

The NPD speaks of a "socialist national state" as opposed to an "immigration state." In paragraph 10 of the party platform, entitled "Germany to the Germans," integration is described as "genocide."

The NPD believes integrated classes for German and "foreign" children should be scrapped, and advocate adding "foreign migrant" to the police crime statistics. The NPD also wants to hold a referendum on the introduction of the death penalty in Germany.

Turbulent party history

The NPD achieved success in the late 1960s, winning seats in local governments across West Germany. In 1966, the party entered the state parliaments of Hesse and Bavaria, and a year later it won seats in Bremen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein. Its biggest success in those early years was in state elections in Baden-Württemberg in 1968, when the NPD won almost 10 percent of the vote.

Holger Apfel
NPD leader Holger Apfel used to head its radical youth wingImage: dpa

However, that success marked a high point for the party. In federal elections in 1969, the party failed to clear the 5-percent-hurdle. It won 4.3 percent of the vote, not enough to enter the then national parliament in Bonn. In the aftermath of that election, the party lost many of its gains up to that point. Right up to the unification of Germany in 1990, the NPD never managed to approach the 5-percent-hurdle again.

Four years later, the NPD began to regain some lost ground with success in state elections in the newly unified Germany. In the eastern state of Saxony, the NPD entered the parliament with 9.2 percent of the overall vote, its second-best election result ever. Two years later, they did it again, polling 7.3 percent of the vote in Mecklenburg-Pomerania.

The NPD still holds seats in both states, having managed to clear the 5-percent-hurdle in the most recent elections, despite some losses.

The party has also put forward candidates in five European parliamentary elections, but has never polled more than 0.9 percent.

Infografik Wahlergebnisse der NPD bei Landtagswahlen ENG

New generation of radicals

The NPD is reluctant to publish their membership figures, estimated to be some 7,000 in 2008. There are no comprehensive scientific studies about this section of society on a national level.

Political scientist Armin Pfahl-Traughber has examined the NPD's representation in the state of Saxony. He found that members there were generally young and from the lower social classes, sympathizers or are members of the skinhead scene, or neo-Nazi activists.

The NPD also supports its own youth organization, the Young National Democrats (JN). Until 1999, this association was led by the current leader of the NPD, Holger Apfel, who represents the party in Saxony.

Under his leadership, the profile of the party's youth wing has been strengthened to become more aggressive in its right-wing extremist ideology than the party itself. The Young National Democrats see themselves as "representatives of the national revolutionary wing within the NPD." Apfel has said they should look to the Wehrmacht and elite SS soldiers in Nazi Germany as their role models.

Links to Nazism

It's impossible to ignore the links between the NPD and the NSDAP, the "National Socialist German Workers' Party" of Adolf Hitler. That applies to everything, from the symbolism at party conferences, to expressions of sympathy for the former "deputy Führer," Rudolf Hess, to their well-publicized attempts to revise history.

A black-and-white photo of crowds giving the Hitler salute
Many in the party idolize the Nazi party and Adolf HitlerImage: AP

Jürgen Gerg, the former head of the NPD in Schleswig-Holstein, said in a TV interview in 2003 that "the Nazis were always a role model, notably in the way the NPD is organized, and in the way it has developed."

Prominent NPD members have also relativized war crimes committed by the Germans during World War II, and dispute Germany's war guilt. Many have played down the scope of the Holocaust, the systematic, state-sponsored genocide of some 6 million Jews during the war.

Others clearly identify with Nazi leaders. "Some admire Adolf Hitler, others prefer Heinrich Himmler," Gerg said. "In one way or another everyone felt a link to the Nazi state."

Infografik Wahlergebnisse der NPD bei Bundestagswahlen ENG

On the edge of legality

In a 2007 documentary by German public broadcaster ARD, the former head of the NPD, Udo Voigt, is seen meeting with sympathizers at a memorial service for the SS in Budapest. At the meeting, some expressed anti-Semitic views and used the "Hitler salute."

Voigt has played down the use of the salute, describing it as the "peace salute." Udo Pastörs, the deputy head of the NPD, was also filmed making anti-Semitic attacks, which were greeted with applause by others at the meeting.

The use of Nazi symbols, the glorification of Nazi leaders and Holocaust denial are all banned in Germany. In 2001 the German government applied to the Constitutional Court to also ban the NPD. That was withdrawn in 2003 because it emerged that the party has been infiltrated by the secret services. Estimates suggest that up to 15 percent of NPD officials both on the state and federal level are in fact government agents.

Author: Dirk Kaufmann / ji
Editor: Martin Kuebler