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A German minister thinks these judges helped the rise of the rightImage: AP

Who's to Blame for Far-Right Extremism?

DW staff (sms)
September 18, 2004

There's plenty to blame for the rise of extremists in Germany: Ex-communists, unemployment and social reforms all had their turn. Now it's the nation's highest court that tops the list.


German Interior Minister Otto Schily on Friday blamed a 2003 ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court for contributing to the popularity of radical right-wing parties. Its decision not to ban the parties ultimately led to their ascent, he told the Financial Times Deutschland.

That a party using "clear anti-foreigner and anti-Semitic propaganda" could receive enough votes to enter the state legislature is a result of the high court's problematic decision, Schily said. It poses a threat to Germany's political and legal structure and damages the country's image as a destination for international investment, Schily (photo), a member of the Social Democrats, added.

Otto Schily
German Interior Minister Otto SchilyImage: AP

Officials in Saxony expect the German National Party (NPD) to re-enter parliament and possibly increase their share of the vote in elections on Sunday. Polls show the far-right German People's Union (DVU) getting between 5 percent and 6 percent of the vote next door in the state of Brandenburg.

Politician spar over guilt

The minister's comments were "premature and panicked" former Constitutional Court justice Berthold Sommer told the Tagespiegel newspaper. Other SPD members also said it was wrong to hold the court responsible for German extremists.

"It's not the judges that vote for the NPD," said Dieter Wiefelspütz, the SPD's spokesman for domestic affairs. "It's adult people."

Radical parties are seen to be taking advantage of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's labor reforms to lure voters away from mainstream parties, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel said last week.

Rechtsextremismus Landtagswahlen Brandenburg
Campaign posters appeal to voters upset with the government's reformsImage: AP

Green Party head Reinhard Bütikofer said anyone looking for the reason why voters are losing interest in mainstream parties should look farther to the left at the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS).

Typically strongest in eastern Germany, the PDS, which was the Communist Party of former East Germany, has seen great improvements because hardly anyone could tell the difference between their campaign slogans and those of the NPD and DVU, Bütikofer said.

Radicals stop hurting each other

Another reason for the far-right parties' success is their agreement to stop poaching each other's supporters. Since a political party needs at least 5 percent of the vote to be awarded seats in parliament, infighting kept all of them from clearing the barrier.

Kahlgeschorene Demonstranten stehen am Samstag (01.05.2004) in Berlin in einer Gruppe von rechtsextremen NPD-Anhängern
Radical parties no longer fight each other for votesImage: dpa

This Sunday the NPD will be on the ballot in Saxony, where it's typically stronger, leaving the DVU to get all the right-wing votes in Brandenburg.

How to fight the far-right

"Go vote!" was the message politicians from all parties carried through Saxony and Brandenburg during the past weeks. The parties that dominate Germany's political middle, and even the protestant church, hope high voter turnout will minimize the percent of votes that go to radical parties, keeping them out of parliament.

"In difficult years we need a stable government," said Matthias Platzeck (SPD), Brandenburg's incumbent premier. "To get a stable government we need high voter turnout, because that's the only guarantor that the extreme right won't be able to shape the state."

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