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There's an extremely disturbing interview in today's Times with Udo Voigt, the leader of the NPD, Germany's largest ultra-nationalist political party.
“ADOLF HITLER was a great German statesman,” the bête noire of the German Establishment said as he sat in a room darkened by bombproof shutters.
“If you can call Churchill a great Briton, if you can make a hero out of Alexander the Great, then you have to give that status to Hitler, too,” Udo Voigt, the leader of the far-right National Party of Germany (NPD), said. “My lawyer has told me to say no more than that.”
This year’s 60th anniversary commemorations (of the end of the war) have rallied Germany’s usually warring right-wing organisations. They are using them to stir regret for German wartime suffering, convert it into political anger and win voters across the generations.
Herr Voigt, 52 and a former army captain, is the mastermind. Since taking charge in 1996 he has converted the NPD from a mouthpiece for embittered war veterans into “a radical voice for the silent majority”. He addresses rallies using the slogan: “We are everywhere.”
He began by harnessing the raw energy of eastern Germany’s racist skinheads, recruiting them from pubs and placing them under near- military discipline.
“More than 600 have passed through our training centres, and many of them have become our leadership cadres,” he boasted, pointing at a picture of a graduation ceremony.
The NPD is widening its appeal. Last month, during the anniversary of the Dresden bombing, 8,000 neo-Nazis marched silently through the streets, and they seemed to enjoy the sympathy of many citizens.
The NPD won more than 9 per cent of the vote in Saxony and has become a pivotal element in the Dresden parliament.
Today (Voigt) advocates “national solutions” to Germany’s economic crisis, namely, quitting the euro and repatriating foreigners. Jobs would be offered to foreigners only in the absence of German takers, and for a limited period. Only those with German parents would qualify for passports. Foreigners would be excluded from Germany’s social welfare and pension schemes and from buying property. The aim would be to reduce the number of foreigners living in Germany by two million within six months of the NPD entering government.
The chances of Herr Voigt’s party coming to power next year are remote, but polls suggest that 14 per cent of Germans share his views, and he has even wider support on issues such as immigrant children in inner-city schools.
This is part of a wider trend across Europe, of far-right parties moving into the mainstream (see here for links), as seen in Italy, France, Flanders, and Austria. In German terms the NPD does not yet have the same level of national support, but it is entirely possible that they could be on the same trajectory as groups like the Alleanza Nazionale, the Vlaams Blok, and Le Front National. Indeed, my concerns are heightened by the fact that Germany's problems with issues like its rapidly aging population and high unemployment are among the worst in Western Europe, especially in the formerly-Communist east.
A situation to watch.
Update, 3/15/2005, 2pm: I've recently been re-reading Nick Ryan's Homeland: Into a World of Hate, and he talks quite a bit about the NPD and its links to kameradschaften groups in East Germany. Anyways, this article has quite a bit on the topic of Europe's far right, if you are interested, and this one talks about the rise of the Vlaams Blok in Flanders.