Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in Germany


Background: In mid-November, the German National Democratic Party (NDP) asked Germany’s highest court to recognize its legality in an attempt to preempt a government ban on the organization. Contrary to the message conveyed by their name, the NDP is described by German intelligence agencies as a racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist party bent on removing democracy and forming a Fourth Reich. Nonetheless, the NDP seeks legal recognition in order to legitimize its right-wing ideologies and potential future actions in practice of their ideology.

The ban against the NDP and similar right-wing organizations comes after the recent revelation that a killing spree was carried out by the elusive neo-Nazi cell known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Over the past 12 years, the group carried out two bomb attacks, 15 armed robberies, and the murder of nine Greek or Turkish immigrants and a German policewoman.

In addition to this recent revelation, reports indicate a substantial increase in race-based hate crimes. In response to the uptick in violence emanating from specifically neo-Nazi groups, Der Spiegel, a German based news publication, published the article “Not Just on the Fringes: Far-Right Attitudes Increase in Germany.” The article explained:

“Right-wing extremist attitudes are on the rise in parts of Germany, particularly in the east, according to a study released on Monday. Young people appear to be at the highest risk, the researchers warn. They are calling for greater social engagement and educational programs to combat the problem of xenophobia.”

In response, a heated debate within Germany and abroad has emerged regarding the growing political influence of neo-Nazi groups as well as the German government’s capacity and efficiency in handling and monitoring the neo-Nazi cell. Regarding the growing political influence, the NDP has won seats in two regional parliaments and municipalities. The latter issue received particular scrutiny after a series of embarrassing discoveries regarding the German security service’s blundering of the NSU investigation.

Debate: There seems to be a consensus amongst analysis that right-wing extremist attitudes are on the rise in certain parts of Germany. However, while most scholars would agree that neo-Nazi ideology is reemerging and gaining political momentum, commentary of the reason for this increased political power remains divergent. The following articles provide different perspectives to Germany’s neo-Nazi issue.

  • Hajo Funke, a well-known expert on right-wing movements and a contributor to the United Nations Research Institute of Social Development, tracks the historical emergence of what he describes as right-wing populist movements in Germany to long before the recent wave this millennium. Funke writes, “The emergence of these [right-wing] movements can be traced to the resilience of authoritarian traditions and ideologies, new forms of ethno-nationalism and the lack of a consistent strategy to democratize the European Union.”
  • Michael Birnbaum, a Berlin correspondent for the Washington Post and an expert in German history, reports on Germany’s neglect of far-right extremism, and especially neo-Nazi groups, as German security services were focused on Islamist terrorists: “After the September 11 attacks in the United States, security agencies around the world poured energy into fighting Islamist terrorism, and Germany did so with special urgency because several of the hijackers had lived in Hamburg. But the shift led to the neglect of other types of homegrown violence in this nation of 82 million people, critics now say, allowing a neo-Nazi movement to flourish.”
  • David Crossland, an editor at Der Spiegel and a former correspondent for Reuters in Germany, argues that there is a sociological explanation for the prevalence of far-right violence against immigrants in Germany. Crossland writes, “The public and the police are too often indifferent to extremism, despite the risk it poses to the country’s reputation. Deep down, Germany still hasn’t grasped that it needs to embrace minorities.”
  • On the other hand, Nora Langenbacher and Britta Schellenberg, experts in the study of right-wing extremism, published a comprehensive report cataloguing European right-wing attitudes and groups titled Is Europe on the “Right” Path?, The co-authored piece explains right-wing extremism as a function of increasing undemocratic attitudes catalyzed by crises and uncorrelated to nationalistic identities. Specifically in Germany, Langenbacher and Schellenber write, “The development of German right-wing extremism is heavily influenced by governmental agencies’ highly repressive treatment of extreme-right activities. Radical-right wing organizational structures and activities have steadily changed, adapted and taken up flexible forms. Moreover, by using the Internet and transnational networking, radical-right-wing players are transferring their activities to more liberal countries abroad and evading suppression in Germany.”

Question: Do you think neo-Nazi ideology is gaining political power in Germany? What do you think is the predominant reason for Nazi reemergence?


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