Research

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a region in Germany with a relatively strong presence of NPD sympathizers. Evidence of this can be found in the close vicinity of Schloss Plüschow. For example, one of the inhabitants of the village is the owner of the biggest online shop for right-wing products in Germany and manager of the record label for Rightwing rock. Another example lies just a few kilometers away in the town of Grevesmühlen, where you can find the Thinghaus[1], a meeting place for Neo-Nazi’s and headquarters of the local branch of the NPD. This so-called ‘community center’ is located on the edge of town, surrounded by a two-meter high fence with barbed wire and guarded by a watchtower and security dogs. And not far from Grevesmühlen, a small village called ‘Jamel’ is claimed by Neo-Nazi’s to be a ‘nationally liberated zone’. The village has become a pilgrimage site for people with right-wing ideologies.

In many of the small towns and villages in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern neo-Nazi graffiti and counter-graffiti from anti-fascists groups can be found. These sprayings on the walls are a visual reminder of the ongoing discussion on the legality of the NPD.In a recent survey more than 70 % of the Germans voted in favor of prohibiting the NPD. Outlawing the NPD seems a dramatic measurement for a political party that only got 1.3 % of the votes during the last general elections in 2013[2]. But their relatively small size could not prevent authorities becoming increasingly concerned with the rise of the far-right in Germany and especially in the former eastern states, such as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony. In 2012 more than 17,000 crimes were attributed to the far right, 842 of which were violent. After the discovery that there might be a link between the far-right terrorist group NSU[3] (National Socialist Underground) and the NPD, officials launched a new legal attempt to ban the party. At the end of 2013 an application has been submitted to the constitutional court, arguing that the party’s ideology is identical to that of the Nazis.

The prohibition debate has been an ongoing discussion ever since the first attempt to ban the NPD. In 2003 the first trial took place before the Federal Constitutional Court, the highest court in Germany with the exclusive power to ban parties if they are found to be anti-constitutional. But because of mistakes with undercover informants, the application was rejected. Now 10 years later, calls to prohibit the party have become louder again, especially after the uncovering of the NSU terrorists. In the new court case the persecutors will investigate the possible connection between the NSU and members of the NPD. Furthermore the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution classifies the NPD as a threat to the constitutional order because their political ideology is based on the rejection of the democratic constitutional state and liberal capitalism. Some might say that ruling the party unconstitutional strengthens democracy and helps to defend humanistic values. But no matter how despicable their political ideas might be, it may not be the best thing to do. Outlawing a political party, such as the NPD, could have far reaching consequences.

First of all the ban of the NPD seems a mere symbolic gesture in response to the failure of the domestic intelligence agency that couldn’t prevent the terrorist activities of the NSU. This revenge seems justified at first, taken into consideration the extend of the aggression of the far-right. But the ban could backfire in unexpected ways. Some of the NPD members might continue their activities underground. They could join violent local groups that are not in any political party, like the kameradschaften or groups like the Autonome Nationalisten. These loosely formed networks pose a much greater risk than the current NPD, as seen in the case of the NSU.

A second consequence of the prohibition of the NPD touches upon a more fundamental problem. State agencies, like the Supreme Court have no democratic legitimacy; the people haven’t elected the judges. When these kind of agencies are given full responsibility and authority to decide whether political parties should be part of the democratic system or not, then it could set a dangerous precedent and could potentially lead to more violations of democratic principles. The NPD rejects the current liberal capitalist democracy and offers a solution in the form of a homogenous society cooperating for national unity. Although their solution has proven to be disastrous, their condemnation of the current political system should be accepted and tolerated within the democratic arena. In an inclusive democracy there should always be room for oppositional thought, even if that means accepting political parties that aim for the destruction of democracy itself.

If the consequences of the ban are not taken serious than it’s not unthinkable that in the future this mechanism would only serve the interest of the governing elite. Who could guarantee that it would not be used against all other oppositional parties that offer alternative models to state backed capitalism? The survival and success of radical different and opposing political ideas must be determined by the people themselves and not by a group of professionals or technocrats. A democracy requires the availability of a choice between real alternatives. Freedom of expression is a very important civil liberty and it should be preserved. Although the ways in which citizens are empowered to participate in politics should be reinvented and the continuous stream of political manipulation (propaganda) should be analyzed and criticized.

The move by the Bundesrat[4] to ban the NPD comes at a time in which the NPD seems more marginalized then ever. The party is already falling apart by itself. They have significant financial and internal problems and their membership numbers are decreasing. Therefor the legal attempt to persecute the party seems unnecessary. Pushing them back into the periphery of society could prove counterproductive. When people are in danger or under pressure you never know what they might do, they might act surprisingly dangerous.

The biggest problem of contemporary racism is that right-wing ideology has entered mainstream right-wing parties, such as the Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Swedish Democrats, the Freedom party (PVV) in the Netherlands, Finns party in Finland, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Austria. These political parties have a much stronger political appeal than the old-fashioned Neo-Nazi parties, like the NPD. They might not accept violence in order to achieve their political goals but their ideology relate to many of the racial stereotypes of old fashioned right-wing extremists’ parties. Prohibiting the NPD might very well give rise to an increasing support for a new populist movement in Germany, like the German Freedom Party[5].

Taken into consideration all these consequences it might be better not to prohibit the NPD. Outlawing the party could let people think that the problem of racism and xenophobia in Germany is effectively taken care of, but tackling right-wing extremism is much more difficult than just prohibiting one marginalized political party. Instead there should be increased emphasis on education, community grass root work and support of the anti-fascists movements. Xenophobe tendencies are not only visible at the far-right or populist parties. As a matter of fact, it’s clearly visible among conservative liberal parties as well. It’s the Christian Democrats (CDU) who are mostly responsible for the worsening quality of immigration policies over the last years.

The work is based on documents, found on the website of the parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern[6]. The documents are minor and mayor inquiries[7] handed in by the NPD and completed with answers by parliament. The queries are part of a research by the NPD to analyze and point out the problem of what they call: “left-wing extremism” or “red terror”. In an extensive inquiry of almost 300 pages, handed in at the end of 2013[8], they request information about everything that has to do with the far-left ideology. They want to know which associations and political groupings are affiliated to the extreme left. And how the culture of left extremism is represented in books, publications, on the Internet, at schools and universities, in music, etc.? On the website of the NPD it is explained that the inquiries are an appeal to parliament for a strong condemnation of left-wing crime and a call upon all citizens to actively join the fight against the “left terror”. The NPD made it their mission to stop the unconstitutional tendencies of the extreme left.

The irony of this investigation into the culture of the extreme left is that the NPD copies the same mechanisms that are used against them. Their parliamentary inquiries are an attempt to distract public attention away from the fact that they themselves are about to be declared unconstitutional. Since the first legal procedure to outlaw the party in 2003, they have been confronted with extensive studies on the influence of right-wing culture within the party. This research was combined with investigations by the domestic intelligence agency through infiltration in their networks. All this exposed that within the party were many members that would not be afraid to use violence in order to fulfill their goals[9]. Since the NSU scandal and the public outrage that followed it has become clear for the NPD that in order to survive as a legitimate political party they have to present themselves as a decent and rational conservative party. But for many this adaptation to normalcy is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

For the project I used the collection of small inquiries that were handed in by chairman of the NPD, David Petereit[10]. The NPD used this parliamentary tool to reveal statistics about politically motivated crime that can be assigned to the far-left[11]. The information gives an overview of left-wing crime in the region, collected by the police. To increase the amount of recorded persecutions, the NPD initiated a website application[12] where people can report, “extreme left incidents”. Most of these offenses, such as property damage, insults, threats and burglary are expressions of protest directed against the NPD. During the residency I visited many of these ‘crime scenes’ and developed a method in order to visualize this collection of so-called left-wing crime. Through a map I tried to gain insight into the geography of the different incidents.

Most of the offenses took place around cities like Grevesmühlen, Wismar, Rostock and Schwerin, but sometimes the incidents occurred in small towns and villages like Greifswald, Teterow and Vietzen. The majority of these recorded violations were graffiti sprayings directed against the NPD. Slogans, such as: ‘Fuck you NPD’ or ‘Nazifreie Zone’, presumably written by anti-fascists who are concerned about the spreading of the right-wing ideology. On these locations activists felt the need to protest against the presence of NPD members in their community, against demonstrations or election campaigns. Sometimes the graffiti was sprayed on key places, such as the NPD headquarters in Grevesmühlen, on houses of party members or over campaign posters and billboards. Other locations were bridges, bus shelters, containers, garage doors, etc.

For the project ‘Sachbeschädigung’ I decided to work with the collection of protest slogans. I revisited some of the places that were described in the inquiry list and made stencil sprayings out of the descriptions found on the list. These texts are descriptions of the offence, specified with date, location, and other details. The interventions took place all around Mecklenburg-Vorpommern at the end of 2013, and were an attempt to illustrate what might happen when the NPD gets banned. The stencil sprayings visualize the possible illegality of the NPD. When pushed back into the margins of society, the activities of the NPD will have to go underground. This project shows a possible future scenario and criticizes the NPD for their judgment of the so-called left-wing crime. The distraction strategy of revealing unconstitutional tendencies of their political opponents is not working in their favor. Instead they should opt for more freedom of expression and tolerate an open debate about different political ideologies. The prohibition debate touches upon essential questions relating to the fundaments of democracy. It should take place within the public domain and not only in court or parliament. Furthermore the project tries to warn for the dangerous consequences of the prohibition of the NPD.

I don’t propose a normalization of the NPD in any way. But the only way to truly oppose them is through an open and pluralistic democratic model in which antagonistic forces are accepted. By forcing them into darkness of illegality their accountability will disappear. Banning the NPD will benefit the extreme right. As I said before: In an inclusive democracy there should always be room for oppositional thought, even if that means accepting political parties that aim for the destruction of democracy itself.

[1] The Thinghaus is owned by Sven Krüger, a right wing extremist who is currently serving a four year prison term for dealing in stolen goods and possession of a weapon without a permit.

[2] They might not have seats at the federal level, but in the former eastern states, such as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony they do have representatives in the state parliament. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern the NPD hold 5 out of 71 seats in, which comes down to 6% of the electorate. In some electoral districts they even got more than 20% of the votes.

[3]The National Socialist Underground or NSU (German: Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund) is a far-right German terrorist group, which was uncovered in November 2011. They are hold responsible for a series of murders of nine immigrants, the murder of a policewoman and attempted murder of her colleague; bombings; and a series of 14 bank robberies.

[4] The German Bundesrat is a legislative body that represents the sixteen federal states of Germany at the national level.

[5] Die Freiheit – Bürgerrechtspartei für mehr Freiheit und Demokratie, founded by Berlin city parliamentarian René Stadtkewitz in October 2010.

[6] Parlamentsdatenbank (http://www.dokumentation.landtag-mv.de/Parldok/)

[7] The queries (Kleine und Grosse Anfrage) are used as an instrument of the opposition in order to control the government. The governing coalition has the obligation to respond to these questions within a restricted time frame and the answers have to be based on available facts.

[8] Landtag Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, drucksache 6/2572 (6. wahlperiode) 13.12.2013, Grosse Anfrage der Fraktion der NPD, ‘Linksextremismus in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern und Antwort der Landesregierung. (http://www.landtag-mv.de/fileadmin/media/Dokumente/Parlamentsdokumente/Drucksachen/6_Wahlperiode/D06-2000/Drs06-2572.pdf)

[9] For example: – Safet Babic was found guilty of aggravated assault in 2010. He was deputy party chief in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz. – Alexander Bode was found guilty of aggravated assault after he allegedly killed an Algerian refugee. He was vice chairman of the NPD-district association in the region of Lausitz. – Heinrich Förster is in jail due to attempted murder and arson. He was candidate for the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein. – Michael Grewe has just been sentenced to 22 months probation for aggravated assault. He was state executive in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

[10] David Petereit is an NPD member of the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and former member of a neo-Nazi group called the Mecklenburgische Aktionsfront, which was banned in 2009

[11] This was done through what is called: small inquiries (Kleine Anfrage) that were handed in monthly since the beginning of 2011.

[12] http://www.mupinfo.de