Germany's largest party on the radical right, the National Democratic Party (NPD), wanted to hold its annual convention in the city of Oldenburg, not far from Bremen, this Saturday and Sunday. The meeting would have been important for the party to organize itself ahead of January elections in Lower Saxony and Hesse -- both states in the former West where the radical right still has no legislative foothold.
The case in Oldenburg had nothing, technically, to do with the NPD's legal right to assemble -- it's an established, if radical, German party with elected representatives in four eastern state legislatures. The case dealt instead with whether the Oldenburg convention hall was legally bound to rent space to the NPD. Lower Saxony law says that any state-run convention hall must make its rooms available for annual party congresses -- but the court found that the Weser-Ems-Halle, where the NPD had tried to make reservations, was privately run.
The decision came too late for the party to rent another venue.
1.4 Million in Public Funds
Last year the NPD held its convention in Berlin, which gave the party faithful an excuse to play up their "first party congress" in the "imperial capital." This year they may have no convention at all, though they're swearing to reschedule for early 2008.
What they might do instead this weekend is hold a "vigil" in Hamburg, where German Social Democrats (SPD) will meet for their annual convention -- and where some politicians plan to call for an outright ban on the NPD.
The handful of elected NPD members in eastern states puts the NPD in line for federal money. Last year German taxpayers shelled out 1.4 million ($1.9 million) to a party most of them find repulsive, due to its overt anti-Semitism and vocal sympathy with Adolf Hitler's Nazi party.
The leader of Germany's Social Democrats, Kurt Beck, wants to mount a new campaign to outlaw the NPD, but some conservative rivals are skeptical that such a ban could be squared with Germany's constitution. Besides, said Brandenburg's Christian Democrat interior minister, Jörg Schönbohm, to SPIEGEL ONLINE, "A lot of NPD members would just move to other far-right parties after a ban. That's how it is: You can't legislate against attitudes."
But the NPD has shocked a lot of Germans with a string of small electoral victories since 2004, which grant the party more rights within the German political system.
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