The official party line of the NPD is that it rejects violence and distances itself from the terror cell of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which is believed to have murdered at least 10 people between 2000 and 2006. It has even occasionally expelled party members who take things too far. But the abundance of examples gathered by investigators makes a different impression.
Parliamentary floor leader Pastörs made open threats at an NPD conference in the southern German town of Günzburg in March 2011: "If we say that Europe is the land of the white race and should remain that way, then we have a right to safeguard this, if necessary with military force." This could have come straight from the mouth of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution recorded Pastörs' speech and listed it as exhibit 3021.
An even harder line was taken by Hans Püschel, an independent candidate for the NPD for elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. In November 2011, only days after the story broke that the so-called "Döner Killings" had apparently been carried out by NSU terrorists Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, Püschel cynically asked: "Are the 'döner murderers' legitimate insurgents?" And, as if that weren't bad enough, he added: "The two Uwes don't deserve to be dragged through the muck like this."
Is There an Imminent Threat?
Anyone who reads page after page of such tirades can have no doubt about the true character of the NPD. But would it be enough to uphold a ban? Does this prove that there is an "imminent" threat to democracy, a condition which the European Court of Human Rights considers necessary to uphold a ban?
Already in its written statement on the first failed attempt to ban the party, the judges in Karlsruhe made reference to their European colleagues in Strasbourg, who have set high legal hurdles. In the case of the forced dissolution of the Islamist Welfare Party in Turkey, the judges in Strasbourg concurred with the arguments presented by the Turkish courts, which found that due to the party's high popularity ratings, it was on the verge of implementing its plans. But the NPD is nowhere near that stage.
In a catalogue of criteria that forms the basis for the collected evidence, the ministers write that the participation of NPD functionaries "in violent and criminal activities, and more than coincidental links between the party and terrorist underground structures," could count as justification for a ban. But neither the dossier nor the investigations into the NSU series of murders have provided proof of this.
What's more, in contrast to the Turkish Welfare Party, the NPD has recently been shaken by crises. The party is shrinking, not growing. Over 1,100 individuals have left the party over the past four years, and in November 2011 the organization only had 5,900 members. And it's in major financial trouble. According to the collected evidence, the "net assets of the entire party" amounted to debts of 1.064 million ($1.338 million) in 2010. From the perspective of the court in Strasbourg, these are arguments that would call into question the necessity of a ban.
Consequently, Germany's state interior ministers are pinning their hopes primarily on another aspect: the affinity of the NPD with historical Nazism. The reasoning here is that if it's possible to depict the party as Hitler's political heirs, it will convince the judges in Strasbourg. Indeed, the collected evidence contains rather bizarre statements by elected party officials that reveal a nostalgia for the Nazi Germany of the 1930s.
Dirk Bahlmann, a member of the municipal council in the town of Löcknitz in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, was convicted of vandalizing a Holocaust memorial plaque. Later, Bahlmann gave an interview in which he described the memorial plaque as an "insult to all good Germans." He contended that the Holocaust was a Jewish fabrication, and that it was the Jews who started both world wars. Furthermore, he says that he stands "fully behind Adolf Hitler."
Sometimes the anti-Semitism is veiled, sometimes it's open, as with Siegfried Gärttner, an NPD candidate for the 2009 Bundestag election, who said: "A private Jewish clique is forcing its own country or the countries of the world into bankruptcy." And Rigolf Hennig, who was a member of the district and city council member for the NPD in Verden in the northern state of Lower Saxony until 2011, said that "the influence of international Zionism has to be broken."
The arguments have now been placed on the table, and they are fairly good ones. Now, it's up to the politicians to decide how far they dare to take it. Until now, the debate has been primarily pursued by the state governors. The heads of Germany's states are pushing for new legal proceedings, even at the risk of failing again. Taking the case to the constitutional court in Karlsruhe is "an important step in the fight against right-wing extremism," argues the Social Democratic governor of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Erwin Sellering, in a commentary published in the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "We should take this step now," he says.
Sellering wrote these comments before he even had an opportunity to read the collected evidence, which shows that the political goal supersedes objective arguments. It's a similar story with Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic mayor of Hamburg, who told the conservative Die Welt newspaper that if the federal government didn't lend its support, "the states should take the risk of going alone."
Over the coming weeks, the state interior ministers intend to form an opinion on the matter and assess the collected evidence. The decisive meeting is scheduled for early December, when they will also have to consider whether their case is strong enough without the 65 classified pages that, at least in part, stem from informants inside the party. "If we need the material from our informants to make our case in Karlsruhe, I would be prepared, if necessary, to also reveal the identity of our sources to the judges," says the interior minister of Saxony-Anhalt, Holger Stahlknecht of the CDU. (Revealing the true identity of intelligence agency informants is generally considered taboo.)
But before it comes to a court case, his counterpart in Lower Saxony, Uwe Schünemann, intends to commission former constitutional court judge Hans-Joachim Jentsch to write an expert opinion on the material. If Jentsch comes out in favor of pursuing a ban, says Schünemann, "then nobody can refuse to get on board."
One week after the interior ministers' meeting, the state governors will also meet, this time together with Merkel. By then, at the very latest, the chancellor will have to show where she stands on the issue.
Unwilling to Sign
A decision taken last week reveals just how controversial this issue remains, despite the impact of the dossier's 1,147 pages. In a letter accompanying the collected evidence, German Interior Minister Friedrich and his staff asked each interior minister to provide written confirmation to the court that the material had not been obtained from informants. It was intended as a kind of pledge to the judges that the state's case was not undermined by the sort of connections that toppled the ban attempt in 2003.
But the interior ministers turned out to be not so courageous after all. They quickly agreed that it would be preferable if such a confirmation was not linked to their names. Now, their department heads will have to sign the documents.