The Far-Right's Respectable Façade: How the NPD Targets the Mainstream
In the past, Germany's far-right NPD party was associated with skinheads and violent thugs. In recent years, however, the party has been trying to appeal to mainstream voters by cultivating a respectable image and campaigning on populist issues. But the party needs its links to the neo-Nazi scene to maintain its political power. By SPIEGEL Staff
This is part two of SPIEGEL's cover story on the NPD. You can read the first part here.
The NPD, anxious to ensure that no one says the wrong things, is putting a great deal of emphasis on self-control at the moment. Because of the NSU's alleged killing spree uncovered in November and the public debate over what should be done about the NPD, the party is faced, once again, with the prospect of a possible ban. This makes it all the more important for the NPD to project an image of itself as a well-behaved and rational mainstream conservative party. Hence its self-portrayal as a "party that cares" about people in Germany -- provided they are ethnic Germans, of course.
In the past, the NPD used the term "National Socialism" as a provocation. But Apfel doesn't like the term anymore, characterizing it as being "burned by history." Instead, the party now prefers the slogan "respectable radicalism." It describes the attempt to camouflage (but not necessarily dispense with) the party's unpleasant associations, so that ordinary citizens can identify with it more closely. The party is putting on its mainstream façade for ordinary people by engaging in social grassroots activities, but always in the hope that the national awakening of its fellow Germans will eventually follow.
"Tutoring, children's sports, providing advice on Hartz IV (welfare benefits) -- wherever we see an area where the government isn't doing enough, we move in," says Peter Marx. He speaks with the soft, singsong-like inflection of people native to the western state of Rhineland-Palatine, an accent he took with him when he moved to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania a few years ago. Marx, the manager of the NPD's parliamentary group in the state, exploits the fact that the famous "blooming landscapes" that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl promised for eastern Germany never materialized in many places. If there were functioning civil-society structures in Western Pomeranian towns like Anklam or Ueckermünde, the right-wing extremists would be little more than an annoyance in the region. The fact that these structures are absent is what makes the party so dangerous.
The Right Clothing
Some 300 kilometers (190 miles) to the south, the Wartburgkreis Bote, a local newspaper, is on display in the pubs of Eisenach in the state of Thuringia. The paper deals with such hot-button topics as a wind-turbine project potentially spoiling the view from nearby Wartburg Castle, school closings, donations to the local animal shelter, the euro crisis and efforts to ban minarets. "This enables us to reach conservative groups we wouldn't have been able to reach in the past," says publisher Patrick Wieschke, a member of the NPD's national executive committee. The right-wing extremists captured 5 percent of the vote in elections to the Eisenach city council, putting Wieschke in one of the roughly 350 local political offices the party holds nationwide.
This attempt by the NPD to appeal to a broader public by painting itself as a normal conservative party even extends to the way party supporters dress. A document drafted by the party's national leaders, which addresses the appearance of members, is now making the rounds of the state organizations. "It's important to me that we don't come across as a fringe group," says Apfel. "Attending protests dressed in black tends to scare people away," he adds, pointing out that he would prefer to see "friendlier colors."
In an internal memo, Bernd Kümmel, an adviser to the NPD in Bremen, writes that casual outdoor clothing, of the sort that "hikers" might wear, is appropriate, because, after all, "clothing is a marketing instrument." And not just clothing, he adds. "We make ourselves vulnerable to attack and compromise our credibility if some of us show obesity or poor posture," Kümmel writes. "If possible, there should be no overweight or unathletic-looking elected representatives. Those who are, should make it a priority to work on their appearance." This doesn't bode well for party leader Apfel.
The Parliamentary Party
The most important stages on which the NPD performs its "respectable radicalism" show open once a month in Dresden and Schwerin, the respective capitals of the eastern states of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. This is where the party holds seats in the state parliaments and exploits the respectability of the parliaments -- even though Apfel once derided the Dresden assembly as a " gleichgeschalteten Schwatzbude" (loosely translatable as "conformist talking shop"), deliberately choosing words that were also used by leading Nazis to attack the democratically elected parliament during the Weimar Republic.
At first glance, the NPD doesn't seem to have achieved very much in its work in the state parliaments. All it requires is a look at the bookshelves in Apfel's office. There are five shelves, of which two are completely empty and two are half-empty. Apfel doesn't seem to have a high opinion of the kind of specialized literature that normally fills parliamentarians' offices.
But it isn't quite that straightforward. In fact, the right-wing extremists are busy in the parliaments, exploiting speeches, motions, minor and major inquiries -- in other words, anything that attracts public attention. It doesn't really matter that the other factions are notorious for rejecting the NPD's motions, mainly out of principle. For the party, pushing the limits in a calculated fashion is the name of the game.
In Schwerin, the six NPD representatives accumulated 483 calls to order in a single legislative period, while the remaining 65 members received only 72 rebukes. Pastörs alone was ejected from the chamber 27 times. But being ordered off the floor also presents the party with an opportunity to request a review of the parliament's decision to do so, and there is nothing more gratifying to the right-wing extremists than to witness the state constitutional court ruling in their favor.
The NPD has established itself within the parliamentary system, at least in eastern Germany. In states of the former West Germany, like Schleswig-Holstein and Hesse, the party failed to even pass the 1 percent threshold in recent elections. Apfel has already written off 2012 and 2013, because the only elections scheduled for those years are in western states. Instead, he is pinning his hopes on successes in 2014 elections in the eastern states of Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg, as well as in the European election, in which the 5 percent threshold no longer applies.
In the 2009 election campaign, Apfel focused on such issues as the rural exodus in the east, the shortage of doctors and crime in the border region. This strategy helped the NPD get itself elected into state parliaments once again -- and to escape bankruptcy in the process.
Subsidisies from the Enemy
The NPD may consider the current political system to be rotten, but it clearly doesn't mind taking its money. From 1998 to 2009, the party collected about 10 million in government subsidies, which translates into 70 euro cents for each vote in a state parliamentary election where it captured more than 1 percent of the vote. It has also collected another 38 cents in subsidies for each euro in donations and membership dues. It is only possible for the party to wage its fight against foreigners and Jews, against democracy and pluralism, and against the German state because that very same state subsidizes its efforts.
Since 2005, about 40 percent of what Pastörs calls the "war chest" has come from government funds (see graphic). The subsidies to the party's parliamentary groups represent another source of funding: 1.2 million in Saxony this year and 600,000 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, plus the members' expenses. This is a lot of money for a party that calls itself radical. The NPD, incidentally, has been involved in more contribution scandals than any other party. The administration of the Bundestag is currently demanding that the NPD repay 2.5 million it collected on the basis of false accounting statements.
One of the biggest recent political donations came from a retiree named Robert Weber, who tried to pay 140,500 in cash into an ATM in Thuringia in August 2009. Despite allegations of money laundering, the 84-year-old insisted that he wanted to donate his savings to the NPD. Soon afterwards, the money was deposited into the party's account.
In the past, the party often had a tendency to bend the truth when it came to its finances. In Thuringia, for example, the head of the state chapter, who for legal reasons can only be identified as Frank G., wrote receipts for nonexistent donations for years. The supposed donors were able to use the fake receipts to cheat on their taxes, while the NPD used the fake donations to fleece the government for even more money. It was an "exception," claimed the national party treasurer at the time, Erwin Kemna. The only problem was that Kemna himself turned out to be the next perpetrator.
Hole in the War Chest
On Feb. 7, 2008, the authorities arrested Kemna, the owner of a kitchen store in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. After combing through his records, they discovered that Kemna had inflated party revenues by 870,154.15, and that he had also moved more than 700,000 in party funds into his personal and business accounts. Kemna was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. However, investigators are convinced that then-NPD leader Udo Voigt must have noticed something, which is why the Berlin public prosecutor's office is still investigating the case. Voigt calls the allegations "ridiculous."
Kemna was replaced by Stefan Köster, the NPD official with an office in the Thinghaus. Köster's appointment would turn out to be painful, both for him and, to an even greater extent, for the party. The party's 2007 financial statement was completed in a great hurry, and not until the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2008. As a result of what an NPD memo called an "almost superhuman performance," Köster ended up with "bursitis in the right elbow." The party, for its part, would soon find itself facing its next disciplinary proceedings.
Because of an accounting error, Köster was unable to account for almost 900,000. As a result, the Bundestag administration suspended all payments to the NPD for a period of time. Just how severely this affected the party was revealed in a maudlin letter from its attorney, who had filed a complaint against the suspension of payments in a Berlin administrative court. Without the government funds, the attorney wrote, the NPD's "political existence would be threatened."
The hole in the party's assets is currently bigger than ever. According to the most recent 2010 financial statement, there is a shortfall of 1.068 million. Meanwhile, the government, that hated, despised and demonized entity, is supposed to fork over the cash -- and quickly, if possible.
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