Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD) -- with views so brazen that it has been described by the country's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, as a "racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist" -- is never far from the headlines. Last week there was a fist fight between two NPD politicians in Saxony's parliament building in Dresden. This week a mainstream politician tabled a plan to tweak the German constitution and halt national funding for the party.
Uwe Schuenemann, the interior minister of the western state of Lower-Saxony and the man behind the latest attempt to weaken the NPD, urged fellow politicians to join forces against the rightist group: "Currently we do not have the means to ban the party, but we can discontinue our financial support," the Christian Democrat told a news conference on Wednesday. "I think it's realistic that these changes could be enforced before next year's general election."
"This would be a surefire way of drying out the party," said Oskar Niedermayer, a specialist in the far-right at Berlin's Otto Suhr Institute. "The chances of the government managing to ban them are very, very slim, and this could be a measure to halt the success of what is clearly an extremist party."
Schuenemann has proposed amending the constitution to exclude parties that work against Germany's democratic order from obtaining federal funding. At the moment, any German party collecting more than 0.5 percent of votes in a general election, or more than one percent in a regional election, can tap into national financial support.
But, on the day of the discussions, there were early signs that the new plan will face opposition. "I have misgivings that there are potential conflicts with the constitution -- one cannot stop state subsidies for a party which has not been banned," Sebastian Edathy, a lawmaker for the center-left Social Democrats, told the Neuen Osnabrücker Zeitung on Thursday. "If you consider the NPD unconstitutional, you should ban them -- not offer a pseudo solution."
Similarly Max Stadler, an domestic affairs expert at the business-friendly Free Democrat Party, told the Braunschweiger Zeitung newspaper: "It is annoying that the NPD gets state funding, but I am skeptical that excluding them from party financing is viable."
Gaining Political Ground
Germany's domestic intelligence agency has dubbed the NPD as racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist. But, slowly but surely, the party is gaining political ground -- particularly in the states that once belonged to East Germany, where rife unemployment has boosted disaffection with mainstream politics. In June, the NPD won seats on every council it contested in the eastern state of Saxony-- a first for the party. It even won a quarter of the vote in one neo-Nazi stronghold not far from the Czech border.
Supported by some 7,000 members in Germany, the NPD opposes any increase in the number of non-whites, Jews, and Muslims living in the country. Among a rash of polemics, NPD officials have praised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying Israel should be removed from the map. NPD leader Udo Voigt last year lamented that Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, who died in 1987, was not given the Nobel Peace Prize.
And such statements have outraged a big majority of Germans: A poll led by public broadcaster ARD showed that more than 80 percent of the nation-wide sample see the NPD as undemocratic and damaging to the nation's image. But the long-running debate on whether to ban the party has yet to bear fruit. A 2003 attempt at making the party illegal ended in embarrassment when the country's highest court rejected the government's case after it emerged that some of the testimony was from government informants within the NPD.
And, some warn this plan too could backfire: should this latest attempt to dent the party's fortunes fail, the NPD could be left in an even better position than before. "Every time there is a failed attempt to ban or curtail the party, the NPD boasts 'you see we are democratic after all.' That is the danger. Bids like this have to be carefully thought through," Niedermayer said. "In the end the process should not benefit the very party it sought to outlaw."
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