The rise of Germany‘s neonazis
Saturday 14th February 2015
The continuous swelling of Pegida’s ranks and the often ambivalent attitude of leading politicians reawakens past nightmares, writes VICTOR GROSSMAN
IF YOU have ever read Edgar Allen Poe’s gruesome stories, you may recall feelings of horror which made you cringe and shudder. The rise of German neonazis will provoke similar feelings, as will the violence meted out against subjects of their hatred — leftist youngsters who they refer to as “ticks,” and all people with a different accent, clothing or skin colour.
Such groups, present all over the country, seem strongest in south-east Saxony, north-east Mecklenburg and the western Ruhr region, all areas plagued by unemployment — especially among young people.
Semi-secret ties connect them with the almost openly pro-nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), legal despite various attempts to outlaw it. It is good that it has failed the requisite 5 per cent hurdle for all but one state parliament. Only in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania did 6 per cent of the voters give the NPD five seats out of 71 available.
Last May’s election for the European Parliament, with a hurdle set at only one per cent, let the party squeeze into 1 seat in Strasbourg with 1.03 per cent. Despite receiving few votes, however, it has bases in all too many towns and villages thanks to its activity in voluntary fire departments, PTA groups, football clubs and outdoor festivities. Local fear often plays a role.
The next ring in widening rightist circles has been the Pegida movement with its marches, mostly held on Monday evenings, denouncing a fantasy “Islamisation of the West.”
In late 2014 it grew alarmingly in the city of Dresden, where on one occasion more than 20,000 took part. Aside from its anti-foreigner bias (in a city with an immigrant population of only 2 per cent, far below the average), it appealed to many who were worried about their livelihoods, resentful of traditional parties and ready to load blame on scapegoats.
Happily, its shady yet somehow charismatic leader had to step down after his Facebook “selfie” imitating Hitler and viciously brutal epithets against immigrants went too far. His successors soon split up, and Pegida in Dresden has called off further “walks” for now and may collapse. In other cities it was always countered or blocked by immigrant-friendly opponents in far superior numbers. But minority ethnic groups in Dresden still live in fear.
Nine-tenths of those Pegida walkers look to a party called the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Founded in 2013, it won 7 per cent in the European Parliament vote and then between 9 to 12 per-cent in three east German state elections.
It opposes immigration and same-sex marriage but rejects being called the “German Tea Party.” Some fine-sounding economic demands steal voters from Die Linke (The Left) but, like an amoeba, it lacks any clear shape. At a recent congress in Bremen its ever-grinning leader Berndt Lucke, once a World Bank economist, narrowly forced through a change in its current triumvirate rule, granting himself sole top leadership. The AfD, despite populist phrases and a stack of professors among its delegates, may become a dangerous rightist menace.
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), not to be outdone, also shows skill at talking out of two sides of its mouth. While Merkel boldly denounces racists and proclaims that “Islam belongs to Germany”, CDU minister-president of Saxony Stanislaw Tillich contradicts her in a very transparent code: “Muslims are welcome and can practice their religion. But that does not mean that Islam belongs to Saxony.” In that state, whose capital is Dresden, the votes of Pegida walkers and other bigots can always be useful politically. Why lose them?
Indeed, Volker Kauder, the head of Merkel’s CDU fraction in the Bundestag, has no desire to burn down xenophobic bridges and lose voters. Referring to the Pegida sing-out on December 22, he found it “really good that the people in Dresden sang Christmas carols!” Perhaps they thought of the child in the manger, this conspicuously Christian politician surmised.
In other matters Kauder is rather less gently inclined. It was he who welcomed to the Bundestag Vitali Klitschko, conservative Germany’s favorite boxing champion and the planned ruler of Ukraine until stronger US managers downgraded him to mayor of Kiev.
Quite undeterred, and despite the frightening dangers boiling up in that terribly troubled region, Klitschko flexed his biceps, waved his big fist and declared: “With no fight there’s no victory!” And Kauder, even more vividly, promised him aid so as “to bring into full radiance the flame of victory.”
Kauder’s enthusiasm is understandable if one knows that he is the main parliamentary pillar of Heckler & Koch, one-time maker of Mauser weapons, whose main plant is in his district. The firm contributes handsomely to his campaigns and he supports just as enthusiastically in its export (for strictly peaceful purposes, of course) of handguns, rifles, submachine guns and grenade launchers to all and sundry — countries such as the US, Bosnia, Nepal, Indonesia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, probably pre-Nato Libya.
Contradictions are common in the coalition of Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats, especially on relations with the Ukraine.
Sometimes it resembles a “good cop, bad cop” scenario, whereby the roles can change. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) often calls for a diplomatic solution, Merkel for tougher sanctions against Russia.
Then she praises diplomacy, while her man Kauder and German President Gauck want to march on and delight at the roar of Phantom fighter jets in Estonia skimming along the Russian border.
However, despite transatlantic pressure and that from Kauder & Co and such gun-lovers, the Berlin government has thus far kept to one position: “No weapons for Kiev.” And a majority of the public also rejects any hostilities.
The mass media, less troubled by complexities or power rivalry when backing Pentagon and US State Department positions, has in its ruthless attacks on Putin virtually deleted any thoughts on German-Russian history or its consequences. This rule was briefly broken by a few journalists after the death on January 31, at 94, of Richard von Weizsaecker, West Berlin mayor from 1981-4 and German President from 1984-94 and they recalled some of his courageous words.
Surprising a hushed Parliament in Bonn in May 1985, Weizsaecker broke with West German usage and spoke of May 8 1945 as “a day of liberation … it liberated all of us from the tyranny of the National Socialist regime.” Referring to seeming forgetfulness about those Hitler years, he continued: “When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust became known at the end of the war, all too many of us claimed they had not known anything about it, or even suspected anything … Anyone who cared to inform himself could not escape the fact that the deportation trains were rolling.”
No, young Germans could not be blamed for crimes of their elders, he said, but they had been left “a hard legacy … Those who close their eyes to the past will remain blind regarding the future … Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present.”
How relevant this seems today. After the elections in Greece and with ones to come in Spain, Merkel and Finance Minister Schaeuble fear any progress which threatens their “austerity policy” — imposing that old hegemony of German power and finance in all Europe at the cost of living standards for working people, pensioners and young people, also those in Germany (meaning new recruits for Pegida or AfD).
Indeed, if such “threats” gain real strength, two fearful responses are always possible. The racist, neofascist structures could strengthen, or the bugles of war could trumpet toward that path. Neither route excludes the other.
Are we again facing the horror of Edgar Allen Poe, destruction by the sharp, bloody pendulum of expanding war or another fatal fall into a dark, abysmal pit? Or can we fight our way clear of both these destinies?