MYPLACE researcher Robert Grimm at Manchester Metropolitan University provides this follow up to his July blog on politically motivated crime in Germany.
For more information on the MYPLACE project, visit the project’s website: HERE
In an earlier blog in July 2012, I used data from the annually published national Report on the Protection of the Constitution to compare the frequency and per capita ratio of political crime ‘left’ and ‘right’ among Germany’s 16 federal states.
The brief paper concluded that politically motivated crime ‘right’ is distributed unequally in Germany. East German states (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia) which roughly comprise of the area of the former German Democratic Republic, showed a higher per capita rate of politically motivated crime ‘right’ than West German states. The distribution of political crime ‘left’, however, did not follow this pattern. The data suggested that right-wing extremism has more resonance in Germany’s east. This finding underpins the MYPLACE rationale for choosing two separate research sites in Germany.
In this blog, I will continue to contrast East and West Germany in relation to the support for far right ideologies. For this purpose, I will compare the distribution of membership in the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD), the number of neo-Nazis, and the number of sub-cultural extremists present in each of the 16 German federal states. I will explore geographic differences in the NPD’s election results in the 2009 general elections. I will also compare the electoral support for the NPD in the last state level election of each federal state. The data has been sourced from 15 state Reports on the Protection of the Constitution (Saarland does not publish a report) and the Bundeswahlleiter.
The national and local Reports on the Protection of the Constitution distinguish between several categories of far right extremists. These include:
- Members in far right parties
- Sub-cultural extremists
- Potentially violent extremists (see Table 1)
Membership in far right political parties.
Germany’s post-unification multi-party political system has been dominated by a selected group of popular parties (Volksparteien). These include the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), the SPD (Social Democratic Party), the FDP (Free Democratic Party) the Green Party and, since 2007, ‘Die Linke’. Unlike other European nations such as France, The Netherlands or Austria for instance, far right populist parties have seen only limited electoral success in Germany.
Nonetheless, there are 111 political parties in Germany (Bundeswahlleiter 13/09/2012) some of which pursue far right populist and extremist ideologies. The most notable among these are Die Republikaner (Reps), the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD), the Deutsche Volksunion (DVU), the Bürgerbewegung pro Nordrhein Westfalen (pro NRW), the Bürgerbewegung pro Deutschland (pro Deutschland) and since spring 2012 ‘Die Rechte’. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution considered only the NPD and the DVU as ‘dangerous’ in 2010.
In 2010, the NPD had approximately 6,600 members and was the largest far right party in Germany; the DVU had an estimated 3,000 members. Total membership in extremist far right political parties in Germany was therefore 9,600 (see Table 1).
To improve electoral prospects, the NPD and the DVU attempted to form a far right coalition across Germany and merged in the last two years. The DVU dissolved in the process. As of summer 2012, the NPD is the only noteworthy extremist far right party in Germany.
The Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands is ideologically close to National Socialism (‘sozial geht nur national’). A homogeneous German people and a sovereign German nation (non-interference and non-involvement) are central to its manifesto. The NPD strongly opposes multiculturalism, which it considers to be the ‘murder of autonomous peoples’ (Volksmord) and a ‘violation of human rights’. Immigrants and multiculturalism are seen to dilute the German value system and exclude Germans from welfare entitlements.
The NPD opposes gender mainstreaming. The German people’s society (Volksgemeinschaft) should be firmly based on the heterosexual nuclear family. The party favours traditional gender relations based on patriarchal principles where women have a predominantly reproductive-domestic role (‘die deutsche Mutter’). Gay rights are strongly rejected.
Germany’s historic legacy, German war guilt, its unconditional capitulation and the subsequent post-war settlement take an important role in NPD discourse. It’s agenda is revengist and revisionist. The NPD questions the legality of the present German-Polish border and refuses to acknowledge evidence of German war crimes. In recent years, the NPD together with other far right organisations successfully instrumentalised the ambiguous relationship Germans continue to have with the past. The party calls for a national remembrance day for German refugees of war and commemorates the bombing of German cities particularly the destruction of Dresden as holocaust by bomb (‘Bombenholocaust’).
The NPD has an anti-globalisation stance and argues that European neo-liberal policies and global financial capital flows driven by national and international elites are the root cause of social exclusion and deprivation of German people. Leaders of the NPD argue that international constraints, (global capitalism, European integration, American imperialism, the continuous presence of foreign troops on German soil etc.) and a corrupt national political system (political elitism, restrictions of freedom of speech, a biased press (Systempresse and Scheindemokratie)) prevent the German people from self-determination The NPD seeks a systemic shift through democratic means, or, in other words, constitutional change by means of parliamentary majority.
In recent years, the NPD was frequently in the headlines. An attempt to ban the party in 2003 failed because the excessive use of undercover investigators by German state protection agencies contaminated the evidence. In 2011, it was discovered that NPD activists had close ties to the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (National Socialist Underground / NSU). The NSU is a terror organisation that murdered 9 people with migration background in Germany between 2000 and 2006. It is also responsible for the murder of a German police officer in 2007. Debates about a ban of the party subsequently re-emerged in 2011/2012.
Geographic distribution of NPD support
According to data published in the state Reports for the Protection of the Constitution, the NPD has a larger membership base in West Germany. With approximately 900 members, the party has its biggest presence in Bavaria followed by North Rhine-Westphalia (third – 750), Lower Saxony (fourth – 550) and Baden-Württemberg (fifth – 460). Saxony has the second highest number of NPD members and is the only East German state among the top five. Bremen has with 40 members the lowest number of NPD members in 2010 (Figure 2).
West German states account for most NPD members; 3,870 or 63.5% of NPD members are
registered in West Germany as compared to 2,220 or 36.5% who are registered in
East Germany (excluding Berlin). Relative to the size of the population, NPD
membership in East Germany outstrips the West by nearly 3:1 (17.1 / 5.9 per 100
thousand). All five East German states, Mecklenburg, Saxony, Thuringia and
Saxony-Anhalt have a higher rate of NPD membership than the Saarland which has with
10.8 the highest rate of all federal states in West Germany. Remarkable is the spread
of 20.2 between the state with the lowest membership rate Nord Rheine
Westphalia (4.2) and the state with the highest membership rate
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (24.4, Figure 3 and Figure 4).
- The NPD has its largest membership base in Bavaria.
- Per capita membership in the NPD is nearly three times higher in East Germany.
The data suggests that East Germans have a higher propensity towards far right ideologies than West Germans.
NPD Election results (source: Bundeswahlleiter)
During the last legislative election in 2009, the NPD was the 7th most voted for party in Germany. It received 768.442 (1.8%) first votes (candidate’s vote) and 635.525 (1.5%) second votes (party vote). Despite this result, none of its candidates gained sufficient votes to be elected directly into the Bundestag (Direktmandat) nor did the party reach the 5% threshold. The NPD has consequently no seats in the German Bundestag. There are however noteworthy local differences in the election results. Support for the party was markedly stronger in East German states. All of which had a higher percentage of the vote than Saarland, which had the highest NPD vote among West German States. In the 2009 elections, average support for the NPD in East Germany was 3.1%, while average support for the NPD in West Germany was only 1.1%. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony had the highest number of NPD votes with 4% and 3.3% respectively (Figure 5).
NPD federal state elections (source: Bundeswahlleiter)
A similar picture emerges for local state level elections. Averaging 4.6%, the NPD had better results in East Germany than in West Germany where it achieved only 1.2%. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern the NPD received 6% of the vote and won five parliamentary seats. In Saxony, the NPD gained 5.6% of the vote and holds eight seats in parliament. Local variations in East Germany are high; the NPD realised only 2.6% in Brandenburg (Figure 6 and Figure 7).
- The NPD received a higher proportion of votes in East Germany in the general election in 2009 and in the last state level election.
- The NPD has representatives in tow local East German parliaments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and in Saxony.
- Voting for the NPD is relatively constant in West Germany. There are variations among East German states.
- The data suggests that voters in East Germany are more receptive to far right ideologies.
Neo-Nazis share similar political goals with the NPD. Despite this ideological affinity, neo-Nazis have an ambivalent relationship with the NPD. Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of neo-Nazis is their organisational structure. Contemporary German neo-Nazis coordinate their activism in loosely defined non-hierarchical informal networks. These networks tend to be local and consist of small groups of individuals without a formal membership. Occasionally, local groups form umbrella networks that coordinate actions and mobilise supporters across regional boundaries.
Neo-Nazi networks refer to themselves commonly as ‘Freie Kameradschaft’, ‘Freie Kräfte’, ‘Freie Netzwerke’ or ‘Freie Nationalisten’ (free/independent comrades, forces, networks or free/independent nationalists). They understand their political activism as a part of a broader ‘Nationaler Wiederstand’ (national resistance) with the ultimate aim to (re-)establish National Socialism in Germany.
The loose organisation of neo-Nazi networks in Germany forms part of a political strategy that fundamentally distinguishes neo-Nazis from the NPD. Neo-Nazis reject the NPD’s attempt to engage with democratic institutions to encourage systemic change from within. Neo-Nazis argue that party activism made little political gains in the past. The NPD’s proximity to the institutional framework of formal politics betrays its purpose to over-through existing political institutions and elites. Moreover, while political parties enjoy certain advantages such as for instance financial support from the state, they are also monitored and have to comply with government regulations. Neo-Nazis see party activism therefore as an inadequate platform to formulate and implement ‘national resistance’.
‘Freie Kameradschaften’ also developed as a pragmatic response to state suppression. Numerous far-right organisations (Deutsche Alternative, Nationalistische Front, Freiheitliche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei etc.) have been banned in Germany in the 1990s. The flexible, informal and local membership structure of contemporary neo-Nazi networks make it more difficult for state protection agencies to implement repressive measures.
The distribution of neo-Nazis in Germany follows a similar pattern to NPD membership and NPD vote. Relative to their population size, East German states have a higher number of neo-Nazis than West German states. The average is 4.6 per 100 thousand in West Germany (excluding Berlin, Saarland does not publish statistics). In East Germany it is 15 per 100 thousand; more than three times higher (excluding Berlin). Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have the highest per capita concentration of neo-Nazis with 23.4 and 18.3 per 100 thousand respectively. There is a large spread between Saxony (23.4) the state with the highest and Bremen (3.0) the state with the lowest number of neo-Nazis per capita. Variations are also substantial in East Germany itself. Prevalence of neo-Nazis is nearly three times higher in Saxony than in Thuringia.
- Relative to population size, East Germany has a higher number of neo-Nazis than West Germany.
- Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have the highest per capita rate of neo-Nazis.
- There are large variations between states in East and West Germany.
Subcultural far right extremists
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution classifies members of this group as people who are close to extremist thought without following a coherent ideology or pursuing clear-cut political goals. The appeal of life-style identities associated with the far right is a central motivation for members in this group. Until the early 1990s, German far right subcultures were associated nearly exclusively with Skinheads. In recent years, however, German right-wing youth culture ‘modernised’ and has become increasingly heterogeneous. This is reflected in a diversified and fashion oriented consumer behaviour that moved away from the traditional Skinhead outfit and music. A vibrant cultural industry with music production, festivals and concerts, fashion and graphic design and national and trans-national distribution networks developed in the past decade. New consumer brands such as Thor Stainer and Ansgar Aryan have become popular. The far-right music scene diversified and now includes Black Matel, Rechtsrock and Hatecore bands. Both, the NPD and neo-Nazi networks try to mobilise this subcultural fringe. The party and the Kameradschaften frequently organise festival like events that mix political education and agitation with cultural programmes ranging from rock festivals (Rock für Deutschland, Thüringentag der national Jugend) to medieval banquet and sing-along beer tent atmosphere.
Similar to neo-Nazis, members of far right subcultures are concentrated in East Germany. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (36.5 per 100 thousand) and Saxony (34.3 per 100 thousand) stand out yet again with the highest rates. Rhineland Palatinate has the lowest rate of membership in right-wing subcultures. Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s most northern state, is exception to the East-West contrast; it has the third highest per capita rate of all federal states (Figure 9).
- East Germany has a higher rate per capita of members in far right sub-cultures.
- Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has the highest membership rate in far right subcultures.
- The West German state Schleswig-Holstein has the third highest rate of membership in far right subcultures in Germany.
There are enormous variations (30:1) between states.
Potentially violent individuals
According to the national Report on the Protection of the Constitution, there were around 9,500 potentially violent far-right extremists in Germany in 2010 (9,800: 2011). The NPD is publically distancing itself from violence in order to appeal to a broad electorate and to avert the ban of the party. There are, however, differences between the public face of the NPD and the actions of its supporters. The proximity of some NPD members to the 2011 in Thuringia discovered terror cell Nationalsozialistischer Underground (NSU) is characteristic of the blurred boundaries between far right party activism and acts of extreme violence.
Potential for violence is particularly high among members of neo-Nazi groups and far-right subcultures. There is little doubt that the NSU was embedded, supported and protected by a close network of neo-Nazis. ‘Autonome Nationalisten’ (AN) – a relatively nouvelle sub-category of far right neo-Nazi youth groups – shocked Germany with their openly violent behaviour in recent years. Members of the AN adopted the dress code and forms of activism that have been associated traditionally with radical anarchist movements like the Black Block. The AN made headlines with politically motivated violence against the police during demonstrations. Its members also employ a violent Anti-Antifa activism that singles out and intimidates political opponents.
Data from the 16 state Reports on the Protection of the Constitution suggests that there is a higher propensity towards politically motivated violence ‘right’ in East Germany. On average, there are 26 potentially violent far right individuals per 100 thousand inhabitants in East Germany; this is more than three times higher than in West Germany which averages at 7.9 per 100 thousand (excluding Berlin).
Nonetheless, the difference between the East and the West is not clear-cut. Schleswig-Holstein has the third highest rate of potentially violent far right individuals. Moreover, there are high variations within East and West Germany that make a simple East-West comparison problematic. In West Germany for instance, Rhineland-Palatinate has a rate of 3.7 violent extremists per 100 thousand while Schleswig-Holstein’s rate is 22.6 or six times higher. In East Germany, Brandenburg’s rate is less than halve that of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
- On average, East German states have a higher per capita rate of potentially violent far right extremists.
- There are high variations among East German states and there are equally high differences among West German states.
Different historic legacies in East and West Germany’s may therefore not suffice to explain support for extremist violence.
The aggregate figures in Figure 12 include 3000 members in the Deutsche Volksunion and 350 members in pro Köln & pro NRW in Nord Rhine-Westphalia. Double memberships have been excluded.
Looking at the total distribution of members of far right parties, neo-Nazi networks and subcultures it is clear that there is a marked contrast between East Germany and West Germany. Propensity towards far right ideologies is nearly twice as high in East Germany. Schleswig Holstein is the only exception in having a higher per capita rate of far right extremists than some East German states.
There are, however, high variations among East German and West German states. Mecklenburg Vorpommern (82.2) and Saxony (64.5) consistently ‘outscored’ their East German peers and have by far the highest per capita concentration of far right extremists in Germany. Variations are also high in West Germany. The per capita rate of Schleswig Holstein is more than twice as high as the rate of Rhineland-Palatinate.
In the years immediately after re-unification, East Germany made headlines in the international press with progrom like hostilities against asylum seekers and migrant workers. In 1991, a hostel of Vietnamese workers was besieged for six days in the small town Hoyerswerda in Saxony. In August 1992, a similar attack took place in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. East Germany has since been stigmatised as a breeding ground for far right extremism. Overall, the data indicates that there is a broader support for far right ideas in East Germany than in West Germany. The data therefore supports the MYPLACE rational to choose two different research sites in Germany. However, it should be noted that the above figures are relative to population size. A greater number of members of the extreme right reside in West German states (Figure 14). Moreover, high variations in the support for the far right in East German states make it difficult to build analytic arguments purely on the East-West dichotomy.
Some words about reliability
The data in the Reports on the Protection of the Constitution has limited reliability. While it is possible to obtain relatively precise annual political party membership numbers (although even these will fluctuate within a 12 month period), memberships in neo-Nazi networks and subcultural groups can only be estimated.
The categories between the different far right groups – member of a political party, neo-Nazi, member in a far right subculture etc. – are very fluid. Far right events, festivals and demonstrations are attended by members form all these groups. Despite the fragmentation of Germany’s far right, there is also a strong sense of cooperation. Although the data in Tables 12 and 14 discounted double membership it will be difficult to exclude them with precision.
Some variations within the data are striking. Saxony has, for instance, persistently the highest or second highest per capita rate of membership in extreme right groups but it has a relatively low number of potentially violent offenders. The reports offer little explanation about general measurements and methodologies. Comparability can thus not be verified. Moreover, Germany’s federal states are relatively big (three of which have a larger population size than Portugal) with heterogeneous socio-economic characteristics. A comparison of smaller regions may therefore shed a different and more detailed light on the East-West dichotomy.
Statistics are aggregates from 15 Verfassungsschutzberichte der Länder 2011 and, where not yet publicly available at the time of writing, 2010.
Election results: Bundeswahlleiter (http://www.bundeswahlleiter.de).