A neo-Nazi in parliament

At one point it seemed like Germany's ultra-nationalist Udo Voigt would fade into obscurity, however the results of the May elections have determined otherwise. As the new EU parliament terms start, Voigt is controversially back.

Image for A neo-Nazi in parliament
Photo by Rosalind O’Connor

Le Pen junior and her record victory in France might have stolen the freakshow, but the last EU elections were full of premieres and ugly surprises: For the first time ever, a representative of the Germany’s Nazi party clone NPD was voted into office in Strasbourg. In early July, Udo Voigt is off to “give gas” to the European parliament’s much-despised “hot-air chamber”.

Only three months ago, Udo Voigt was a welfare case on Germany‘s three-million-strong unemployment scrapheap. The 62-year-old once proudly boasted in our pages he was the country’s “most unemployable man”. In 2011, the former frontman of the neo-fascist National Democratic Party (NPD) had been unceremoniously dumped as chairman after 15 years at the helm.

Voigt’s party comrades had seen enough of the brown bon vivant’s off-beat, far-right politics. His praise for Adolf Hitler as a “great statesman”, his recommendation for Rudolf Heß to receive a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize, his description of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial as “great building blocks for a new Reich Chancellery” and his politically-incorrectissimo campaign posters such as “Gas geben!” (“Give gas!”) made way for Holger Apfel’s “serious radicalism.” Voigt was expected to disappear quietly into the sunset. Instead he’s back as loud as ever, thanks to two miracles early this year.

On January 19, Voigt’s party cronies hauled him out of political limbo and back into the limelight as the NPD’s frontrunner for May’s 2014 EU parliamentary elections. His excellent connections to Europe’s extreme-right elite read like a checklist of all the people your mother told you not to meet: France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, Italy’s Alessandra Mussolini, Britain’s Nick Griffin, the US’s David Duke and the recently deceased convicted SS war criminal Erich Priebke. Then, on February 26, Germany’s Constitutional Court overturned the three-percent hurdle barring fringe parties from EU parliamentary representation. For the first time in the NPD’s 50-year history, votes for the party were no longer wasted.

Backed by a phalange of diehard supporters, Voigt’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes seemed a fait accompli. May 25’s EU election results confirmed the forecast: the NPD’s one percent of the vote made Voigt a shoo-in to grab one of Germany’s 99 seats in Strasbourg’s 751-member EU parliament. Voigt can now crow the NPD’s anti-EU and xenophobic rhetoric from atop the highest heap it has ever climbed. The Brothers Grimm could not come up with a more bizarre, far-right fairy tale.

And to most Germans, it is a very grim fairy tale indeed as the party intends to turn Europe into a fortress deterring asylum seekers, stop “social welfare tourism” and impose a limit on the numbers of foreigners entering EU states along Swiss lines. Their ultimate aim, of course, is to dismantle the EU into its component states with their own national currencies and resurrect a German nation state in the vein of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Voigt strode into the EU parliament carrying a recent conviction for racial incitement due to the NPD’s 2006 World Cup football guide, which lamented the lack of white players and the presence of black player Patrick Owomoyela in Germany’s national side. It was Voigt’s 39th court appearance, which previously included charges of glorifying the SS and declaring Germany’s ‘liberation’ by the Red Army a black day in German history. But for the moment Voigt’s biggest worries lie elsewhere.

The German government is once again pressing for the NPD to be banned on the grounds it shares a “fundamental affinity” (Wesensverwandtschaft) with Hitler’s banned NSDAP. The government accuses the NPD of being anti-constitutional, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and xenophobic. Voigt counters by describing the Federal Republic of Germany as a “vassal-state in the hands of the EU and USA, as well as certain Jewish interests.” The German Constitutional Court is expected to reach a final decision on whether to initiate proceedings to ban the NPD in the coming months.

Meanwhile Voigt’s most pressing priority is to be included in a far-right bloc within the European parliament in order to access increased EU funding and secretarial resources. EU laws stipulate at least 25 members from at least seven of the EU’s 28 member states are required to form a bloc. The EU parliament meets to confirm blocs in the first week of July.

Voigt’s initial hopes rested on forming an alliance with France’s Front National, which in turn declared its willingness to work with Geert Wilders of Holland’s pro-Israel Freedom Party. “Marine Le Pen might have watered down the Front National’s line on anti-Semitism, but it is still Jean-Marie Le Pen pulling the strings in the background. We can work with the Front National. I’ll deal directly with Jean-Marie Le Pen. We don’t need Wilders. Once the horse trading starts, who knows what will come out,” said Voigt.

However, his hopes have since been dashed after Marine Le Pen flatly refused to work with the NPD, officially objecting to the German party’s anti-Semitic line. Is he still negotiating with her father anyway? “I’m not allowed to say,” says the wily Voigt. “We’re not anti-Semitic. Besides, there are plenty of other far-right parties we can work with: Hungary’s Jobbik, Austria’s FPÖ, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, the Danish People’s Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn… that’s about 20 members already.”

Though Voigt might go out empty-handed, he certainly won’t be forced to go begging on the street. Voigt’s basic wage as an MEP is no less than €8300 per month – plus expenses. Over the course of his five-year term, that’s approximately €1.1 million. Voigt’s eternally cash-strapped and crisis-riddled party will receive €200,000 of his EU income. They need it. Last December, the German government cut the NPD’s funding after it was found guilty of cooking its books.

The resulting €1.27 million fine left Voigt juggling a miserly €150,000 for his EU campaign, forcing him to resurrect leftover posters from his previous elections. So Voigt’s infamous 2011 “Give gas!” campaign for Berlin’s council elections graced German streets once more. As did another gem: his posters wishing turbanned, Middle Eastern migrants riding a magic carpet a “good flight home”. Perhaps because of them, Voigt’s EU campaign failed to take off.

In France, the far-right Front National received an alarming 25 percent of the vote and 24 EU seats; Austria’s ultra-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) also polled strongly with 19.3 percent of the vote and two seats. With only one percent of the German vote, the NPD might seem harmless.

But the warning signs are there. Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Foundation estimates far-right voter potential at up to 25 percent, giving Voigt and the NPD plenty of reason to keep a spring in their step.

The NPD’s programme – in the words of its leaders

Present at the May 25 press conference to celebrate Udo Voigt’s election inside the NPD’s fortress-like Seelenbinderstraße HQ in Köpenick, Exberliner invited both Voigt and party interim chairman Udo Pastörs to tackle claims that the NPD is a clone of Hitler’s banned Nazi party. So, meine Herren, aren’t NPD’s goals ultimately identical to the Nazis’?

Pastörs immediately dismissed our question as totally unfit for the NPD’s freshly-baked EU member Voigt. He then took over the reins of the interview, side-stepping what they saw as an accusation and calling Exberliner a Western media system “plant” which should be shown the front door forcibly – in stark contrast to NPD’s own policy of demanding “arguments, not bans”. A quiet, whispered intervention by Voigt in Pastörs’ left ear prevented the looming forced removal by circling NPD heavies and the interview was allowed to proceed.

A broad-brush view of various party policies followed, chief among them the NPD’s aim to re-establish the Nazi’s Volksgemeinschaft, a system where the Volk (a strict racial term meaning Germanic blood) and industry are harnessed to serve the state, and the state serves the Volk from cradle to grave. They hope to achieve this partly via a five-point plan to return Germany’s 15 million residents with a migrant background – about one-fifth of Germany’s 81 million population – back to their countries of origin.

As Germany’s Allied-imposed constitution forbids the NSDAP and its related organisations, NPD-speak describes the need to “overcome” it, which attracts the German government’s added charges that the NPD is anti-constitutional and anti-democratic. The NPD also favours direct election of the German president by the Volk rather than the current system of secret parliamentary ballots. We went on to point out NPD party membership is limited to those who fulfil Hitler’s 1935 anti-Semitic Nuremberg Race Laws. Yet another keystone NPD policy is for Germany to be armed with nuclear weapons in order to preserve peace through superior firepower.

However, the final straw for the interview came when the discussion turned to the NPD’s desire to re-establish the Third Reich’s December 1937 borders. By this stage Pastörs was tongue-tied and out on his feet. Voigt stepped in to break the enforced silence by saying the NPD’s policy was to re-establish the “Second Reich’s” borders of 1918, which ironically include the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and Strasbourg, his new home. The chameleon-like question of exactly where the NPD wants to place Germany’s borders has since taken a new twist: Voigt’s latest stance is for Germany’s territory to be defined once a peace treaty is signed with its former World War II enemies – which must inevitably attract enormous reparation payments from all parties, particularly Russia and Ukraine.

Originally published in issue #129, July/August 2014.