They’re losing their funding and their campaigns are increasingly desperate – but with their competitors in the AfD plagued by infighting, will the 2017 elections be the NPD’s time to shine? Graham Anderson checks in with the beleaguered neo-Nazi party.
When gas fails, call fix-it man Martin Luther. After unsuccessfully attempting to ignite their neo-Nazi voter base with 2013’s explosive “Step on the gas” election campaign, the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) has come out with a new crop of election posters depicting the father of the Reformation. The caption: “I would vote NPD. I couldn’t do otherwise.”
Schiller and Goethe would have voted for us, too. They were committed patriots who did many great things for the Fatherland.
A bit of a stretch? Udo Voigt, the NPD’s 65-year-old former chairman and sole representative in the EU Parliament, doesn’t think so. “Luther was a committed German. He would have condemned the exploitation of the system and the disempowering of opposition parties exactly as we do,” he argues. Another poster makes a similar case for German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. “Schiller and Goethe would have voted for us, too. They were committed patriots who did many great things for the Fatherland,” says Voigt. It’s an electoral battle made in Germany: the country’s greatest spirits fighting on the barricades for an all-but-illegal fringe party on its deathbed.
With plans to boot out Germany’s 10 million foreigners, reinstate the Third Reich’s 1937 borders, tear up the constitution and revive Hitler’s Volkswirtschaft (capitalism harnessed to serve state and the people), the 1964-founded NPD bears a certain resemblance to the NSDAP – and in fact, Germany’s government has been trying to get the party banned on those grounds for years. They nearly succeeded in January of this year, when Germany’s Constitutional Court upheld the charge that the NPD’s sole raison d’etre was to trample German democracy with an ethnically defined “national community” governed by an “authoritarian national state”. But the court stopped short of an outright ban, reasoning that as a minuscule fringe group, the NPD posed no actual threat to German democracy.
This was not the government’s first attempt to erase the party from Germany’s political map. In 2003 the Constitutional Court had already failed by a hair, when it turned out that some of the NPD’s criminal activities had actually been instigated by government moles planted among its 5000-strong cadre. (The moles have since been “deactivated”, according to German intelligence.)
Blocked again this past January, the Bundestag decided instead to cut off the cashflow the NPD was receiving from the state. Because the NPD receives over 0.5 percent of the national vote (it was 1.3 percent in 2013, mostly thanks to the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia), the government has been required to match its private donations with public funds, to the tune of some €1 million per year. No longer. In June, parliament passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting funding for parties whose members opposed the “liberal democratic order”.
There’s no telling when this will take effect, though. “We’ll drag this out with court battles for years. Recent agitation inside the party indicates intelligence moles have been reactivated… the Constitutional Court faces a third ban process before it’s even able to cut our funding.” And Voigt says that won’t be enough to annihilate his party. “We survived on a low flame before I became party leader in 1996. NPD members’ self-sacrifice kept us afloat,” he says. The NPD would still receive plenty of donations, including €2100 per month from Voigt’s own EU parliamentary salary. Their publishing house Deutsche Stimme also turns a pretty penny, selling NPD beer mugs, politically incorrect posters, white-power pep drinks and children’s toys.
Would Russia be another possible leg in the NPD’s financial stool? The party wrote to Vladimir Putin praising Pussy Riot’s jailing in November 2013; in turn, the nationalistic Rodina (“Homeland”) Party invited Voigt to St. Petersburg for its 2015 gathering of right-wing fringe groups. “Putin gave Le Pen’s Front National €40 million credit for their campaign,” Voigt points out, referring to the money the French National Front loaned from a Russian bank. He hasn’t asked the Kremlin for funding just yet. “You don’t put your hand straight out for money on the first meeting. That’s a bit rough.”
The NPD’s prospects for the 2017 election are grim – especially here in Berlin, where the party was disqualified from the all-vital “second vote” for preferred parties on a technicality: they submitted their candidates a month too early. “A tough blow. We’ve lost 10,000 NPD party-preferred second votes in Hellersdorf alone,” says Voigt.
NPD direct candidates will still appear on ballots in Lichtenberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf, however, meaning you’ll see their posters on the streets of those far-eastern boroughs. Alongside Luther and Bach, one placard depicts a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman refusing an advance with the provocative slogan: “Hands off, Nafri!” The slur refers to North Africans – a favourite scapegoat of far-right groups since the 2016 New Year’s Eve events in Cologne, and one of the party’s prime targets this year. “Seventy to 100 million Africans are expected to flood Europe in the near future. Germany’s patriotic star will rise again to put a stop to this multikulti madness,” says Voigt. Overall, the former chairman’s mood is upbeat. He is optimistic that the “vacuum cleaner effect” of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on the NPD’s support base won’t last, pointing out that the AfD’s cracks are beginning to show. Frauke Petry’s denunciation of Thuringia deputy leader Björn Höcke for his Holocaust comments (and writing in praise of the NPD under a pseudonym) split the populist party wide open along Germany’s far-right fault line. Voigt predicts that as the AfD collapses, NPD members will march into the Bundestag in his lifetime. “There is only one alternative for Germany – the NPD.”