Friday, September 15, 2006

The Rise
Of Neo-Nazism
In Germany

All things old are new again:

... the signs are clear: the far Right is on the march in Eastern Germany.

The neo-Nazis, picking up an astonishing level of support on the home turf of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, look set to win a big chunk of seats in regional elections on Sunday. And to make sure that middleclass voters do not panic ahead of the ballot, they have donned camouflage.

“What did you expect,” asked Michael Andrejewski, the new face of the extreme Right. “That I would beat your brains out with a baseball bat?” Blinking from behind gold-framed glasses, Herr Andrejewski looked as threatening as a maths teacher — unlike the five young men who formed a protective semicircle around their leader. “You’ll be wanting to move along,” said one of them with menacing politeness. One quickly got the point. The slogan on his T-shirt read: “Granddad was right”.

According to the latest opinion polls the NPD, the National Party of Germany, is poised to win between 4.8 per cent and 7 per cent of the vote this weekend in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the lush flatland that borders the Baltic Sea.

Since most Germans are afraid of admitting that they intend to vote for neo-Nazis, the betting is that the party will easily win the 5 per cent needed to capture parliamentary seats. It will be the second region, after Saxony, to have neo-Nazi members of parliament — a slap in the face for Frau Merkel, whose political constituency is in Mecklenburg.

Young Germans are leaving the area in droves in search of work. In East German days there were more than 20,000 people in Anklam, mainly fishermen and factory workers. Now there are barely 15,000. “It was the Leftists that got out,” says Herr Andrejewski, 47, who is likely to become a regional MP. “But our people stayed.”

That is only part of an extraordinary story — the economic transformation of the far Right. In Anklam and neighbouring Baltic villages ultranationalists own internet cafes and drink delivery services. They run music shops that are stacked with far Right rock bands. “There is a whole network of right-wing-run companies, above all in the local building business,” says Günther Hoffmann, who set up an association in Anklam to monitor the rise of the neo-Nazis. Small hotels are being bought up. A giveaway paper called The Island Messenger is edited and published by the extreme Right and is widely read.

This economic power — in a region where unemployment is more than 20 per cent — has translated into political clout. Firms in right-wing hands hire right-wing sympathisers as apprentices. Slowly but surely, neo-Nazis have become an indispensable part of society in northeast Germany.