05 February 2013

Topical Tuesday: NPD aka Neo-nazis

I had found this data visualization from Der Spiegel on one of my favorite blogs, Global Sociology.  There isn't much explanation on the article about the rise of NPD's popularity, particularly in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.  There is actually a pretty simple explanation of the phenomenon and it goes like this: NPD is the successor of the overly-familiar Nazi party of yore and has the same legacy of xenophobia and extremist nationalism.  Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the most economically depressed region of Germany and I have often heard Germans remark on the rural character and insularity of that region; some have said that it was like it's own land that they can't understand.  When people are economically depressed, they turn to more extreme politics (like in 1920s Germany? 2010s Greece? Anyone?).  It's surprisingly a pretty straightforward connection and though it sounds overly simplistic, it's the truth. People are angry they don't have economic security and they turn to the "other" to scapegoat and place blame on economic forces that do not have a face.  It's not satisfying to blame an immaterial thing, like fate or the global market at large.

A couple of things about the NPD.

One: a political ad I saw a few years ago.  I cannot for the life of me, find it to post on here.  I saw it online and was horrified.  They used a pig to describe people who are "mucking up" Germany and used a lot of language that was vulgar/colloquial (Umgangsprache) or related to animals.  It was a gross, crass, and accurate depiction of what NPD is doing: making people angry and focusing their anger on a perceived enemy.

Two: this scandal was not the NPD, but it was the NSU.  The NPD has stepped up its presence since the murders, however, so it goes to show that they are likely working in conjunction.  It's an ugly phenomenon and sadly nothing new in European history.

Three: Germany is considering a ban on NPD.  Now, to American readers, the idea of banning a political party may raise red "freedom of speech" flags.  It's not exactly about their racism.  This article does a great job condensing the events and giving a concise summary.  I personally find the part of the ECHM threat rather hilariously hypocritical considering they are not EU enthusiasts.  You cannot oppose a system and then seek to use its advantages and protections.  It brings to mind the comments in Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree about the 1993 WTC bombing.  Mohammed Salameh (a fellow conspirator) tried to get back the $200 deposit on the van they blew up (which he claimed was stolen) and Friedman writes:
"For Salameh the world was two different realms. In the morning you blow up the World Trade Center to kill as many Americans as you can for the sake of good over evil; in the afternoon you try to get your money back on the basis of American legal principles and contract law. Nothing better captures the ability of the Super-Empowered Angry Men to exploit technology of the modern world without imbibing any of its values." 
NPD is trying to destroy the plurality and multi-culturalism of the EU while using the legal principles of that institution to protect itself.  It's disgusting hypocrisy. The NPD is a vehicle for angry Germans who want to displace their anger onto something/someone instead of the greater forces, but also manipulate the system they oppose into protecting them.  They are invoking the founding concept of "freedom of opinion" and the plurality of politics while vehemently trying to destroy the multitude of voices it perceives to be outside its own "tribe".  It's not a new story and it goes to show that they do not want to internalize those values while using that technology and power.  Havel gave a speech at the conclusion of the Bosnia and Herzegovina month in Prague about ethnic violence.  Speaking of the nature of the conflict, he said,
" ...what appears to be a conflict between peoples is in its very essence a conflict between two different notions of society, of the state, and of the world in general. On one side is the modern concept of an open civil society in which people of different nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, religions, traditions, and convictions can live together and cooperate creatively.  On the other side is the archaic notion of a tribal state as a community of people of the same blood.  That is, on the one side stands a concept that has been one of the cornerstones of the European integration process, one that represents the only hope for the survival of today's global civilization; on the other side is a concept that for centuries--or, rather, millenia--has stained human history with blood, the most horrifying instance to date being the Second World War." 
Germany has learned hard lessons from that brutal war and has been very supportive of the EU value and institution.  In many ways, it is the heart of its power.  I think the NPD realizes this and why it doesn't struggle too much about the EU; it just desperately wants to exclude Turkey.  There is a lot of danger in both banning and allowing the NPD to continue and there are ancillary decisions that will affect society as a whole.  I don't know if banning them will solve anything.  As the previous article pontificated, it may drive them into more radical groups and/or underground.  There should be public discourse, but one wonders if there is a point in which ideas should be removed from discourse; I wonder about this because I study the Communist bloc so intensely and it's one of the greatest tragedies of that era (particularly High Stalinism).  I'm not sure how Germany will solve this and how they will neutralize the virulent  hatred of the NPD, but it will set a precedent, whatever the outcome.