Germany’s top court mulls extremist party ban

Germany’s top court mulls extremist party ban

A Neo-Nazi march in Leipzig, eastern Germany, in 2009. Source: Wikimedia

Germany’s constitutional court has begun hearing a request to ban a neo-Nazi fringe party that openly incites hatred against migrants, after a previous attempt failed in 2003.

The case before the Federal Constitutional Court claims the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) threatens the nation’s democracy. It comes as the influx of migrants has polarised German society and the number of hate crimes is rising, especially in the ex-communist east.

Constitutional court chief justice Andreas Vosskuhle said Germany last banned a political party almost 60 years ago saying it should only be done with “great caution”. “It limits freedom in order to preserve freedom,” he added.

The bid to ban the party, confiscate its assets and prohibit successor organisations will require a majority of six out of the court’s eight judges. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration supports the case, although it has not formally taken part in the legal action, launched by the upper house, which represents Germany’s 16 states.

The states are arguing that the NPD threatens the democratic order with its “aggressive and combative attitude”, creating a “climate of fear” and “shares essential characteristics” with the Nazis. Upper house president Stanislaw Tillich said, “the NPD is a racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist and anti-democratic party”.

“The past two years especially have shown the NPD’s ability to draw crowds and incite hatred,” Tillich said in court. He is premier of the eastern state of Saxony, where most far-right activity is reported. “Violence against people and property and arson attacks on asylum shelters are a consequence of their racist ideology.

“The NPD is a racist, anti-Semitic and democracy-hostile party. Its ideology is clearly in the tradition of Nazism. It disdains the human dignity of our fellow citizens of Jewish or Muslim creed, of foreigners, above all of asylum seekers, and political active people of all shades. Violence and incendiary attacks against homes for asylum seekers are the result of its racist thought,” Tillich said.

Other observers fear the action gives the party’s 5,200 members a national stage, martyring for their racist ideology. The party, founded in 1964, secured 1.3 per cent of votes in the 2013 federal election and has never crossed the 5-per-cent threshold needed to enter the national parliament. It has a member of the European Parliament, former party leader Udo Voigt, who has labelled Adolf Hitler “a great statesman”. The party has won a state assembly and many town councils in the former communist east.

In contrast, the right-wing Alternative for Germany has seats in five state parliaments and is polling nationally around 10 per cent just days before three state elections.

Germany banned the far-right SPR in 1952 and the German Communist Party four years later. A previous attempt in 2003 to ban the NPD failed because the judiciary ruled that the presence of undercover informants within the party undermined the evidence.

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