Don’t Force Neonazis to Go Underground

Today a somewhat off-topic post (unless you define sustainability in an extremely encompassing manner).

Recently, the German society has been shaken at its foundations. After two hardly known neonazis had committed joint suicide and a video made by them had surfaced, authorities have realized that at least 10 murders on foreigners (that were extensively covered by the media), committed since 1998, were not isolated acts of violence – they were a thoroughly planned and organized series of murders. The murderers called themselves the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU) and were possibly supported by numerous individuals from the neonazi scene. Following this shock, another wave of calls to delegalize the NPD (Germany’s National-Democratic Party) unleashed. I ask myself: what for?

Let us first consider the following question: what is the expected merit of a delegalization? Certainly, there is a symbolic role, as often invoked by those politicians who support the delegalization cause (they are particularly numerous on the Left, but present in all major parties). It is supposed to be “a signal” to the relatives of the NSU’s victims. A sign of the State’s acknowledgement that tolerance has limits – and that antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, chauvinism, homophoby are beyond those limits. These emotional arguments should have their place in the debate, but they hardly provide enough reasons to support the case. There is a need for more rational arguments. What are they? Above all, the NPD gets taxpayers’ money (according to the Party Law, since it has seats in two Landtags, in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), and it is rightly viewed as a legal platform for nationalist and racist movements in Germany. Following a delegalization of the party, these groups would suddenly lose financial means and publicity, so the argument goes.

However, there are problems around this call for delegalization. Most trivially, but nevertheless importantly – in 2003 there already was a delegalization suit, but because State authorities have a lot of informants in the party (so-called V-Männer), the Constitutional Court decided that it cannot rely on alleged proofs of practices within the NPD violating the constitution. The informants are still there and it cannot be foreclosed that the Court would again rule against the delegalization. This would be a double win for the NPD – it would survive and could “show” that it apparently is “democratic”.

Furthermore, as acknowledged by most proponents of delegalization, the NPD is not the main problem. The main target group of the party are adults – and here xenophoby and latent antisemitism are much more widespread, according to recent surveys, than support for the neonazi party. The problem seems to be much deeper. Moreover, probably the greatest challenge are young people, teenagers (mostly from poorer communities) who seek support outside the family – and find it in the group dynamics of more informal (partly illegal) neonazi groups. Some of these groups refuse to even communicate with the NPD since they find it too “moderate”, either. So, here as well the problem seems to be much deeper – and it cannot be solved by delegalizing a party. Social work, education, support for poor communities and also sound economic policy are needed.

Another argument against a delegalization of the NPD is that it would force all the neonazi structures in Germany to go underground. And what is underground, cannot easily be controlled. So maybe it is better to have at least a part of the movement “within the system” – while more decisively targeting those clearly outside, e.g. the highly violent Kameradschaften.

To be clear – the NPD is a neonazi party, it is not at all democratic (despite its name). And neonazism is a very pressing problem in the German society. However, as suggested above, the roots of the problem lie elsewhere. It is hardly probable that a delegalization of the party would have much merit. On the other hand, there is the danger of completely losing control over the neonazi scene. In the end, you might view the NPD as the symptom of a (societal) disease. Forbidding it doesn’t change anything. You have to cure the disease to get rid of the symptoms.

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