Soon the neo-Nazi party in the European Parliament threatens to lose its last significant mandate. The NPD has long since been crushed by the AfD.
The neo-Nazi party’s membership has dropped to 4,000, down from 7,200 a few years ago Photo: reuters
In February, Udo Voigt spoke out for one of the last times in the European Parliament. Guiseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, was a guest. And MEPs appealed to the far-right leader not to lead his country into political isolation, not to "show the grimace of inhumanity" in refugee policy. Then Voigt took to the microphone.
This is not a tribunal, the NPD man, dressed as always in suit and tie, rebuked his fellow deputies. It is rather the case that migrants in Europe "kill thousands of times over. Therefore, he said, Italy had instead accomplished great things: it had stopped the "mass invasion" across the Mediterranean and dealt a blow to the "asylum lobby." "For that," Voigt told Conte, "I say thank you."
A provocation, once again. But this time possibly one of the last.
Udo Voigt has been sitting in the European Parliament for the NPD since 2014. For the neo-Nazi party, it is the last significant mandate. The NPD, founded in 1964, was once represented in seven state parliaments in the 1960s, and a few years ago at least in those of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It survived banning proceedings against it in 20. Since then, however, there has been a permanent crisis that has long been existential.
"The NPD is finished," say constitutional protectors in the meantime. It is quite possible, they say, that the party will actually cease to exist in a few years.
The NPD’s last prestige post
Most recently, the NPD won 0.4 percent in the federal election – half as much as the Tierschutzpartei and far less than the 1.3 percent it won in 2013. A low point. In the federal states, too, one election defeat followed another – in Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, the party did not even run.
Even in former strongholds such as Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the NPD is no longer listed in polls due to a lack of support. The number of members has dropped to 4,000, compared with 7,200 a few years ago. The party is also in a permanent financial crisis.
And now the loss of the mandate of Udo Voigt, the NPD icon, active for decades as a leader in the party, is threatening. The last prestigious post.
The NPD won 1.0 percent in the 2014 European elections, which was enough for Voigt’s mandate due to the lack of a five-percent hurdle. At present, however, such a result seems a long way off. NPD party leader Frank Franz, a 40-year-old programmer who has been in office for five years, takes refuge in slogans of perseverance. The European elections are "already very decisive" for the NPD. But: "An end of the party is not up for debate." The NPD has gone through many crises, he said, and still holds around 300 municipal mandates. "It continues to be a factor that people talk about."
Indeed, the party has overcome many lows – but this time the crisis has been dragging on for years. And this crisis has a name: the AfD. Since the right-wing populists conquered one state parliament after another, things have gone downhill for the NPD. In terms of content, the AfD has completely taken over the NPD’s core themes – migration, racism and national pride. Even some slogans are indistinguishable. There is no penetration for the NPD anymore.
Frank Franz, NPD leader
"The AfD is sucking up everything. We have to get through that now"
"The AfD is just sucking up everything to the right of the Union," admits NPD leader Franz. "We have to get through that now." But it’s far from clear where the AfD is headed, says Franz. One day, many disappointed people will turn away and return to the NPD.
However: The NPD has been harboring this hope for years. But it’s not happening. Instead, the AfD is sliding further and further to the right, and the "wing" around Bjorn Hocke is also binding right-wing extremists to the party. Recently, the "wing" openly demanded that the list of incompatibilities for AfD membership, which until now has also applied to NPD members, be thrown "on the garbage heap of party history". The AfD federal executive board disagreed.
The NPD is trying to counter with desperate provocations. Wearing "protective zone" vests, supporters patrolled inner cities like vigilantes. On Twitter, party supporters called for the deportation of SPD politician Sawsan Chebli or journalist Deniz Yucel.
The right-wing extremist scene remains active – despite the defeat of the NPD. In the first quarter of this year alone, there were 85 scene concerts with a good 5,000 participants. In addition, neo-Nazis organized 27 marches – the largest in February in Dresden with 1,500 participants. The federal government provided the figures in response to inquiries from the Left Party, which were made available to the taz. Right-wing violence is also not abating: The police counted 172 crimes against refugees, 39 of them violent. In addition, there were 24 attacks on refugee helpers. Ulla Jelpke, a member of the Left Party, demands that the government "finally take decisive action against the agitation from the right. Especially with regard to the scene concerts, there is a need for "finally concepts that consistently counteract these goings-on". (KO)
In the commercial for the European elections, the NPD claims that Germans are now becoming victims almost daily since "uncontrolled mass immigration," along with the slogan "Migration kills." But all this remained largely under the radar. And the commercial was only broadcast at all after a long legal battle.
For Udo Voigt, the NPD is life’s work
Udo Voigt also tried provocations during his five years in the European Parliament. In his speeches, the 67-year-old causticized about an "avalanche of asylum seekers" heading for Europe or the "terrorist state of Israel". Voigt called for the release of Holocaust denier Horst Mahler and suggested Thilo Sarrazin as ECB banking supervisor. He traveled to Syria to announce that there were no reasons to flee there in large parts. Nobody noticed that either.
Nevertheless, Udo Voigt is satisfied. He has made a lot of international contacts for the NPD and has no worries about not being re-elected. If things turn out differently, he will get involved in the party executive again. An end to the NPD? Voigt also disagrees: he has known the party for a good 50 years. "The NPD has always risen like a phoenix from the ashes."
What is at least possible: that a rump of hardcore members will keep the NPD alive in the future – even without any prospects of electoral success. For some cadres like Udo Voigt, the NPD is their life’s work. Once before, from 1972 to 2002, the party never got more than 0.6 percent in federal elections – and still survived. "We are people of conviction," says party leader Franz. "We’ll keep going, with or without a mandate."
This time, however, there’s another problem: finances. If the NPD were to leave the European Parliament, the 9,700 euros that Voigt received each month as an MP would be lost, including the 4,400-euro expense allowance from which Voigt paid for a citizens’ office, for example – at the NPD’s Berlin headquarters. That, however, is still the smallest problem.
Party is politically bled dry
The NPD has been facing financial ruin for years. Most recently, the party was helped by three large inheritances from private individuals in the amount of 756,000 euros. The party financing of the state however sinks continuously: If the NPD got three years ago still 1.3 million euro, it was last only 873,000 euro. And the Bundestag has already decided to completely eliminate state funding for anti-constitutional parties, including the NPD. In June, the application for this is to be submitted to the Federal Constitutional Court.
It is possible, however, that the financial drying up will not help at all. The NPD has been bled dry politically. It lacks charismatic leadership personnel, and many members are inactive or have defected to other right-wing extremist parties, including the Identitarians. And even the strongholds are lying fallow. In Saxony, the NPD has plummeted from 1,400 to 300 members. The leading party in the state is now the far-right small party "Der III. Weg". The state association of the NPD is in a "state of torpor," according to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, too, several NPD members are now shifting to right-wing extremist grassroots work – without a party label. Together they built a cooperative. And in Jamel, a village dominated by right-wingers, neo-Nazis led by NPD man Sven Kruger are only running as the "Voters’ Association Home" in the local elections on May 26. "We don’t want to get into the municipal council for a party, we want to get in there for our homeland," the NPD people now declare.
Even the NPD federal vice Thorsten Heise recently put the party label back. In Ostritz, Saxony, he organized right-wing rock festivals under the name "Schild & Schwert". In Themar, Thuringia, the NPD federal executive committee put on another festival in 2018, and a good 2,200 neo-Nazis came. In July, another edition is to follow. Alone: It’s the bands that pull here. Not the NPD.
Udo Voigt therefore pleads for a more radical course. Strong slogans like "Migration kills" now for the European elections are the right way. The NPD had recently "left some free spaces", it needs "a clear line, a clear face". What that means is clear: more hate and agitation. And Voigt has another plan: a closing of ranks with the up-and-coming "IIIrd Weg", a "common national front".
Whether they are interested in this remains to be seen. When the NPD called for a march in Dresden on May 1, 150 neo-Nazis followed, including Udo Voigt. At the same time, 500 supporters of the "III Way" marched in Plauen, with drums and flags, like a Nazi troop. People were still talking about this march for days. Nobody talked about the NPD in Dresden.