Friday, November 21, 2008

There is another solution

The German political media is tying itself into knots again about the far-right NPD, which is gaining ground in the political sphere.
The far-right party is no longer confined to the margins of German politics. It has increased its membership to 7,000 and has a presence in the regional parliaments in two eastern states, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
There is a great reluctance to acknowledge that the NPD is gaining ground in the east, that is in the länder that were formally in the GDR. While a good deal is made of the extreme left descendants of the Communist Party doing well there, not much ink is expended on the fact that it is the east where there are race riots and a fairly racist and often anti-semitic party does well in elections.

There are various reasons for this. The integration of the two German states proceeded relatively smoothly but the economic problems in the backward former GDR (that had been considered to be the most advanced of the Communist camp) created enough dissatisfaction to link with the political shock to give support to extremist groups on both sides of the spectrum. Actually, as ever, those two spectrums are not that far apart, both extreme-left and extreme-right being basically socialist corporatist in their attitude.

An even bigger problem lies in the history of the German Democratic Republic. It was not made to denounce the Nazi past in the way the Federal Republic was. After the first trials and the creation of the two states there was a general assumption on the east that, somehow, by becoming Communist willy-nilly, East Germany had absolved itself and the Nazi past belonged exclusively to the capitalist West.

The Stasi cheerfully took over the lists, staff and offices of the Gestapo and all went well until the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification when the ossies found themselves in a state that had confessed its sins of Nazism many times over and where to be a neo-Nazi was the most grievous sin in the calendar. Those ossies who are dissatisfied with their lives and who had never had to repeat the German "mea culpa" find nothing wrong with turning to some very dark ideas of the past, whether Nazi or Communist.

What has brought the debate about was a suggestion by Uwe Sch√ľnemann, the interior minister in the western state of Lower Saxony that the NPD should have its state financing cut off.
He proposed altering part of the constitution to prevent any party that opposes the democratic system from receiving state funding. The NPD receives 40 percent of its funding from the German state, which amounted to €1.45 million ($1.8 million) last year.
This proposal was not greeted with unalloyed joy or joy of any kind. Commentators on all sides quickly worked out that it is not possible to single out one party and treat it differently from all others. After all, how do you define "opposes the democratic system"? There are plenty of parties and groupuscules on the left that oppose the democratic system. Will they have their funds cut off? Certainly there will be an attempt to do so if the precedent is set. How shocking will that be?

Of course, there is another solution to this conundrum and that is no state funding for parties. Then the problem of taxpayers' money going to political parties the establishment disapproves of (or even possibly the majority disapproves of) will not arise. The NPD will raise as much money as it can and garner as many votes as it can. Of course the question as to why people want to vote for them will not go away.

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