Extremist political groups and parties often flourish in regions of economic deprivation, where populations feel alienated from the establishment, disillusioned by mainstream politics and seek convenient scapegoats for their circumstances. This may mean that one outcome of the current global economic downturn and its exacerbating impact on already disadvantaged areas may be a expansion of the neo-Nazism which is already taking a grip in some rural areas of Eastern Germany and has been making its presence felt in other European countries.
In Germany, the spread of neo-Nazism especially in the former Communist-controlled rural eastern provinces has been a growing problem over the past decade. Although Nazi organizations have been officially banned in Germany since the end of World War II, poor clarity and enforcement of the laws have allowed a large number of mainly small neo-Nazi groups to emerge – it was estimated in 2001 that these had a total membership of at least 50,000. Blatantly racist neo-Nazi activity came to public attention as a result of media coverage of violent racist attacks as well as high-profile campaigns such as the 2001 Berlin demonstration against the opening of a Crimes of the Wehrmacht exhibition, which resulted in violent clashes between neo-Nazi demonstrators and left-wing anti-Nazi opponents. Between 1999 and 2000 the number of racist and other far right crimes rose by 59% to 16,000 in Germany, with violent crime accounting for more than 1,000 cases, including more than 30 brutal murders of foreigners. Neo Nazi racism and xenophobia was partly fuelled in the late 1990s, as in other parts of Europe, by the influx of large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. Members of these groups became the most common targets of neo-Nazi racial violence, purportedly because they were stealing jobs from German nationals, committing crime and ruining traditional German communities.
Although many German neo-Nazi groups are small and operate outside the formal political system, a more sinister force is reportedly driving the escalation of far right extremism through the use of official political channels and by strong marketing of nationalism to disaffected German youth. The far right National Democratic Party (NDP), which blatantly promotes its own fashion brands and nationalistic pop music to young people, has been making significant gains in mainstream politics at state level in rural eastern Germany in recent years. The party secured 9.2% of votes in Saxony in 2004 and nearly 7.3% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in 2006, giving it a number of seats at state parliament level. It has recently been forecast to take control of a significant number of town councils in local elections to be held in 2009, which would extend its stronghold over a vast area of eastern Germany from the Baltic Sea coast to its southern borders. Already, anti-racists have been warning racial minorities to avoid this area, where the NDP would like to establish “freed zones” of white Germany supremacy, a sentiment which is spookily reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of 1930s Germany. In May 2008, the German Government responded to the resurgence of neo-Nazi activity in eastern provinces by banning two explicitly neo-Nazi groups, Collegium Humanum and the Association for the Rehabilitation of People Persecuted for Denying the Holocaust, yet the NDP continues to make political strides. Perhaps most alarming is its strong appeal to rural east-German youth: 28% of under-18s expressed support for the NDP in a recent survey in Saxon Switzerland, a region near the Czech border.
Germany is not the only European country which is witnessing a growth in neo-Nazi and far right political activity and racial violence. In Russia, a number of extreme Nationalist groups and parties have recently held rallies and demonstrations in Moscow and the Russian provinces, and there have been increasing numbers of reported violent attacks and murders of foreigners throughout the country. A 2007 report by a Human Rights group noted that in both France and Britain, anti-Semitic threats and acts had risen dramatically in the previous year. More generally, political parties on the far right, whose main agenda is preventing further immigration to their respective countries, have been making significant gains in a number of countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark. It remains to be seen whether such parties and the various neo-Nazi groups and organizations throughout the continent are able to capitalize on the economic difficulties now facing Europe.
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