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Germany

High Court Judge Reignites NPD Ban Debate

A German constitutional court justice said Sunday that the neo-Nazi NPD party could be banned even though a past attempt failed. The comments have reignited the debate over how best to deal with the extreme-right menace.

The government already tried to ban the NPD in 2003

Hans-Jürgen Papier, president of Germany's highest court, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that it was still possible to outlaw the National Democratic Party (NPD) even though an attempt to do so by the federal government in 2003 was rejected by the justices on procedural grounds.

"The suspension of proceedings to ban the NPD does not represent a predetermined outcome on future efforts to ban it," Papier wrote in the newspaper. "These facts need to be remembered."

The German constitution allows groups and political parties that are deemed dangerous due to their support for Nazism to be banned. Berlin believes the NPD qualifies, but the Constitutional Court ruled the use of undercover informants created bias in the government's case to ban the party. The informants -- federal intelligence agents -- were also unwilling to disclose their identity by appearing in court.

High court judges Winfried Hassemer and Hans-Jürgen Papier.

Since then, the party has flourished, particularly in the former communist east of Germany, where it has fed on local frustration with unemployment and the reduction of social welfare payments. Last September, the neo-Nazi outfit shamed Germany by winning nearly 10 percent of the vote in a state election in Saxony. The right-wing extremist have made a point of offending the political mainstream ever since.

Outrage in Saxony

Demands to take action against the party came to a head last week, when the NPD deputies in Saxony's parliament refused to take part in a moment of silence for the victims of the Nazis during a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

Before they stormed out of the chamber, the NPD parliamentarians had filed a motion asking that the minute of silence be restricted to commemorate the victims of the Allied "bombing holocaust" of Dresden, Saxony’s capital, in February 1945. The parliament overwhelmingly rejected the request.

Preaching racial hatred and denying the Holocaust are both against the law in Germany. German politicians have also called on the European Union to adopt a ban on all Nazi symbols, which are also outlawed in Germany.

Constitutional Court Justice Winfried Hassemer told Der Spiegel newsmagazine that despite the last botched case against the far-right party, a ban was still "feasible" if the government took care not to repeat the same mistakes. He said the court's ruling in 2003 had "nothing to do with the actual unconstitutionality of this party."

Encourgaged by justices

High court judges Winfried Hassemer and Hans-Jürgen Papier.

The highly unusual public comments by justices Papier and Hassemer have encouraged some politicians to consider a renewed attempt to ban the NPD.

"We will have to carefully check in the coming weeks whether we can to come to another assessment regarding the NPD ban," Dieter Wiefelspütz, interior policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, told the Netzeitung online newspaper.

But other officials, mindful of the fallout from the last failure, remain cautious about pressing ahead with another case.

"There isn't enough evidence against the NPD at the moment," Beckstein told the AFP news agency. He said taking the issue to the Constitutional Court would "not be wise" considering the possibility of another failed ban giving the far-right extremists even more momentum.

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