Germany Table of Contents
On the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Greens are two parties of the far right, the Republikaner (Die Republikaner--REP), with about 23,000 members, and the German People's Union (Deutsche Volksunion--DVU), with 26,000 members. As of mid- 1995, these two parties had not gained sufficient support to win seats in the Bundestag, but the DVU was represented in Land parliaments in Bremen (with 6.2 percent of the vote in 1991) and Schleswig-Holstein (with 6.3 percent of the vote in 1992); the Republikaner held seats in Baden-Württemberg (with 10.9 percent of the vote in 1992). The Republikaner received 2.1 percent of the vote in the all-Germany election of December 1990 and 1.9 percent in the October 1994 election.
In the early 1990s, the rallying cry of the far right was "Germany for the Germans." This slogan appeals to many Germans, particularly young, male, rural, less educated, blue-collar workers who fear for their economic future and regard the large pool of asylum-seekers as competitors for housing, social programs, and jobs. These particular Germans are also uneasy about greater integration within the European Union (EU--see Glossary), which, in their minds, requires Germany to forfeit too much of its identity and share too much of its prosperity. According to some observers, the far right's electoral support represents, in part, a protest vote against the mainstream parties. German politicians repeatedly remark on the electorate's Politikverdrossenheit --a deep disaffection with all things political.
Franz Schönhuber, a one-time Bavarian television moderator and former officer in the Nazi Waffen-SS, formed the Republikaner in 1983 from a group of discontented members of the CSU. Schönhuber published a book in 1981 boasting of his experiences in the Waffen-SS but has staunchly denied that his party has neo-Nazi leanings. Elected to the European Parliament in 1989, Schönhuber, over seventy years old in mid-1995, tried to portray the party as a mainstream group that does not promote bigotry but merely protects German national interests. The party platform speaks for itself. In it, the Republikaner blame foreigners, who make up about 8 percent of the German population, for the housing shortage, street crime, and pollution. Among other things, the party has proposed banning Islamic community centers from sponsoring political or cultural activities other than prayer, and it has advocated putting asylum-seekers in collection camps "to minimize the native population's existing and growing antipathy toward foreign residents." The party platform also proposes creating separate classes for foreign schoolchildren, and it rejects "the multicultural society that has made the United States the world's largest showplace of crime and latent racial conflict." Reportedly, the Republikaner attracted about 5,000 new members in eastern Germany in 1992 and 1993. Schönhuber contends that support in the east comes from young Germans between twenty and thirty years of age, whereas in the west support comes from members of his own generation. Schönhuber, the party's only nationally known figure, was deposed as party leader in the fall of 1994 because he had proposed that his party join forces with the more extreme DVU.
Gerhard Frey, the Munich publisher of two weekly neofascist newspapers, Deutsche National-Zeitung (print run 63,000) and Deutsche Wochen-Zeitung (20,000), founded the DVU in 1971. The DVU espouses many of the views held by the Republikaner, but it goes one step further in tacitly supporting violence against asylum- seekers and foreign workers. Frey, over sixty years old in mid-1995, has sought to distance himself from pro-Nazi sentiments while simultaneously insisting that most Germans want to live in a racially pure country.
Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz--BfV), announced in April 1992 that the DVU was under surveillance to determine if the party met the legal definition of "antidemocratic," a classification that would permit the government to ban it. A similar investigation of the Republikaner was announced in December 1992. Such surveillance legally can include government infiltration of the party, monitoring of mail and telephone calls, and interrogation of party members. The BfV has classified both parties as "right-wing extremist" and "constitutionally hostile."
The communist party that ran East Germany was the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands--SED). Founded in 1946, the SED controlled the government and the electoral process and supervised the omnipresent State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst--Stasi). To be considered for important positions in East German government and society, membership in the party was a requirement (see The Ulbricht Era, 1949-71, ch. 2).
When the East German public toppled the communist regime, the SED and its extensive organizational structure also came unraveled. Membership fell dramatically; local and regional party groups disbanded. In a desperate attempt to save itself, the SED sought to reconstruct itself for the new democratic climate. It changed its name in February 1990 to the Party of Democratic Socialism (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus--PDS). The old party guard was replaced by moderate leaders, such as the new chairman, Gregor Gysi. The PDS won 11 percent of the vote in eastern Germany in the 1990 all-Germany election, an outcome that entitled the party to seventeen seats in the Bundestag. In the Bundestag, the PDS has advocated communist values and has energetically criticized the Kohl government. The PDS's all-Germany tally reached only 2.4 percent because of a showing in western Germany of 0.3 percent.
The party's electoral base is limited to the east, particularly areas in which substantial numbers of former SED members live. In mid-1995 the PDS had roughly 130,000 members in the east, giving the PDS the largest membership of any party in eastern Germany. The party's strongholds are Saxony, Berlin, and Brandenburg. The party continues to have a tiny following in the west, with 1,200 members.
Two main factors account for the success of the PDS in the east: the PDS inherited the infrastructure and local grassroots organization of the SED, and the PDS has come to be seen by many in the east as the only party that represents specifically eastern German interests and that stresses the positive aspects of eastern German life. Over 90 percent of PDS members belonged to the SED, and 66 percent are over the age of sixty. The established parties have largely ostracized the PDS.
The PDS garnered 4.4 percent of the vote in the 1994 national election, an outcome that, as predicted, left the party beneath the 5 percent hurdle. However, the party won parliamentary representation, thanks to a peculariarity of the German electoral law: the fact that the PDS won four districts outright (all in eastern Berlin) entitled it to thirty seats in the Bundestag. Much credit for the strong showing of the PDS in the east has been given to the party's leading figure, the lawyer Gysi, an articulate and charismatic member of parliament.
Data as of August 1995
Germany Table of Contents