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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The German right moves to the centre

Germany's torrid debates over immigration, Islam and integration may not demonstrate the collapse of "multiculturalism," as Chancellor Angela Merkel declared on the weekend, so much as they are evidence of a frightening new surge in Neo-Nazi extremism.

Opinions once limited to Germany's extreme far-right are now spreading in mainstream politics, according to a survey released last week by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a left-of-centre think tank linked to Germany's opposition Social Democrats.

Thirteen per cent of Germans want a new "fuhrer" to lead the country, an attitudinal survey of 2,411 Germans shows.

At the same time, one third of Germans would like to send the country's seven million foreign workers home to protect German jobs and 17.2% agreed with the anti-Semitic statement, "Even today, Jews have too much influence."

The study, which focused on measuring the prevalence of six characteristic right-wing extremist views in German society, said it detected "a rise in decidedly anti-democratic and racist attitudes in 2010."

- 35.6% of Germans agreed with the statement, "Germany is in serious danger of being overrun by foreigners;"

- 53.7% said they could "fully understand why some people find Arabs unpleasant;"

- 58.4% said the practice of Islam should be restricted in Germany, even though the constitution guarantees freedom of religion;

- And 10.7% believe, "If it hadn't been for the Holocaust, Hitler would be viewed as a great statesman today."

The study, which mirrored a similar survey done in 2003, concluded that attitudes in favour of dictatorship, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are all on the increase in Germany.

The study says extremist attitudes no longer exist just on the fringes of German politics. They have crept into the political centre and are found "in all social groups and in all age groups, regardless of employment status, educational level or gender," the study said.

More than half the people who said the practice of Islam should be restricted in Germany, traditionally identify themselves as centrist or left wing.

"In the past the base for extreme-right views in Germany, though present, was more latent in nature. Now these views are being expressed more frequently," said Oliver Decker, a psychologist at the University of Leipzig, one of the authors of the report.

"The economic crisis seems to have allowed aggression to come to the surface. Among those looking for a valve, foreigners in general and Muslims in particular fill that role."

In Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, extremists appear to be benefitting from the failures of mainstream politicians in a time of economic gloom, unemployment and budget cuts.

Europe has a long history of turning towards extremists during times of economic hardship and the current crisis is no exception, with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies surfacing as a continent-wide backlash against ethnic minorities.

Extremists on the far-right have made recent electoral breakthroughs in the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, France and Italy.

France has banned the burka and launched a campaign to deport illegally settled gypsies (Roma), while the new government in the Netherlands relies on the support of the Dutch Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, who has called for banning the construction of new mosques in the Netherlands and urged taxing women who wear the burka.

In Austria, far-right leader, Heinz-Christian Strache's Freedom Party more than doubled its support, winning 27% of the vote in Vienna's recent local elections.

Last month in Sweden, the country with Europe's most liberal immigration policies, a party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats, entered parliament for the first time, winning 20 seats in September's parliamentary elections.

But it is in Germany, with its lingering legacy of horror and hate from the Second World War, that the loudest alarms should be sounding.

While Muslims appear to be the latest victims of German racism, older more vicious strains of xenophobia still persist. The survey found 14.9% of Germans agreed with the statement "There is something special about Jews, something peculiar, and they just don't really fit in with us."

When the survey asked if, "We should have a leader in Germany who leads with a forceful hand for the good of everyone," it deliberately used the word "fuhrer" to link the idea with Hitler.

That didn't deter the 13.2% who supported the statement outright or another 15.9% who agreed with some aspects of the idea.

National Post