Germany’s Far Right Reunified, Too, Making It Much Stronger

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tags: far right, racism, Germany, neonazism

BERLIN — They called him the “Führer of Berlin.”

Ingo Hasselbach had been a clandestine neo-Nazi in communist East Berlin, but the fall of the Berlin Wall brought him out of the shadows. He connected with western extremists in the unified city, organized far-right workshops, fought street battles with leftists and celebrated Hitler’s birthday. He dreamed of a far-right party in the parliament of a reunified Germany.

Today, the far-right party Alternative for Germany, known by its German initials, AfD, is the main opposition in Parliament. Its leaders march side by side with far-right extremists in street protests. And its power base is the former communist East.

“Reunification was a huge boost for the far right,” said Mr. Hasselbach, who left the neo-Nazi scene years ago and now helps others to do the same. “The neo-Nazis were the first ones to be reunified. We laid the foundation for a party like the AfD. There are things we used to say that have become mainstream today.”

As it marks the 30th anniversary of reunification on Saturday, Germany can rightly celebrate being an economic powerhouse and thriving liberal democracy. But reunification has another, rarely mentioned legacy — of unifying, empowering and bringing into the open a far-right movement that has evolved into a disruptive political force and a terrorist threat, not least inside key state institutions like the military and police.

“Today’s far-right extremism in Germany cannot be understood without reunification,” said Matthias Quent, a far-right extremism expert and director of an institute that studies democracy and civil society in the eastern state of Thuringia. “It liberated the neo-Nazis in the East from their underground existence, and it gave the far-right in the West access to a pool of new recruits and whole swathes of territory in which to move without too much oversight.”

For years, German officials trusted that a far-right party could never again be elected into Parliament and dismissed the idea of far-right terrorist networks. But some now worry that the far-right structures established in the years after reunification laid the groundwork for a resurgence that has burst into view over the past 15 months.

Read entire article at New York Times