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The Neo-Nazis in Modern Eastern Germany
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After the fall of the Berlin Wall , Germany sought to build a democracy that closely resembled the governments of the West. While many embraced such a democracy and shunned their genocidal past, some embraced an ideology of revanchism and sought to revive and reinstate Nazi ideology. This movement has been dubbed Neo-Nazism. This is a new wave of ideology that promoted white supremacy and hatred and violence toward racial minorities, though not always with the goal of establishing a fascist state. Neo-Nazis idolized the Nazis of the olden days and frequently displayed images of Adolf Hitler and the swastika flag. They also denied the truth of the Holocaust.
The world first saw a rise in Neo-Nazism in the early 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, as late as 2018, Eastern Germany has seen a rise in the popularity of Neo-Nazism once again. There has been a rise in Neo-Nazi groups, particularly in Eastern Germany, with many people joining their ranks and others joining their activities. These groups have also been vocal about their political opinions. Neo-Nazis, however, are a dangerous group as they are not afraid to use violence for their political agenda, which means that people of color in Germany may be at risk. Apart from that, however, their ideology may continue to spread throughout the world as well. For instance, there has also been a rise in Neo-Nazism in the United States where white supremacy and racism are serious problems. This analytical essay focuses on Neo-Nazism in Eastern Germany, the cause of its rise and popularity, and the implications of the rise of Neo-Nazism for Germany and the world as a whole.
Definition of Neo-Nazism
Neo-Nazism is a militant, social, or political movement that seeks to revive the ideologies of Nazism after World War II. This movement promotes hatred of minorities, while simultaneously promoting ultra-nationalism, anti-communism, anti-Romanism, antisemitism, homophobia, and xenophobia (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [USHMM], n.d.). In some cases, Neo-Nazis also deny the existence of the Holocaust. A common feature of Neo-Nazism is the use of Nazi symbols, such as the Swastika, as well as the adoration of Hitler (USHMM, n.d.). Neo-Nazis are associated with right-wing extremism and are known for their willingness to use violence, which makes them a danger, especially to foreigners.
Causes of the Rise of Neo-Nazism in Eastern Germany
In Germany, Neo-Nazism has been a problem since the early 1990s or shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Western and Eastern Germany. Following the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, the Allied Powers and, eventually, Germany, sought to eradicate all forms of antisemitism and Nazism. Western Germany, in particular, sought allies with other countries to promote peace. In contrast, East Germany, governed by Communist Russia, was isolated from developments in its western counterpart. East Germany remained isolated, its population remaining primarily consisted of white Germans, thereby allowing the sense of victimhood in Germany and increased nationalism to prosper (Bennhold, Eddy, and Schuetze, 2021).
Neo-Nazism has had a strong influence in Eastern Germany since, its roots being traceable to Saxony’s history all the way to more recent sentiments following the aftereffects of World War II (Large, 2018; Bennhold, Eddy, and Schuetze, 2021). Saxony has been known to be susceptible to Neo-Nazi ideology and xenophobia due to various political and economic disappointments the region experienced throughout critical historical points after World War I , such as the Great Depression, and then the destruction of Dresden after World War II, that only strengthened their belief on Aryan superiority. The general feeling of being an outcast within Germany has espoused racist attitudes in Eastern Germany, particularly in Saxony, which is why there have been numerous instances of xenophobic violence in recent history, as well as a rise in power of Neo-Nazi groups (Large, 2018). Neo-Nazism, ultimately, is not a byproduct but a remnant of the defeated Nazi regime who feel wronged by the democratic government that now rules Germany.
The German penal code explicitly prohibits the denial of the Holocaust and dissemination of Nazi propaganda both online and offline. More recently, it has been modified to include rules on how social media companies are to regulate hate speech and threats. Despite these, however, several right-wing extremist groups that promote xenophobic propaganda rose in recent years. Examples are the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which garnered high support in Saxony, and the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), which was formed in the city in 2014. Earlier than that, in 2004, Saxony also elected members of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party to its local parliament—a first among Eastern states (Large, 2018). Today, these groups have grown in membership and legitimacy. These groups have held protests against Germany’s COVID-19 regulations. Other citizens who do not align with neo-Nazi ideologies also comfortably march alongside members of these groups. Evidently, despite stringent laws against Neo-Nazism, it is not implemented well, and many racist and xenophobic speech and actions were met with complacency such that these groups were able to proliferate under the radar as early as 2001 (Large, 2018; Anonymous, 2018).
Partially, preventing the rise of Neo-Nazism had been complicated for German authorities. As mentioned, Neo-Nazis have been around as early as the 1990s while the modern groups that we see today started the groundwork in the early 2000s (Bennhold, Eddy, and Schuetze, 2021). Part of the reason why they were not nipped in the bud is that they developed subtle ways to organize and spread their propaganda (Frontline, 2021). They created smaller local cells that were not only more difficult to detect and break up but were also deeply integrated into local communities (Knight, 2010). So, groups like AfD and PEGIDA were able to establish themselves as legitimate right-wing groups without scrutiny. Under the guise of the concept of the “national family” and “good neighbors”, they reach out to audiences that come from the general public. Behind these, though, they continue their mission to terrorize the homeless, minorities, and political opponents. Although these groups immediately became evidently Neo-Nazis, the German government still failed to take appropriate action (Frontline, 2021). Their protests were approved and given media coverage which enabled them to influence and cause disturbances.
Implications of the Rise of Neo-Nazism
As discussed earlier, Neo-Nazis are not a special group of individuals that can easily be pointed out. Rather, they are everyday citizens, comprised of both young and old people who are racist and xenophobic, and in some cases, violent. The German government failed to detect and prevent the rise of Neo-Nazis because of complacency. Even as Neo-Nazi groups began to execute violent attacks against foreigners in Germany, the groups were not properly penalized, nor were they shut down. Instead, these groups received media traction and became the subject of debates, which only gave them more opportunities to spread their harmful ideologies.
Through their complacency, the German government allowed Neo-Nazis to have a space in society to spread their hateful ideology. As a result, numerous individuals have been influenced into believing the same. Neo-Nazi ideology, unfortunately, does not remain as ideas but translates into actions. These manifestations of Neo-Nazism harm others around, especially those who are not of Aryan descent, as well as other marginalized groups like the LGBTQIA+ community. As Germany has seen, Neo-Nazis are extremely dangerous. Empowered, they were able to attack refugee hostels and harass foreigners anywhere in Germany. Furthermore, it is not only the foreigners that are in danger. Individuals, especially activists, who support the acceptance of refugees and others in the country also become targets of attacks (Anonymous, 2018). With Neo-Nazism, anyone who is not with them is considered an enemy and can be extinguished without remorse.
Another dangerous implication of the rise of Neo-Nazism in Eastern Germany is that such ideologies easily spread all over the world. With increased interconnectedness due to globalization and the Internet, it is easy for Neo-Nazis to share their ideas with others across the globe and start a similar movement there founded on misinformation . This is evident in the rise in Neo-Nazis or white supremacists in the US as well as in other countries as well. Many of these Neo-Nazis in other countries share the same ideologies as those in Eastern Germany, particularly anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and willingness to use violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC, n.d.) has listed down a long list of Neo-Nazi groups in the US, such as the National Alliance, Folks Front, Aryan Freedom Network, American Nazi Party, Patriotic Dissent Books, Nationalist Social Club, and many more. These Neo-Nazi groups, like their Eastern German counterparts, use terroristic violence to facilitate their goal of promoting white supremacy and pushing other ethnicities and races “back to where they came from.” Giving even just one group a space to voice out their hateful ideologies is dangerous as it can be amplified by the Internet and facilitate the multiplication of these groups. If more individuals are influenced and empowered to do harm based on such principles, the world will be a dangerous place.
After World War II, it became clear to everyone how atrocious Nazi ideology was. The world agreed that such attitudes and ideologies do not have a rightful place in a civilized world. The Holocaust, as well as the fall of the Nazi Party, are one of the most popular history topics and the sufferings and sacrifices of the Jews were commemorated in various museums and history books. Despite these, however, Neo-Nazis still existed and propagated. In Eastern Germany, Neo-Nazism can be traced back to bitterness as a result of historical damages. Xenophobia has led these Neo-Nazis to blame all problems on Western democracy that promotes acceptance of foreigners into their country and on these foreigners. Unfortunately, the beginnings of Neo-Nazism were ignored and met with complacency such that it was able to grow and become empowered enough to establish political parties and be elected. Neo-Nazism is as dangerous as its origins, Nazism. Neo-Nazism espouses hate and violence toward people of other races and ethnicities. When allowed to spread, Neo-Nazism can make countries dangerous for marginalized groups and anyone who does not agree with them. Neo-Nazism goes against the kind of society we are growing into—one that is culturally diverse and interconnected. As such, Neo-Nazism must be stopped and eradicated.
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Anonymous. (2018, Oct 31). I live among the Neo-Nazis in eastern Germany. And it’s terrifying. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/31/neo-nazi-eastern-chemnitz-germany-saxony
Bennhold, K., Eddy, M., and Schuetze, C. F. (2021, July 6). On the path to Day X: The return of Germany’s far right. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/25/world/europe/germany-nazi-far-right.html
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Frontline. (2021, June 24). Frontline investigates the rise of Neo-Nazi ideology and far-right extremism in modern-day Germany. Public Broadcasting Service. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/announcement/frontline-investigates-the-rise-of-neo-nazi-ideology-and-far-right-extremism-in-modern-day-germany/
Knight, B. (2010, Sept 21). The rise of the far-right in the East. Deutsche Welle. https://www.dw.com/en/the-rise-of-the-far-right-in-the-east/a-5996369
Large, D. C. (2018, Sept. 11). East Germany’s far-right problem is 300 years old. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/11/east-germanys-cultural-anxiety-is-300-years-old/
Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Neo-Nazi. Retrieved September 17, 2022. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/neo-nazi
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). (n.d.). Origins of neo-nazi and white supremacist terms and symbols. https://www.ushmm.org/antisemitism/what-is-antisemitism/origins-of-neo-nazi-and-white-supremacist-terms-and-symbols