Prohibition Debate: The Far-Right Threat to Germany’s Democracy
The interior ministers of Germany’s federal and state governments are in the process of reexamining whether they can — and should — ban the NPD. Since authorities uncovered the Zwickau terrorist cell and its supporters, who were apparently organized in a group calling itself the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU), the ministers have been asking themselves the kinds of questions that are critical to a possible attempt to ban the party. How much potential for violence does the NPD hold? Does it intend to violently abolish the democratic system? Can it be proved to be similar in nature to National Socialism? And perhaps most importantly, would the party be more dangerous if it were banned?
The answers to these questions depends on the statements made by the NPD and how they are interpreted, as well as the actions of the NPD and how much weight they are given. In other words, the answers ultimately depend on the details.
First, however, a fundamental principle needs to be considered, namely that a party should not be banned merely because it is deeply critical of the prevailing form of government. This is the historic lesson Germany learned from the years of the Nazi reign of terror, when Hitler united society under the swastika and had parties like the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party banned.
The German constitution’s response to this despotism is a guaranteed tolerance, which also applies in the political combat zone. Bans should be democracy’s last line of defense, nothing less and nothing more. In the case of a political party, another determining factor in considering a ban is whether the party can be accused of having an “actively combative, aggressive posture against the prevailing system.” These are the words of the Federal Constitutional Court in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe, the only body in Germany that can impose a ban, and that only with a two-thirds majority.