The story of the so-called Dark Germany is the opposite of what prospering, well-lit and well-known West Germany represents
Located in Germany’s far eastern corner bordering on the Czech Republic and Poland lies the state of Saxony. Today the state has about four million people down from five million in 1990. To many Germans, Saxony symbolises ‘Dark Germany’, a derogatory term Dunkeldeutschland — Dark-Germany —for those parts of the former East-Germany that have been kept out of view. The word Dark-Germany first appeared during the 1990s after Germany’s re-unification. In 1994, the term was nominated as word of the year.
In contrast to West Germany, where the streets are well lighted and where flashy advertisements are continuously pushed into your face to sell things no one needs for money we don’t have in order to impress people we don’t even like, West-Germany’s counterpart — the Soviet-style German Democratic Republic — was less well lit and goods were on-sale in dingy state-run shops. Cold war rhetoric sold this as a moral darkness, while today, many would say it saved energy.
Yet the term Dark-Germany also implies that people have been kept in the dark by something that might be called, in an allusion to the farming of mushrooms in basement tubs of manure: mushroom politics. Keep them in the dark and feed them shit. Over the past three decades since re-unification, Saxony has become unusually conservative, even by German standards. In 2019, Germany’s crypto-Neo-Nazi party AfD received almost 30% in Saxony’s state election, up from 25% in Germany’s 2017 federal election. Nevertheless, Saxony’s premier is a Merkel-type conservative, Michael Kretschmer.
Along with its remoteness, darkness and cultural conservatism, Saxony boasts an exceptionally high support for the AfD. Saxony also feature a highly organised, well-armed, and very active Neo-Nazis. Outsiders (more than the residents themselves) have for a long time been wondering why is Saxony considered a Neo-Nazi stronghold?
One answer lies in how over the thirty-year (1990-2020) post-unification history Saxony created a political space in which right-wing extremists could meet and organise. Right-wing extremists and local Neo-Nazis met in the same local places relatively untouched by state authority. In other words, for three decades the state government of Saxony did not provide effective counter measures against right-wing populism and right-wing extremism.
Particularly strong is a Neo-Nazi organisation called The Third Way, Der III Weg. The III Way fancies itself as a replica of the real Nazi social-nationalism or Germanic socialism. In this ideology, ‘socialism’ is used to attract working class members by presenting itself as anti-capitalist. Historically, the NSDAP’s militia, known as the Black Front, the Black Front run by the Strasser Brothers, Otto Johann Maximilian Strasser and his younger brother Gregor, both claiming to be Strasser Brothers heroes of today’s III. Way Neo-Nazis. The III. Way is an extreme version of Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft , with only those of pure Aryan blood and stock eligible to be members. Just as in the days of Adolf Hitler’s swastika gangs, the current brand of Nazis dream of a racially-based world witrh them at the top. Jews will be exterminated.
While Neo-Nazism is by no means an exclusive problem of Saxony and it is not even a uniquely German problem, yet the state of Saxony still stands out in today’s Germany. Because of this, many have spent attention on the high prevalence of right-wing extremists in the state. Instrumental to understand this prevalence of Neo-Nazi groups and extremist nationalist ideologies since unification rise has been the role of right-wing rock music and Neo-Nazi concerts where Germany’s the extremist groups gather and welcome all those who harbour radical right (racialist, antisemitic and nationalist) attitudes.
For many years, Germany’s Protection of the Constitution, the official title of what is in reality is Germany’s secret political police, has been focusing on Saxony’s Neo-Nazis. Even though policing theoretically falls into the domain of individual German states, Germany’s federal agency has focused its attention on Saxony. Their investigations show that Saxony’s Neo-Nazis are evident in numbers not seen since 1993. Almost self-evidently, Germany’s most brutal right-wing terrorists, the National Socialist Underground (NSU) has gained a strong support network in Saxony.
Given all that, the state of Saxony is indeed a stronghold of right-wing extremism. Even political attitudes held by Saxony’s local population are somewhat different from those held by the rest of West-Germany’s population. In many East German states, far-right beliefs, worldviews, and ideologies are far more widespread than in the west of the republic. Yet compared to former East-Germany states like Angela Merkel’s own home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, or Björn Höcke’s home state of Thuringia, Saxony stands out.
Today, the political situation in Saxony is more alarming than in the other German states. It has reached a level where right-wing extremism can no longer be down played. Despite this, extreme right-wing political attitudes and ideologies are by no means a uniquely Saxon or even an East-German phenomenon. Newspaper reports about the extreme right and Neo-Nazis throughout the nation almost on a daily base. Right-wing extremism and Neo-Nazism remains genuine German problems. What is different about the western parts of Germany and the former East-Germany, is that one is more likely to find established and solidified far-right structures in the eastern states. Saxony remains a prime example of all of this because it has:
+ a well-organised scene of right-wing comradeships,
+ local militias like Dresden’s Gruppe Freital,
+ extremely xenophobic movements like Pegida,
+ a strong base of AfD supporters,
+ other extremist groupings and networks, such as the NSU – and
+ a raft of smaller right-wing parties, not least Germany’s traditional Neo-Nazi party, the NPD as well as the Aufbruch deutscher Patrioten (German patriots awake!).
It might be possible to distinguish between right-wing attitudes and the violent actions of Neo-Nazis of various stripes. In Saxony, however, a relatively high number of people with extreme right-wing views have been joining the right-wing groups and organizations. And they have been doing so faster than elsewhere in Germany. Largely, it seems, this has been possible because the state g overnment has not fought right-wing extremism over the past three decades.
This laxity has led to what one might call a “pull effect”. The gullible and the ignorant are sucked into the Black Hole of Nazi-like thinking and acting. Saxony’s consolidated and wide-spread far-right and Neo-Nazi structures attract susceptible sympathizers and thus have drawn large numbers of people into the Neo-Nazi orbit. Political space — in the media, in musical songs and large concert venues — and actual meeting places (beer halls, community centres, parks) have emerged that act as focal points for the state’s right-wing scene. Worse still, state authorities have neither consistently nor strongly taken action against Neo-Nazi structures.
In reality, this means that Saxony is slowly gaining a negative reputation as a Neo-Nazi stronghold and this further attracts even more would-be Neo-Nazis from outside of the state, especially from neighbouring Thuringia, Saxon-Anhalt and Brandenburg. Saxony is actually on the verge of becoming ‘the’ Neo-Nazi bastion of Germany. Right-wing extremism, people with right-wing attitudes, Neo-Nazis, AfD supporters and their like feel welcome in Saxony.
Beyond that, media reports about far-right clubs, organisation, and rallies, camps, music venues and local groups. only increase the attraction of Saxony inside Germany’s Neo-Nazi scene. And yet, all this alone is not enough to explain Saxony’s status as Neo-Nazi sanctuary. To develop Saxony into this, the radical right shows a long post-unification history. Already by the year 1991, the world was shocked to see racist disorders in the town of Hoyerswerda. The Hoyerswerda Riots were xenophobic riots that lasted from 17 to 23 September 1991. The history of the radical right in Saxony stretches all the way back to NSU apartments in Zwickau and the 2018 Chemnitz riots.
One does not even have go to the neighbouring town of Schnellroda in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. For several years, there have been reports about the right-wing demagogue Götz Kubitschek and his so-called Institute for State Policy which is based in Schellroda. From the town, he and his right-wing ideologues have been broadcasting their ideological venom for the better part of the last twenty years. This is a very long time. Today, Kubitschek’s setup is part of right-wing structures prevalent throughout former East-Germany.
A prime example of an hard-core Neo-Nazi network is the militia Blood & Honour. The group was official banned in the year 2000. Yet, it actually persisted and today has extremely close links to the remnants of Germany’s prime Neo-Nazi terror network, the NSU. Between 2000 and 2007, the NSU has killed ten people including a policewoman. Much of this is only possible because state authorities did not act consequently and consistently against Saxony’s right-wing structures and organisations.
In Saxony’s neighbour state of Thuringia much has changed. It came perhaps because its Neo-Nazis also constituted a significant force. Perhaps it came even more so because the state’s premier is a member of Germany’s most progressive party — Die Linke — a party Germany’s right-wing extremists would like to destroy. In Saxony the first decisive steps battling Germany’s far right are only now happening.
There are still way too many right-wing rock concerts in Saxony. Many of which are organised by Saxony’s right-wing extremists with the distinct approval of local regulatory offices. In most East-Germany cases, local residents largely do not care or even gain financially from arriving right-wingers attending Neo-Nazi rock concerts.
Overall the state of Saxony has failed in confronting right-wing extremists. The state authorities should have faced up to the threat of right-wing extremism more decisively and earlier. Once the pull effect starts to work its magic, it is way too late. You cannot put the genie back in the lamp. But this should come as no surprise. In Saxony, neither state authorities nor the local population have shown themselves to be at odds with right-wing ideologies.
In the Saxon town of Staupitz, located in the district of Torgau in northern Saxony, right-wing rock concerts have been take place with the explicit permission of local authorities, the local Ordnungsamt. Regional residents either supported this or indicated they do not care about right-wing bands and Neo-Nazi crowds. Another example in Oybin, a town near Zittau, where a right-wing organisation called Ein Prozent (One-Percent) — a think tank of right-wing demagogue Götz Kubitschek — is planning a right-wing settlement project relatively undisturbed by local authorities. In November 2020, it was announced as a meeting place for right-wing extremist comradeships and potentially as a site for a war games camp.
Much of these extremist activities grow particularly well in Germany’s rural settings because the federal government has been slowly withdrawing its services from remote and under-populated regions. Worse, since 1990 Saxony lost about 20% of its population. For this reason, local bus routes are thinned out and shutdown. There have been hospitals closures as well as the shutting of day care centres. The state and local community institutions and state-run infrastructures no longer offer any service and support to young people. As a consequence, young people move to the city or into Germany’s western parts. For other residents, the quality of life as well as property prices has started to fall. An older and often mostly male population remains. Increasingly, election results in these areas show the rise of right-wing parties like AfD and the more openly Neo-Nazis the AfD.
At some point, the existence of the state can no longer be experienced. For many of the residents, it is as if the state no longer exists. This leaves political space for Germany’s right-wing to move in. Yet we have to remind ourselves correlations do not necessarily reflect causality. An absent state does not automatically lead to Neo-Nazism. The rise of right-wing extremism and Neo-Nazism has to be examined in detail in order not to engage in false analogies. Though there are many regions where this is exactly what has occurred, it does not prove anything conclusively.
In the local Saxon local region called Vogtland Vogtland for example, the Neo-Nazi militia The III Way and the East-Saxony setup of the One-Percent organisation remain strong. For the whole of Saxony, however, one single party remains absolutely important, AfD. In Saxony, this party holds almost a third of the seats in the state parliament or Landtag. Like the real Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s, the AfD tries to present itself as a legitimate democratic party. By using the rather deceptive name ‘Alternative for Germany’, the AfD has long been securely established in Saxony’s political landscape.
Despite its democratic façade, many commentators have shown that the AfD has regular, deep, institutional, personal, and diverse contacts and overlaps with the far-right and Neo-Nazis. A good example from Saxony’s neighbour state of Saxony-Anhalt shows how this works. In Saxony-Anhalt, local AfD strongman Hans-Thomas Tillschneider has his parliamentarian office in the same building as the semi-fascist Identitarian Movement. Of course, this is no mere coincidence. One need only examine the two parties’ agendas and the way they cooperate in legislative matters.
While the aforementioned pull effect isn’t purely an East-German phenomenon, there are many examples from former East-Germany states like Brandenburg, Thuringia and Saxony were this also works. But we see some of this also working in West-German states like Lower Saxony or North Rhine-Westphalia. Particularly in the city of Dortmund-Dorstfeld. These are examples and places which do not regularly feature in reports on Germany’s right-wing. Yet, they do exist.
Unlike in former East-Germany, most of the radical right in West-Germany has a far smaller political reach. The reach of the radical right needs the media. In both cases – West and East Germany – the role of the so-called social media remains crucial. Right-wing echo-chambers play a very significant role in the murky world of right-wing extremism. This can be seen in on the example of Saxony as well.
Members of right-wing terrorist militias like the anti-Muslim Freital vigilantes have exchanged, networked and radicalised themselves via social media. They mobilize violent and often very brutal actions on Facebook and in chat groups. Their acts of violence are often organised at very short notice and then coordinated online. The internet digital media has been a boon to these extremist groups and especially vital for organizing Neo-Nazi gatherings at right-wing rock concerts. Right-wing online networking works hand in hand with actual meetings.
Of course, right-wing extremism is also spreading disinformation through social media, while Neo-Nazi rock concerts and other music venues serve as personal meeting grounds and for personal networking. Both remain important for the perpetuation of the hard core of German Neo-Nazism. The right-wing rock scene in Saxony and Neo-Nazi meetings in next-door Thuringia are hotspots of the movement. They are used to establish professional structures and to gather potential supporters.
On Thuringia and Saxony, the attraction of the pull factor is evident. In the social-democratic state of Brandenburg we can see a more confrontational approach on the radical right. The state takes a consistent approach against the radical right and uses its legal framework quite widely to combat Neo-Nazis. As a consequence, local right-wing and Neo-Nazi rock bands produce their ideological music and play mainly in neighbouring states, including the state of Saxony.
Overall several factors explain the prevalence of right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazis in the far eastern state of Saxony. As Neo-Nazi stronghold, it has been enabled by a few political mis-developments. For one, in several areas of the state of Saxony there is a distinct lack of existing democratic structures capable of defending a democratic society against the Neo-Nazi onslaught. In many areas, too, both the state as an authority as well as a strong civil society are largely absent. The local welfare system has withdrawn from in rural regions. When a strong and democratic state is absent, and when people feel they are neglected and unwanted, right-wing extremists grow.
Photo: Neonazis periodically rally (source: The Barricade)
This article was originally published on 2 February 2021 on the site Counterpunch.
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Thomas Klikauer teaches MBA students at the Sydney Graduate School of Management at Western Sydney University in Australia. He was born in southern Germany about half way between Castle Frankenstein to the East, the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg (the inventor of the printing press) to the West, and the garage where Carl Benz built the first motor-car even though Benz’s wife, Bertha, undertook the world’s first ever car ride.
Surrounded by cars, Thomas Klikauer undertook an engineering degree while working for a local car supplier. He joined Germany’s mighty metal workers trade union, the IGM, became a union representative and led a strike. Supported by a trade union scholarship, he graduated from Boston University (USA) and Bremen University (Germany) and completed a PhD at Warwick (UK).
Thomas Klikauer has more than 600 publications which include ten books. He writes on Managerialism, the sociology of work and right-wing extremism with a recent book on Germany’s right-wing populist party, the AfD. Thomas Klikauer lives in the beachside suburb of Coogee, a “must see” destination in Sydney, Australia.