The nazis marched today in Frankfurt. But it must have been rather frustrating for them. Their numbers were disappointing, they were relegated to the periphery of the city, and a thick wall of police ensured that they would not offend decent people’s eyes or ears.
As the Frankfurter Rundschau reports, the NPD, Germany’s leading neonazi party, fought a long battle before the courts to obtain permission to march here. They harbour a particular hatred for this city for its large Jewish community and heavy foreign presence. (Nearly a quarter of the city’s residents are foreigners, myself among them.) The nazis’ right to march was upheld, but the city did manage to put the boot in a bit: at the last minute, the march was shifted from the city centre to a route between a few outlying districts.
The nazis had announced their marchers would number in the thousands, from all over Germany and, indeed, the rest of Europe as well. In the event, they managed 500, most of them presumably eastern Germans. About 1,500 antinazi demonstrators, led by mayor Petra Roth, assembled on the square before the city hall. (The nazis would’ve been there too, if they hadn’t been sent away to the west of town.) Another large group decided more active resistance was needed. Led by a Lutheran pastor, they had wanted to (peacefully) bar the nazis from marching into the city centre. (The idea was that their blockade would spur the police to turn the nazis back.) That plan became moot with the nazis’ banishment to the periphery; still, the nazi leaders filed criminal charges against the pastor (for ‘establishing a terrorist organisation’, do you mind the brass neck of them).
And there was a third group on the streets against the nazis today. This was the Frankfurt Antifa (‘antifascist action’). It is no secret that some of their number were hoping for a direct and violent confrontation. As one of their local spokesmen said, ‘You can’t fight nazis with pacifism’. Preventing a running street battle was the main priority for the police. In the event, the Antifa adopted a relatively nonviolent tactic. Instead of attacking the nazis directly, they barricaded the U-Bahn tracks. (The U-Bahn is the metro/underground/subway. The nazis would have needed to take it to get their assembly point; in that part of town, the U-Bahn runs at street level rather than below the surface, making it easy to hold up trains by, say, lighting fires on the rails, or simply standing on them.) In this the Antifa had a partial success. They didn’t stop the march, but they delayed it by a couple of hours. At 13.00, the announced starting time, not a single nazi had yet made it to the assembly point.
The largest group in the whole affair was the police. There were 8,000 of them surrounding the 500 nazis, as lung tissue forms a sanitary wall around a tubercular infection. The police kept the streets leading to the march route tightly sealed and bundled the nazi mob along, ensuring that, though they would enjoy their right to assemble, they would enjoy it in a vacuum. The ddp reports that residents took the inconvenience in stride; protesting against nazis, they agreed, was important.
If you’re interested, the Rundschau has a slide show.
Now, if you’re reading this some place other than Germany, you’re probably asking yourself why on earth Germany allows a neonazi party to exist. The answer is simple. It’s that liberal democracy thing. (The Antifa would suppress them with extreme prejudice and no questions asked; but then the Antifa, laudable though their ends be, are no liberal democrats.) A party of disgusting swine can exist, so long as it does not cross the threshold of constituting a conspiracy against the constitution. Individual members might well face criminal charges, for example, for Holocaust denial or incitement to violence (and NPD members frequently do face such charges.) But it is extremely difficult to forbid a party. (To my knowledge it has happened twice in post-war German history, one communist party and one neonazi party falling subject to the ban.) And it’s a good thing it’s so hard for the state to impose a ban.
But there are some extremists who belong banned, and the NPD are the prime example today. The government did try to ban them a couple of years ago; but the constitutional court ruled the government out of line. The NPD, as it turns out, are thoroughly infiltrated by police informants and intelligence agents. The government were unwilling to reveal who their agents were. So the court couldn’t rule out that NPD actions the government cited as justifying a ban were not in fact carried out by government agents provocateurs, and refused to ban the party. This was an extraordinarily scrupulous stance, but then extraordinary scruples are in order when the state seeks to abridge civil rights. The answer, of course, is to seek a ban once more, and to get it right this time. It is an outrage that the NPD are allowed to exist (and to receive public funds into the bargain). Banning these nazis will be hard to do in a manner consistent with the constitution; but it needs doing, the sooner the better.