In recent years Saxony has unfortunately generated negative headlines in the (inter)national press, especially when it comes to right-wing extremist activities, such as being a stronghold of the White Power Music scene – with the “Schild & Schwert” festival 2018 – or as the base of operations of the terrorist group “National Socialist Underground”. But this was not always the case.
The once “Red Saxony” became a bastion of the CDU/CSU after 1990 – contrary to all hopes of the Social Democrats to regain old electoral strongholds. In the Free State of Saxony, the CDU ruled with an absolute majority until 2004 and still provides the Prime Minister in changing coalitions. At the same time as the CDU lost its absolute majority in Saxony, the NPD entered a German state parliament for the first time since 1968. With 9.2%, it had almost as many votes as the SPD (9.8%). Apart from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (2006 and 2011), Saxony remained the only federal state in which the NPD succeeded in re-entering the state parliament five years later. This development continued – although with some obstacles and detours for the extreme right.
When the AfD, which had just entered the European Parliament, and the NPD, which was fighting for re-entry into the state parliament, competed in the Saxon state elections in August 2014, the former succeeded in gaining its first entry into a German state parliament with 9.7%, while the latter missed its third consecutive entry with 4.9% and 823 missing votes. This meant the replacement of the NPD by the AfD in terms of party and electoral politics, which subsequently brought the AfD one record result after another, especially in Saxony. In the 2017 federal election and the 2019 European election in Saxony, for example, it was in first place, ahead of the CDU. Paradoxically, the synchronous radicalization of party and voters was responsible for the AfD’s success. In particular, the alienation from the “liberal democratic basic order” (the core of the German Constitutional Order, i.e. the German Basic Law), the other parties and the pluralistic society are crucial in this process.
The AfD is increasingly pursuing a course that is hostile to democracy and the constitution. The fact that it is under observation from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is just one piece of evidence to support this view. In other words, a course that a few years earlier had seen the NPD branded as a political pariah and brought it to the brink of a party ban. Within a few years, the AfD has developed from a Eurosceptic, right-wing populist party to a largely right-wing extremist party, which is – especially in East Germany – to a great extent dominated by “The Wing” around Björn Höcke and the excluded Andreas Kalbitz.
But the roots of the (party) political strongholds of the NPD and AfD lie deeper. There was already an active, albeit less strongly organized extreme right movement in the GDR. It began to organize and mobilize soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The racist attacks on former GDR contract workers from Vietnam and Mozambique, among others, in Hoyerswerda on the night of reunification from 2 to 3 October 1990 and in the autumn of 1991 were just two incidents that marked the beginning of the solidifying continuity of right-wing violence in the Free State.
While the level of right-wing violence has always remained high, it became much more visible when the number of cases rose sharply in the course of the global migration movements from the end of 2014. In 2015, 213 right-wing motivated acts of violence were recorded in the statistics on Politically Motivated Crime (PMK)-right. Only in Northrhine-Westfalia, the most populous German federal state, were more acts of right wing violence registered: 289. Saxony always ranks in the top third regarding the number of these violent offences per 100,000 inhabitants. This violence is fueled by a climate of devaluation, justified by the perceived threat of “foreign infiltration” in certain political milieus. These political attitudes become publicly visible through movement actors such as PEGIDA and other street based “anti-asylum activism”.
Although Saxony is conspicuous when compared to other areas in the country, it is largely in line with the average of the East German federal states. However, there are other phenomena that stand out. In the areas of (sub)cultural and terrorist right-wing extremism, which often occur at the interface between scenes and movements, Saxony is a stable and continuous stronghold. In the (sub)cultural field, this – above all – refers to the White Power Music scene, which, unlike in any other federal state (conditionally with the exception of its neighboring federal state Thuringia), can rely on developed structures that have solidified since the early 1990s. Trade and concert infrastructure are present on a large scale and with a high density, for example with the “WB-Versand” and the “Schild & Schwert”-festival both run and organized by the NPD vice chairman and movement entrepreneur Thorsten Heise. The networks and structures of “Blood & Honour” and the “Hammerskin Nation” in Saxony – and, of course beyond the state borders, constitute the organizational, logistical and in part also economic backbone of a part of the movement that made the NSU possible. Even though the militant arm of the “Blood & Honour” network, “Combat 18”, has been banned, it is still necessary to ask to what extent its activities have been effectively stopped and the network structures sustainably dismantled.
This question does not only arise against the background of groups such as the banned “Sturm 34” from Mittweida, whose former member Tom W. resurfaced in 2018 with the right-wing terrorist group “Revolution Chemnitz”. As this was not the first right-wing criminal respectively terrorist group to appear after the self-disclosure of the NSU: alongside the “Oldschool Society”, the “Gruppe Freital” fits in here, as the latter was apparently not even initially to be scheduled as a terror case by the Saxon justice system. As the close links and even attacks jointly carried out with the “Freie Kameradschaft Dresden” in Heidenau 2015 and Leipzig-Connewitz 2016, among others, show: the ties to the comradeship scene and the right-wing extremist hooligan milieu are strong. Similar constellations can be found in Chemnitz for example, in the environment of “HooNaRa”, such as the band “Blitzkrieg”, which is closely linked to the “Blood & Honour” network and also maintains strong personal ties to the regional comradeship scene.One thing has become clear: the statement of the former Saxon prime minister Kurt Biedenkopf (1990 to 2002) that, “The Saxons are immune to right-wing extremism” seems to have been proved wrong. But overall, a differentiated overview of extreme right activities in Saxony emerges. Together with other eastern German states, Saxony is ranked among the top half or top third when it comes to the extent and strength of right-wing extremism, which should be a clear warning not to neglect the issue, let existing (counter-)measures expire or even stop them immediately. State and civil democracy protection measures were expanded and strengthened in recent years – albeit under the influence of intense debate between the federal and regional state authorities, NGOs and civil society. It would be desirable to increase the involvement of local and regional democracy promotion initiatives, as the perspective of those affected in particular can provide important insights into the design of certain measures, which is not infrequently closed to regional and local administration staff.
Maximilian Kreter is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate at Hannah Arendt Institute Totalitarianism Studies, TU Dresden. See full profile here.
© Maximilian Kreter and Kiran Bowry. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).