The Fourth Reich or just another KKK?

Pity the Poor Germans! We Americans have to live with George Bush; the Germans have to live with Neo-Nazis.

Over the weekend, a minor controversy erupted on the pages of my guestbook (on www.ethansen.de) about Neo-Nazis and how they should be dealt with. There's nothing that upsets a German more than the mention of Neo-Nazis.

It shames and angers them that 60 years after the fall of the Third Reich, some of their compatriots still believe in Hitler. If you were to measure a German's brain activity when you mention the words "George Bush" to him, you would see the computer screen boil with red. But if you then mentioned "Neo-Nazis" or the Neo-Nazi party "NPD," the screen would virtually explode.

In fact, Germans hate Neo-Nazis so much, if you feel neglected and down and you want to rebel against the establishment and get a lot of attention for it, the best way to do it is to shave your skull and join the NPD. It's guaranteed to make you the center of attention.


But beyond all the emotions, the question is still: Is the Neo-Nazis party NPD as dangerous to democracy as many Germans think? Is it a sign that Germany is sliding back toward fascism?

Many Germans won’t like me for saying this, but the answer is: No. There will be no Fourth Reich. 1933 will not return. The NPD and its various little sister groups will never gain enough popularity to influence German democracy.

The original Nazi party grew out of the chaos and poverty of the Weimar Republic after World War I. The NPD exists within a very stable, content and economically sound society. That makes it far more comparable to the KKK than to Hitler's party. Like the KKK, the NPD is, literally, a party for losers.

The NPD arose in the sixties, got into about a dozen regional parliaments, then virtually disappeared until the fall of the wall in 1989, when it began gaining momentum in East Germany among the neglected and unemployed. In both cases, the core audience for the NPD was a small group of losers – literally. At first they were people who lost WWII and couldn’t come to grips with the democracy that followed, and today they are the ones who lost the Cold War and can't come to grips with the democracy that followed.

That makes the NPD much more comparable to America's own Ku Klux Klan (of course the KKK at least has the decency to hide their faces).

The KKK, too, arose from the losers of the Civil War, people who could not adapt to a changed world and romanticized the glory days of slavery. But they are a relatively small group: Most people can come to grips with modern society and most intelligent human beings can easily see the value and advantages of democracy and equality.

So how long will Germany have to live with a small group of embarrassing losers? It's been 60 years since WWII, after all, and another 15 since the fall of the wall.

The answer: Germany may have to live with these people for hundreds of years, maybe forever. America has lived with the KKK for over 200 years. It's infuriating and disgusting, but it hasn’t corrupted our democracy. My prediction: The Neo-Nazis will keep going strong a few more years and eventually fade into the background again, but they will never fully disappear.

That's embarrassing, but it's how a democracy works. Even the dirtiest and smallest-minded of us have a right to our opinion. But not to worry: Even if the Neo-Nazis never fully disappear, there will never be as many NPD-flags waving in Germany as Confederate flags still wave in America's South.

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