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October 27, 2010

Germans are increasingly anti-democratic

Study finds one in 10 thinks ‘a dictatorship might be a better form of gov’t’

Founded as a political legacy of Germany’s first democratically elected president, the German nonprofit institution Friedrich Ebert Foundation places great emphasis on combating anti-democratic, racist and xenophobic tendencies.

In its political education and advocacy work, a special project on combating right-wing extremism based in Berlin works continuously on the problem of the extreme right and on effective ways to counter it. However, the project isn’t merely focused on extreme right political parties, violence and neo-Nazi subculture. Of central concern to the foundation is the existence of anti-democratic and racist attitudes among the general public. After all, the concrete danger the NPD and other Nazi groups pose to German democracy is fortunately marginal.

A recently published study conducted by us, an organization committed to social democracy, once again highlights the threat that right-wing extremist attitudes pose to German society. Results of a new representative study conducted under the academic leadership of Dr. Oliver Decker and Professor Brähler of Leipzig University clearly show that right-wing extremist thought is not merely a problem of “the margins of society.” Instead, the scientists found widespread acceptance of chauvinistic, social Darwinist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements as well as shocking agreement with the idea of dictatorship generally as well as with aspects of the German National Socialism in particular.

For example, more than one out of 10 interviewees in the study wished for “a ‘Führer’ to rule Germany with strong leadership,” and almost every 10th person said, “For Germany’s national interest, a dictatorship might be a better form of government.”

Chauvinism shows its face again when more than one in four Germans supported the statement, “Germany should enjoy the power and standing it deserves,” and one-third of respondents agreed that there should be a “tough and energetic enforcement of German interests against foreign countries.”

The study also found xenophobia to be widespread. In 2008, when the same questionnaire was last used, only a fifth of the interviewees agreed with statements like, “Foreigners only come to Germany to take advantage of the social welfare state” and “Foreigners should be sent back to their home country if unemployment is high.” One-fourth of the German people now agree with those statements.

This rise in xenophobia and anti-democratic feelings goes along with alarming outcomes regarding the support of democracy as such. More than 90 percent of Germans say they neither see any sense in getting politically involved nor do they feel they could influence government. In fact, while 93 percent endorse democracy as a form of government in theory, less than 50 percent agree that it is functioning today.

This widespread general resignation regarding democracy as it exists and the feeling of having no political influence whatsoever combined with the rise in right-wing attitudes reveals a dramatic challenge for German politics and society. Especially in times of economic crises, democratic action is urgently needed. Otherwise, right-wing populists in Germany may also succeed in increasing their chances with exclusionary slogans as we have just seen in other parts of Europe.

To support the important debate and action of combating right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and racism not only in Germany but in all of Europe, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation will host the international conference “Strategies Against Right-Wing Extremism” Nov. 5 in Berlin.

– The author is a political scientist and coordinator of the “Combating Right-Wing Extremism” project of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

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