The usual suspects are getting their panties in a twist over the upcoming German election. The prospect of right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) getting seats in the Bundestag upsets a lot of politicians and leftists. They claim that this means that far right extremists will be represented in parliament for the first time since the downfall of the Nazi Party. When it comes to right wing politics, Germany is a special case. They are to a large extent trapped in the past. Germans living today are bound by the guilt from the terrible crimes committed by the Nazi regime. It is without doubt that the way Germany approached the migrant crisis is a clear expression of this phenomenon. Their desire to virtue signal comes due to their wish for a clear concrete separation from the crimes of the past. By being extra welcoming to foreigners one hopes to heal the wounds and scar tissue of the country’s original sin.
In practice, this has manifested in a virulent and reflexive disdain for anything to the right of center. Is it any wonder why you get mass movements such as Pegida or an upsurge in Neo-Nazi activity following events like the migrant crisis? People have divergent views on such issues. When only one side of the argument is “acceptable” and only one side is represented in the political class, people move elsewhere to influence events and show their opinion. Germany isn’t taking responsibility for the past by allowing it to affect present politics. It simply means that you haven’t transcended anything at all. Even though they are undesirable, banning any Neo-Nazi sentiment or display of Nazi symbols is a continuation of the past. The Nazis themselves attacked other political viewpoints and banned their opponents. Only by allowing opinions they disagree with can Germany truly heal and move on from the national wound of the past.
Suppressing political opposition is fuelling what you claim to oppose. We can use Sweden as a case study for this. It is no wonder why “far-right” movements are more prevalent in Sweden than her neighboring Nordic countries. A small Overton window coupled with a hatred and opposition towards anything to the right of centrism naturally leads to more “extreme” expressions of political sentiment than you would otherwise have. It is painfully obvious that most people don’t desire extremism and only support and join such movements out of sheer frustration. In neighboring Norway opposition to refugees and immigration has been a much more acceptable topic of public discussion. A restrictive view on immigration related topics is represented in parliament, and even in the present government. Breivik notwithstanding, there are significantly less instances of far-right extremism here compared to censorious and restrictive Sweden.
If the political elites in Germany really want to prevent a resurgence of popular support for the right, they should do the opposite of what they have done until now. Allowing expressions of “the other side” of political debates, and having such views represented in parliament and the media is the best vaccination against extremism. The base of support necessary to fertilize truly extremist groups would be swallowed by the “legitimate” and respectable moderates. Being trapped by your country’s past isn’t noble or virtuous, rather it is holding back a necessary rise in diversity of political opinion. It could help the country, and frankly Europe as well, to avoid calamitous responses to events like the migrant crisis.
Instead of the breakdown of process, law and order and the institutions meant to handle refugees, you could instead have a sensible and sustainable approach that didn’t threaten the economic stability of a continent. Rather than being a scary ghost from the past, the prospect of having a right-wing party in parliament in Germany could be the beginning of a necessary and desirable normalization of the political landscape in that nation. Only then can they truly move on from the past and begin to function as a 21st century country.