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March 13, 2005
Testing Free Speech, PC, And History In Germany

The Times of London publishes a report today on nascent Naziism in Germany that will surely provoke knee-jerk responses across the political spectrum. Roger Boyes interviewed Udo Voigt, the leader of the extremist NPD party in Germany who believes Hitler was great and wants to rise to power in order to cleanse his country of non-German elements -- all of which should make any student of history very nervous:

ADOLF HITLER was a great German statesman, the bte noire of the German Establishment said as he sat in a room darkened by bombproof shutters.

If you can call Churchill a great Briton, if you can make a hero out of Alexander the Great, then you have to give that status to Hitler, too, Udo Voigt, the leader of the far-right National Party of Germany (NPD), said. My lawyer has told me to say no more than that.

This rising right-wing extremist is under investigation for allegedly glorifying the Nazis. All part of a strategy to criminalise me and marginalise the party, he said. ... So he is careful. There are no busts of the Fhrer in Herr Voigts bunker-like office, just maps of Germany as it was, various German and neo-Nazi flags and a poster that declares: May 1945, Nothing to Celebrate.

This years 60th anniversary commemorations have rallied Germanys usually warring right-wing organisations. They are using them to stir regret for German wartime suffering, convert it into political anger and win voters across the generations.

No doubt Voigt speaks to a despicable impulse in the extremes, thus far, of German character. Organizing skinheads with "near-military discipline" from local pubs has another historical link between this former Army captain and a past Army corporal that also appears worrisome. Their success in Dresden in capturing 9 seats in their regional Parliament gives them a toehold into the government, although still making them very much a fringe player.

However, the Germans themselves caused this underground movement of neo-Naziism by forcing it underground in the first place, through bans on free speech and thought. Instead of focusing on the formation of skinheads into paramilitary units (the Times doesn't discussed whether they're armed), Berlin wants to try Voigt for praising Hitler. That kind of dictate from the government on what one can say or think naturally leads to resentment, but also creates an appeal for whatever is banned. That kind of fear gives power to the forbidden, and in a country where the economy has tanked and unemployment has continued to grow, a lot of people have reason to resent the German government and search for ways to bring it down.

As repugnant and horrible as Naziism is, I have never understood the German position of banning speech and thought which approaches it. The cure for Naziism isn't a closed debate; rather, free speech with honest presentations of history provide the only defense. In Germany's case, I suspect that this doesn't appeal much either, because Germans have tired of their constant association with genocide and maniacal war. That impule may be understandable, but it fails to address the new threat of the return of fascist politics.

If Herr Voigt wants to make an ass of himself by Sieg Heiling up and down the square, in a free and open society, he should be allowed to do so. Ordinary Germans then need to take every opportunity to enter the debate and talk honestly about the willing abdication of the German population to the Nazis of the 1930s (and their not-so-tacit support for their racial policies) and the resultant nightmare they caused humanity, and vow to never let it happen again. Speech and thought bans merely trade one kind of fascism for another, benevolent though it may be, and legitimizes Voigt and his gang far more than they deserve.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 13, 2005 8:23 AM

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