Stefan Jagsch, a member of the far-right-wing National Democratic Party, was elected mayor of the small German town of Waldsiedlung, near Frankfurt am Main, last Thursday, igniting outrage in Germany. According to a report by the BBC, Jagsch was elected unanimously by the town council comprised of seven members, after he ran unopposed in the town election; the seven council members in turn represented the ruling moderate conservative Christian Democrats, the centrist Social Democrats, and the liberal Free Democrats.
The actions of the councilors in question has elicited condemnation from the parties they represent. Lars Klingbeil, Secretary of the Social Democratic Party, was quoted by the BBC report as stating that his party “does not cooperate with Nazis,” and that the decisions taken by the SDP councillor in helping elect Jagsch were “incomprehensible.” Furthermore, a Newsweek report found that the Christian Democratic Union was similarly angered, with its Chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer calling for the results of the election to be cancelled. The CDU’s Secretary-General Paul Ziemiak stated in the BBC report that “the election of a member of a party which pursues anti-constitutional goals is a disgrace.” For his part, Jagsch, who is also the deputy head of the National Democratic Party in the state of Hesse, vowed to fight any effort by the state or party authorities to oust him, according to the Washington Post.
The election of such a far-right-wing figure does not bode well for the progressive nation of Germany, which has tried to distance itself from its genocidal past since the end of the Second World War. The cancellation of Waldsiedlung’s election called for by CDU Chair Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer deserves support, as it would represent the safeguarding of the German constitution and the values of humanity and tolerance.
This development is but one flashpoint in the continued growth of far-right-wing groups within Germany and the rest of Europe. The revolutions and civil wars in the Middle East have forced millions of refugees to enter Europe, igniting an explosion in the popularity of xenophobic nativist movements. Joerg Quitt, a representative of the far-right populist party Alternatif fur Deutschland (AfD), stated in an interview published in the Los Angeles Times that Germany was “being overrun by foreigners, and once they’re in Germany, they won’t ever leave.”
Deutche Welle reported that AfD gained a great deal of support following mass sexual assaults on women committed by groups of allegedly North African men in Cologne on New Year’s Eve of 2015. Last year, National Public Radio stated that the AfD won its first seats within the German Bundestag. This was the first such gain by a far right party in Germany since the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945. However, the National Democratic Party, which is older than AfD and even more extreme, was found by the German Constitutional Court to be an anti-constitutional organization in 2018, following two attempts by the political establishment to ban it, according to Deutsche Welle. However, the Constitutional Court found that the NPD, with only a 5,000-strong membership, was too small in number to pose a threat to the German Constitution and German society, and therefore voted against banning the organization. The election of Stefan Jagsch as town mayor of Waldsiedlung represents a return to prominence for the NPD, and a symbolic victory for far-right extremists.
Unless European citizens begin to take threats like this seriously, the influence of intolerance and bigotry within Germany and Europe in general will continue to grow. European governments, both national and local, must set up task forces to investigate far-right groups, and ensure that they do not pose a threat to the wellbeing of refugees. At the same time, governments must also take care not to constrain the rights of their citizens to freedom of speech or to form political organizations; going too far will simply galvanize extremists and validate their beliefs that the government is working against the native citizenry. Lastly, the government must work to peacefully integrate refugees and immigrants through comprehensive language and cultural programming, proving the populist fears of the far-right to be unfounded. In this way, the safe, tolerant society of post-war Germany, and of Western Europe, can be preserved.
UPDATE: Deutsche Welle reported that in response to widespread outrage from nearly all sectors of the German political establishment, the town council of Waldsiedlung agreed to annul the election of Stefan Jagsch as mayor on Monday.
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