Far-right party little more than one wealthy fanatic's toy

 

As leader of the far-right German People's Union (DVU) in Saxony-Anhalt, Mr Helmut Wolf, might have been ecstatic when his party emerged from nowhere to win 12 per cent of the votes in the weekend state election. However, when reporters asked him what the party intended to do with all the votes, Mr Wolf looked blank and spoke with all the vitality of a speak-your-weight machine.

"Our actions in the state parliament will concentrate exactly on our pre-election statements. That means: fighting unemployment, we want to tackle crime and we want to stop the euro," he said. Next to him stood the founder, leader and sole financier of the DVU, Dr Gerhard Frey, nodding approvingly.

It is doubtful that a dozen DVU representatives in Saxony-Anhalt's state parliament will succeed in stopping the euro. But the party's spectacular result on Sunday, which made it the first far-right group to win seats in an eastern state parliament, has certainly shaken the German political system.

As they sought to blame one another for the DVU's success, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats realised that, from now on, they will have to reckon with the extreme right as a serious political force in the east. Until now, eastern protest voters chose the ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) - which held its 19 per cent share of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt.

But one in four voters under 25 turned to the DVU on Sunday and most older voters who chose the far-right party said they had never voted before.

Unlike the PDS, which has a mass membership and an extensive network of representatives throughout the east, the DVU has no presence on the ground whatsoever. Yet, Sunday's success was the result of a massive leaflet and poster campaign costing DM3 million - more than the campaign budgets of the CDU and the SPD put together.

Dr Frey declined to say whether the party would contest September's federal elections, insisting that its leadership executive had yet to make a decision. In reality, Dr Frey makes all decisions regarding the DVU, which is less a political party than the dangerous plaything of a millionaire.

The 65-year-old, Munich-based publisher has a personal fortune estimated at over DM500 million, which allows him to indulge his xenophobic and anti-semitic political enthusiasms.

Dr Frey's fortune is based on a publishing house specialising in neo-Nazi literature, videos, CDs and a travel service. His two newspapers sell more than 130,000 copies each week with stories about "the lie of war guilt", "criminal foreigners" and "blackmailing Jews".

Although the DVU has an estimated 15,000 members, it has no party structure anywhere in Germany. Dr Frey's mailshot campaigns have won the party seats in state parliaments in Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein but success was short-lived in both places.

Meanwhile, in the dreary suburbs of the eastern city of Dresden, Mr Oliver Haendl, the 22year-old leader of the Junge Nationaldemokraten (JN) - or Young National Democrats - believes he is on track to transform German society. As the youth wing of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), the JN is attracting growing numbers of disenchanted young Germans, especially in the east of the country where unemployment is highest.

He admits that the NPD cannot expect to poll more than 0.2 per cent in September's federal election. But he is convinced that, by laying down roots among today's German youth, the far right is preparing the way for a new age of nationalism in the future.

JN members, whose age range is from 14 to 32, attend classes in history, politics, economics and public speaking, as well as taking part in physical activities.