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Why 13 percent of Germans would welcome a 'Führer'

A new survey signals that Germany, where the term 'Führer,' or leader, is explicitly linked to Adolf Hitler, is not immune from the far-right sentiments that are spreading across Europe.

By Staff Writer / October 15, 2010



Paris

A new survey in Germany shows that 13 percent of its citizens would welcome a “Führer” – a German word for leader that is explicitly associated with Adolf Hitler – to run the country “with a firm hand.”

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The findings signal that Europe’s largest nation, freed from cold-war strictures, is not immune from the extreme and often right-wing politics on the rise around the Continent.

The study, released Oct. 13 by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, affiliated with the center-left Social Democratic Party, revealed among other things that more than a third of Germans feel the country is “overrun by foreigners,” some 60 percent would “restrict the practice of Islam,” and 17 percent think Jews have “too much influence.”

The study's overall snapshot of German society shows new forms of extremism and hate are no longer the province of far-right cohorts who shave their heads or wear leather jackets adorned with silver skulls – but register in the tweedy political center, on the right and the left. Indeed, the study found, extremism in Germany isn’t a fringe phenomenon but is found in the political center, "in all social groups and in all age groups, regardless of employment status, educational level or gender."

Far-right parties gain power across Europe

The year 2010 is marking a clear shift toward extremist politics across Europe, analysts say. An uncertain economy, a gap between elites and ordinary Europeans, and fraying of a traditional sense of national identity has just in the past month brought more hard-line politics and speech, often aimed at Islam or immigrants – into a political mainstream where it had been absent or considered taboo.

On Oct. 10, the city of Vienna, a cosmopolitan and socialist stronghold since World War II, voted the far-right Freedom Party into a ruling coalition. The party, which ran on an “anti-minaret” platform in a city with only one mosque, was formerly associated with nationalist Jorg Haider, but has been reinvented by an animated former dental hygienist, Heinz-Christian Strache.

On Sept. 19, Sweden, long a Scandinavian redoubt of social tolerance and openness, put the far-right Sweden Democrats into parliament for the first time.

Further, this week the Netherlands saw the rise to influence, if not power, of the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders, a social liberal who argues for gay rights – but whose main platform is to ban the Quran and the practice of Islam in the Low Countries. Mr. Wilders' party will formally participate in the Dutch ruling coalition without specifically joining it.

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