In Sunday’s state elections more than 30 percent of the people who voted in the village of Koblentz in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania chose the NPD on their ballots. Nearby villages saw similar numbers of residents voting for the NPD – between 26 and 29 percent.
The strong support of small communities like these helped the NPD to an unexpected six percent of the overall vote, putting them over the five percent threshold necessary to gain representation in the state parliament.
Researchers into extremism point to a range of factors for the NPD’s resilience in these small villages. One factor is likely to be voter apathy among those not in favour of right-wing extremism – in Koblentz only 109 of the eligible 209 voters took part in the election. But the main reason, they say, is that major parties have all but abandoned these places.
“They have left us alone,” said Ingelore Grygula, the mayor of Koblentz, who said mainstream politicians drop by every few years and then take off.
These days, the mainstream parties’ election campaigns are concentrated in major cities, leaving people in smaller communities at the mercy of neo-Nazi propaganda.
But even in strongly NPD villages like Koblentz, the topic of right-wing extremism often remains a largely sensitive one, with people often unwilling to say how they voted.
“There are a lot of right-wing ideas among young and old and I too have understanding for them,” said Olaf Krüger, an unemployed cook in the village.
Even those who are employed can hardly survive on their meagre wages and must get help from the government, he said, helping the NPD capitalize on populist frustrations.
“No other party cares about the people here,” he said.
Political scientist Ingmar Dette suggests a simple solution: mainstream parties need to change how they reach rural people.
While the NPD has effectively campaigned on issues like crime, unemployment and poverty, parties like the Christian Democratic Union and Social Democratic Party haven’t been as provocative or aggressive enough, she said.
This enables neo-Nazis to “capitalize on people’s uneasiness,” she said.
Grygula, however, seems sceptical. The community has been left to its own devices for years, she said bitterly.
Berlin-based photographer Christian Jungeblodt spent several months between 2006 and 2009 visiting villages and towns around Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania – talking with local people about whether and why they were attracted to far-right politics and the NPD.
Among others, he spoke with Michael Andrejewski, now NPD member of the state parliament, who talked of coming to the east of Germany from the west as he said conditions were far more productive for attracting people to far right politics.
He said the combination of unemployment, a sense of abandonment among local people and the lack of a democratic tradition meant there was less social stigma in the east about becoming involved with the NPD than there was in the west.
Andrejewski has managed to unite many of the illegal comrade groups of neo-Nazis with the NPD, said Jungeblodt, while the party is active in areas which attract little funding or political attention from other parties.
The NPD hierarchy is using the east of Germany, in villages such as those where Jungeblodt was working during the project, as a field experiment. Jungeblodt’s project called Forgotten Land, was supported by the VG Bildkunst and can be seen in full on his site www.jungeblodt.com.