“Free Saxons” – A new far right (protest) party on the rise?
Autor: Maximilian Kreter
„Außer der Reihe“ bildet neben den Projektbeiträgen eine weitere feste Reihe des „Denken ohne Geländer“-Blogs. Diese bietet Forscher/-innen am HAIT sowie Gastautor/-innen Raum für Beiträge zu aktuellen Themen, die eng mit den Forschungsschwerpunkten am Institut verbunden sind. Die Bandbreite möglicher Perspektiven und Schwerpunkte ist groß. Sie reicht von der Einordnung aktueller politischer und gesellschaftlicher Ereignisse in bestimmte historische, geographische oder kulturelle Kontexte über unkonventionelle, episodische Einblicke in den Forschungsalltag bis hin zur kritischen Auseinandersetzung mit theoretischen oder methodischen Entwicklungen in den Geistes-, Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften. Im folgenden Beitrag setzt sich Maximilian Kreter mit der 2021 gegründeten rechtsextremen Kleinstpartei der “Freien Sachsen” auseinander.
The measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany provoked protests shortly after the first lockdown in March 2020. At the beginning, the protest landscape was still extremely heterogeneous, but in the summer of 2020 it became apparent that the “Querdenken” (lateral thinking) movement was able to bundle, organise and mobilise the different currents that were united by resistance against the containment measures and a diffuse aversion of state authority. The “Querdenken”-movement originated in Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, but in its further course resonated the most in Berlin, culminating in the so-called “Storming of the Reichstag” on 29 August 2020. Key events in the East German state and (PE)GIDA stronghold Saxony, were the tumultuous demonstration on 7 November 2020 in Leipzig and the banned demonstration on 12 December 2020 in Dresden, which involved protesters from across the nation. Later, the protests in Saxony shifted to smaller towns and even villages. Largely responsible for this shift was the newly founded far right party of the “Freie Sachsen” (“Free Saxons”). But what were the framework and contextual conditions of its founding? Who are the individuals and dynamics that made the emergence of this party possible and allowed their activity to unfold effectively?
Saxony and right-wing extremism – a long history since German reunification
Several structural and contextual factors played a role. In terms of content, the far right actors were able to tap into public discourses with the conspiracy narratives inherent in their ideology, such as the Zionistic Occupied Government, the Great Exchange or Great Reset. These include clearly defined enemy stereotypes, such as political elites or the state perceived as repressive, with the help of the door-opener of the pandemic crisis situation, much like during the “refugee crisis” around 2015. With these topics, right-wing extremists were able to mobilise support for events beyond their own ranks and thus also reach out publicly to and get a hold of the centre of society, by concealing their political origins and ideology. Structurally, it has been shown that right-wing extremist mobilisation with corresponding campaign themes falls on fertile ground in Saxony. A brief look at the history of the extreme right in Saxony (not only) since 1989, but up to the present day, makes that clear.
In addition deep and broad roots of right-wing extremist actors lie in Saxony, be it individuals who form extremist networks, parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) or the The Third Path (III. Path), comradeships such as the “Skinheads Sächsische Schweiz” (SSS), hooligan groups like “HooNaRa” or “Scenario Lok” and terrorist associations such as the “Gruppe Freital”, or the “National Socialist Underground” (NSU). Nowhere else in Germany is the network of the right-wing extremist movement as closely connected encompassing such a range of different actors as in Saxony.
“Free Saxons”: from far right movement to party formation – fuelled by the pandemic
This favourable mixture of structural conditions, an ideology and the associated narratives, as well as a prolonged pandemic crisis situation in Saxony, which enables a connection to the centre of society in terms of content and structure, was recognised early on by the extreme right-wing actors, as the first protest marches in April 2020 prove. With the founding of the party “Free Saxons” on 26 February 2021, the Chemnitz scene lawyer and elected representative of “ProChemnitz” Martin Kohlmann, the NPD functionary Stefan Hartung, Thomas Kaden, a close-to-the-“Querdenken”-movement bus entrepreneur and Robert Andres, another elected representative of “ProChemnitz” founded a new far right party, whose activities are statutorily and factually limited to the “Free State of Saxony in the sense of the Federal State of the Federal Republic of Germany”. The party currently serves as an organisational umbrella for the mobilisation of protests againstmeasures to contain the corona pandemic. It unites mainly “Querdenker” (lateral thinkers), “Reichsbürger” (Citizens of the Reich) and (militant) right-wing extremists but also other groups and individuals at the intersections of these groups who can agree upon core programmatic goals. This kind of cooperation is an essential strategic element, Multiple party and association memberships are not only permitted by the party statutes, but are even desired by the party leadership, so that the threshold to become a(n active) member is very low, as no one has to break with their previous affiliations.
Programmatically, the Free Saxons advocate a policy where national identity takes precedence over national unity. The manifesto states that Saxons are Germans, but that this does not necessarily mean that the Free State belongs to the Federal Republic of Germany. Rather, they call for extensive autonomy or at least autonomy rights, following the examples of South Tyrol or Catalonia. They also call for strengthening ties to the Viségrad group states – while at the same time ignoring the state-recognised West Slavic minority of the Sorbs in Saxony, or more precisely in Upper Lusatia. They demand “far-reaching autonomy with the power to decide elementary matters that affect us Saxons in Saxony”. If such self-administration cannot be realised, the “Free Saxons” should strive for a separation from the Federal Republic (“Säxit” – Saxon Exit). For the Free Saxons, the argumentative basis of their autonomy aspirations is above all a fundamental critique of Germany’s federal system. The federal system has “long since existed only on paper”, and the federal government is striving for a “centralisation and synchronisation” of the sixteen Länder. As a complementary and typically far right and populist element the “Free Saxons” repeatedly and purposely evoke alleged East German resentment in the context of reunification. For example, when they refer to the Free State’s excess of administrative officials, politicians and journalists from the old Länder who have been “deliberately installed in key positions” and at the same time call for them to be “returned to their home countries in an orderly manner”. In line with their strategy and (desired) membership, further goals oscillate between extreme libertarianism, far right populism, (neo-)liberalism, completing the party programme. This stresses the attempt to address and integrate voters beyond the extremist milieu.
From Telegram to the streets
The “Free Saxons” can resort to a stable and extensive state-wide network within the far right that extends beyond the state – on- and offline. On Telegram, more than 100,000 users have already joined the channel of the “Free Saxons” – the main platform for their propaganda campaigns and rally mobilization. The latter are declared as Citizens’ walks to circumvent the compulsory registration of rallies as well as the “Saxon Corona Emergency Ordinance” which at the time of writing allow a maximum of ten people to particpate in a rally. During recent weeks, such gatherings/rallies took place on Mondays all over Germany and in over 50 places across Saxony. In the aftermath of these rallies, the “Free Saxons” spread media-effective images and videos, promoting and idealizing their “resistance” by taking to the streets. The activities on Telegram as well as the street protests and the deep entrenchment of party leadership in the Saxon and Germany far right reuslted in the observation by the Saxon Office for the Protection of the Constitution – a point that took another far right party, the AfD, almost eight years to get to, most likely because the AfD had complied with the formal requirements of the German Basic Law and corresponding party law (PartG).
A new protest party on the rise or soon to be banned?
The “Free Saxons” were formally founded as a party that “participates in the democratic decision-making process of the German people in accordance with Article 21, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law. It participates in public elections and in party competition.” They already tried to fulfil this legal requirement by participating in the mayoral election in the West-Saxon city of Plauen, where the candidate, Thomas Kaden, received around 7,5% of the votes in the first ballot, and 5,2% in the second. But all their other activities do not resemble the typical forms of political participation that a party normally pursues. As Christoph Busch, an expert in this field, who works for the Ministry of the Interior of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, points out, the “Parteienprivileg” (party privilege) “seems to be the main reason for neo-Nazi actors to organize themselves along party lines. Actually, the neo-Nazi current in right-wing extremism sees itself as a movement and rejects the organizational form of a party. To be a party would mean representing one’s political views within the framework of parliamentary democracy, which is fundamentally rejected.” The core activities of the “Free Saxons” are more typical of social movement and/or associations. And there are two striking examples in the German far right that might have served as role models for the “Free Saxons”. The “Free German Workers’ Party” (FAP) and the “The Right”, which rose from the ashes of banned neo-Nazi associations. The FAP was banned as an association because the Federal Constitutional Court did not recognize the FAP as a party according to Art. 21 GG und § 2 Abs. 1 PartG. In relation to the “Free Saxons” it does not seem very unlikely that they will suffer the same fate, as they present themselves and act more like an association than a party. First calls for such a ban have already been made. There is a good chance that a ban similar to that of the FAP can be obtained. In this case, it must be assumed that the “Free Saxons” will not be able to establish themselves permanently as a political actor, although the networked individuals will most likely remain active.
Zitiervorschlag: Maximilian Kreter, “Free Saxons” – A new far right (protest) party on the rise? In: Denken ohne Geländer. Der Blog des Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung e.V. vom 02.03.2022: https://haitblog.hypotheses.org/2586
Bild 1: Eigenes Werk. Maximilian Kreter.