*Green work pants, plaid flannel shirt: Hans-Guenter Laimer is what people in Lower Bavaria is called a gstandns Mannsbuid*, “a real guy”. He gets down off his tractor and greets me with a friendly “Hello”, before unlocking the smart and tidy farm shop, which is run by his wife. Everything on offer here comes from the local area. On Open Days at Laimer’s farm, a flute group plays, a storyteller tells stories and there’s a children's flea market.
The place seems like a small organic idyll of the kind that might inspire many environmentalists, only Laimer has nothing to do with the Greens. Instead he is on the board of the Midgard Association, which publishes Umwelt & Aktiv — a magazine with articles on preserving cherries and forest nurseries that would be all about organic farming, were it not for occasional stories about the Germanic “Julfest” and articles praising the agricultural policy of the NPD [ the extreme right National Democratic Party of Germany]. In fact, the NPD sells the publication as a promotional tool over the Internet, and at one point Laimer ran for the party in a district election.
Visit the Umwelt & Aktiv website and you will read: “Our goal is to raise awareness of animal welfare, environmental protection and homeland security…” Not surprisingly, the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the German Constitution believes it “is clearly an NPD propaganda sheet in disguise.” Laimer, however, denies any involvement in the magazine, and is quick to take issue with an organic industry that is completely dominated by the left. “What makes my cucumbers different from ones that are grown by the Greens?”**
Nature protection and homeland security
*Nature protection has never been the sole preserve of the Greens. The movement emerged in the 19th Century in protest against industrialisation. Under National Socialism it was one of the key issues, and in 1933 and 1935 the Reich animal welfare and Reich nature protection laws were passed. For the National Socialists, conservation, protection of heritage and blood-and-soil ideology belonged together. “In almost all areas of National Socialist ideology there has always been a point of contact with nature conservation,” explains historian Nils Franke, who is also the author of a brochure, Natural protection against right-wing extremism*, which aims to help nature and environmental groups defend themselves against subversion from the right.
In view of the attention paid to environmental issues in German society, Franke believes that the NPD has now adopted a strategy of presenting right-wing ideas in innocent green packaging, that will enable it to move into the mainstream. One area where this approach has proved to be effective is in “Mecklenburg’s Switzerland”, between Rostock and Schwerin, where a “drop-out” movement, started by families that wanted to live a “natural”, “folk-centred” life, has emerged since 1989.
“Environmental issues are becoming ever more important for the right-wing extremists,” says one employee of the Regional Centre for Democratic Culture in Roggentin, Mecklenburg. “They want people not to think ‘politics’ when they hear the word ‘NPD’. They want to build bridges into the lives of citizens that are as inconspicuous as possible.” A neighbour who lives nearby one of the “drop-out” communities told us of men in bomber jackets and combat boots that come regularly from around the country to light torches and sing nationalist songs. He also remarked that he regularly has coffee with a man from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution who drops in every now and then to ask if there is anything new.**
"Brown shirts” in the organic co-op
*For University of Rostock political scientist Gudrun Heinrich, who published a book entitled Brown Ecologists* in collaboration with the Heinrich Boell Foundation earlier this year: “The NPD here is closely interwoven with local co-ops that have enabled it to become deeply rooted in rural areas.”
No doubt this is one of the reasons why organic building materials dealer Huwald Fröhlich and the organic farmer Helmut Ernst have chosen to settle in Mecklenburg’s Switzerland. In the NPD-related anthology Opposition for Germany, Froehlich argues that humanism and internationalism are “against nature in their essence”, and demands a return to Nordic virtues and regional self-sufficiency. Ernst and Fröhlich are members of the organic farming association “Biopark”, one of the largest organic farmers’ groups in Germany, which has its own stores and also supplies Germany’s largest supermarket chain Edeka.
Biopark managing director Delia Micklich told us she only became aware that Ernst, Fröhlich and possibly other ‘brown’ organic farmers were involved in the association in early 2011. She adds: “I am absolutely opposed to the ideology of these people, and I fully understand that certain consumers may want to avoid buying Biopark for this reason.” However, the NPD has a seat in the regional parliament, and Micklich has no legal recourse against far-right farmers if their farms are well managed. “Our association does not certify the political views of our members. We only certify organic farming methods,” she explains. “Only if the party is banned will we have a handle against such people.”**