A protester holds a flag reading ‘Against Nazis’ as counterprotesters rally against the far right. [File: Felipe Trueba/EPA]
Ostritz, Germany – Nearly 1,000 Neo-nazis and other far-right sympathisers are expected to fill the sleepy German town of Ostritz this weekend, as a similar number of anti-fascists are set to counter the far-right gatherings with a rally and festival of their own.
Located just across the bridge from Poland, the town will host the “Shield and Sword” festival on Friday and Saturday. The neo-Nazi gathering organised by the ultranationalist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
Antifascists from Germany and Poland are expected to join a rally and music concert under the slogan “Right does not rock” (Rechts rockt night), just metres away from the festival’s venue. At the same time, the town’s main square will host the Ostritz Peace Festival in protest against the far right.
Friday marks the 129th anniversary of German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s birthday, celebrated by the far right.
According to local media, Ostritz, a town with less than 2,500 inhabitants, will be protected by 1,000 police officers from all over Saxony and other regions. Many of the local streets will be closed off and the police will control the roads leading into town.
The “Shield and Sword” – or SS – festival, will take place in the Neisseblick Hotel, a property of Hans-Peter Fischer, a German entrepreneur closely connected with the far right. Political speeches, right-wing music concerts, MMA shows and a tattoo convention are among the event’s attractions, which will be accompanied by stalls with products made by right-wing labels.
Thorsten Heise, the festival’s organiser and the regional head of the NPD party in Thuringia, and Udo Voight, current member of the European Parliament from the NPD, both known for their ultranationalist views, are scheduled to attend.
Although public propagating of fascism in Germany is illegal, the event organisers have taken advantage of the freedom of assembly rule guaranteed by the German constitution, which grants everyone the right to express their views.
Such an assembly, however, has to be non-violent and open to public, even if hosted on a private property.
According to Lars Geiges, a political scientist from the Research and Documentation Center for Political and Religious Extremism at the University of Gottingen, the organisers were required to submit their speeches to the authorities in advance.
“If the conditions are violated or if the police identify other unconstitutional behaviour -such as denying the Holocaust or showing the ‘Hitler greeting’ – the meeting can be ended,” Geiges told Al Jazeera.
‘Not welcome here’
The event sparked a strong opposition of anti-fascist forces. Forty German mayors signed a declaration on April 6, protesting the gathering.
“Those who question human rights and those opposed to democracy and pluralism are not welcome here,” the statement read.
In response to criticism, the festival organisers published a letter on the event’s website addressing Ostritz residents. The letter blamed the authorities for wrongly spending the taxpayers’ money on the Peace Festival instead of, for example, “renovating the war memorial”.
They also assured that the city will remain safe during the festival.
“Ostritz will be the safest place in Saxony this weekend, free from theft or burglaries,” the statement read. Further, the organisers invited all local residents to attend the event free of charge.
According to Sascha Elser from the “Right does not rock” initiative, an organiser of the anti-fascist rally, the choice of Ostritz as the festival’s location was not accidental.
“Ostritz is located at the border with Lower Silesia, a region which was justly and rightfully bestowed to the Polish people after 1945. To the present day, the ‘Shield & Sword’ organisers describe the region as being under ‘interim Polish administration,'” Elser told Al Jazeera. “Clearly, they want it back.”
Despite the irredentist views of the NPD, as well as the presence of openly anti-Polish bands in the concert’s lineup, Polish far-right groups have joined the organisation of the festival. A similar event which was planned in Wroclaw, Poland, has been cancelled to allow Polish allies to join the German gathering.
But the event reveals more about the nature of contemporary German far right, analysts say.
With the rise to prominence of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which received 12.6 percent of the vote in the recent federal elections, the NPD has increasingly fallen into irrelevance.
As a result, “the extreme right in Germany is no longer based on parties, but much more on movements and subcultures,” Geiges explained.
Such events as the “Shield and Sword” festival allow the far right to recruit new members, network and survive.
“Music offers an entertaining programme, in a way as a framework in which ideologies can be transferred. In addition to that, and not to be neglected, the events bring in some good money,” he added.