After the death of Rudolf Hess—Adolf Hitler’s deputy during the Third Reich—in 1987, skinheads began descending annually on his hometown of Wunsiedel, to march in his honour. But the residents of Wunsiedel fought to keep neo-Nazis from their streets, sparking a decades-long legal battle. German courts banned the march in 1991, but overturned the decision in 2001. In 2005, the march was again outlawed, but a prominent far-right lawyer, Jürgen Rieger, challenged the constitutionality of the ruling. Before he died in October, Rieger argued, “Stalin killed over 30 million people, but he can be glorified.”
Now, it seems the dispute has been settled once and for all: the country’s Constitutional Court has determined that when it comes to glorifying Hitler’s regime, the right to assembly does not apply. According to the court, “Given the injustice and terror the Nazi dictatorship caused, this exception is inherent to the rules limiting propaganda approving the historic Nazi dictatorship.”
Reaction to the ruling has been mixed. Those who seek to ban Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party, which many say is sympathetic to the Nazi cause, see it as delivering them closer to their goal, while others deride the ruling as unnecessary, akin to civil rights curtailments imposed on suspected terrorists. According to Russell Miller, co-editor-in-chief of the German Law Journal, the decision is consistent with “Germany’s postwar consti–tutional tradition of militant democracy,” which protects “against those who would use their liberties to undermine the democratic order.”
It remains to be seen what effect the decision will have on other neo-Nazi events. Earlier this year, some 6,000 neo-Nazis descended on Dresden for an annual march, making it one of the largest far-right assemblies Germany had seen in decades.