The German Neo-Nazi fascination with North Korea

Lesser-known Strasserite Nazi faction key to understanding admiration for Pyongyang
December 3rd, 2013
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Though North Korea is often labeled “communist” or even “Stalinist” by Western pundits, some German Neo-Nazis view the country in a different light. For these individuals, North Korea is a model for the German Neo-Nazi movement.

After the collapse of the Communist Bloc, North Korea appealed to Neo-Nazis, especially those from the former East Germany. These Neo-Nazis, having grown up under a socialist government, were more sympathetic to Pyongyang’s form of government. It also helped that North Korea withstood the collapse of the Soviet Union and did not reform like China. North Korea appeared to have a purer and more successful form of socialism because it expounded racial purity and ultra-nationalism. Subsequently, the Neo-Nazis which established the closest ties with Pyongyang came from the eastern associations of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), one of the largest Neo-Nazi organizations in present-day Germany. Members of the Saxony NPD association even visited the North Korean embassy, located in Berlin, in 1998.

Tobias Dondelinger, the author of the German language blog Nordkorea-info, spoke to NK News on this topic. “Many of the Nazis, which belong to the pro-NK faction are born in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany), which was an ideological ally to North Korea,” he said. “Some of them were mid-level officials of the GDR-Regime and thereby made contacts to the North Korean embassy in Berlin. After the end of the GDR, some of these ex-functionaries changed to the right political wing and even tried to push the major Nazi-Party NPD into official contacts with North Korea.”

Following an ideology called “cross-front,” these Neo-Nazis went beyond left-right politics and rejected Marxism and capitalism in favor of ultra-nationalism. They looked to the philosophies of former Nazi leaders Otto Strasser and Gregor Strasser, rivals of Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s who favored a worker-based form of National Socialism. Subsequently, the Neo-Nazis admired the North Korean regime, which they believed exemplified the qualities of Strasserism: race-based nationalism and a centrally planned economy.

“They are trying to sell brown ideas masked as red ideology,” Dondelinger said of cross-front. “So, in my opinion, the adoration of North Korea by German Nazis can be explained through a mixture of ideological analogies and unique historical constellations.”

After the late 1990s, the noticeable Neo-Nazi adoration of North Korea subsided. However, a new organization appeared last year that openly promotes North Korean ideology. Under the leadership of Michael Koth, a former Stalinist who switched to Nazism in the 1990s, the Anti-Imperialist Platform (AIP) follows an anti-American, anti-Israel line that openly supports authoritarian regimes such as Belarus, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. The AIP is regularly recognized by KCNA and Koth was even invited to the North Korean embassy in 2012 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung. Koth was also the head of the German-Korean Friendship Association in the 1990s, which disseminated Kim Jong Il’s speeches and other North Korean propaganda materials within the Neo-Nazi movement.

The Nazi-North Korean relationship may not be one-sided. It has been reported (though strongly disputed) that the North Korean leadership uses Nazi ideology and looks at Nazi Germany and Hitler as models. Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-level official to ever defect from North Korea, said that Kim Jong Il “worshipped Germany’s Hitler from an early age and wanted to become such a dictator as Hitler.” John Everard, author of the book Only Beautiful, Please: A British Diplomat in North Korea, argued that the torchlight parades, commonly seen in North Korea and performed by children, have been copied directly from Nazi Germany. This past June, it was reported by New Focus International, an online news website run by North Korean defectors, that Kim Jong Un had given copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf to his top officials and urged them to use it as a guide. Whether or not these are true, North Korea’s ultra-nationalistic stance invites comparisons to past regimes with similar platforms, chiefly Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

B.R Myers, an expert on North Korean ideology and author of the book The Cleanest Race, has through his written works argued that North Korea actually advocates race-based nationalism rather than Marxism-Leninism.

“Today’s German fascists profess to see themselves more in the tradition of the Nazi Party’s Strasserite left than as Hitlerites,” he told NK News. “And North Korea is certainly closer than any country in history, including Nazi Germany, to the sort of state that the Nazi left envisioned: race-obsessed, highly militaristic, but with a command economy, socialization of assets, and so on. We can’t choose our admirers, but it is telling that Pyongyang does not recoil from these people.”

Picture Flickr Creative Commons by Mundo Desconcertante

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About the Authors

Benjamin R. Young

Benjamin R. Young is a Ph.D student in East Asian history at George Washington University. He focuses his research on modern Korea, Cold War international history and Marxism in the Third World. He has studied the Korean language intensively at universities in South Korea, the Yanbian region of China and in the United States.

Benjamin R. Young

Benjamin R. Young is a Ph.D student in East Asian history at George Washington University. He focuses his research on modern Korea, Cold War international history and Marxism in the Third World. He has studied the Korean language intensively at universities in South Korea, the Yanbian region of China and in the United States.