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What's Behind the Rightist Surge. WEST GERMANY. Far-right gains from anti-foreign sentiment, economic anxieties

`NAZIS out!'' is spray-painted on walls throughout this otherwise tidy West German village. An astonishing 17.5 percent of voters here backed the far-right National Democratic Party (NDP) in a recent local election, making this fading mining town of 8,000 the most extreme example of the right-wing upsurge now sweeping West Germany.

But a closer look at W"olfersheim shows that there's no simple explanation for the far right's new-found political muscle.

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Two factors are unique to this small town: There is an extremely popular local right-wing candidate and an extremely unpopular mayor. Beyond that, the right wing's appeal - here and elsewhere in West Germany - is based on a complex mix of anti-foreign sentiment, economic anxiety, and dissatisfaction with the mainstream political parties.

The trend first surfaced in West Berlin, where the tiny far-right Republican Party grabbed more than 7 percent of the vote in January elections. This was followed last month by right-wing gains in municipal polls here in the state of Hesse - including Frankfurt, where 6.6 percent voted for the National Democrats.

``People aren't voting right wing because they want that kind of government - that much is clear,'' says Knut-Werner Cherubim, editor of the daily Wetterauer Zeitung, which covers the region north of Frankfurt that encompasses W"olfersheim. Mr. Cherubim says that the rightists' surge is largely the result of protest votes aimed against the government in Bonn.

``The image of the federal government is so bad,'' he says, that only dedicated conservatives are sticking by the Christian Democrats - the party that heads West Germany's ruling coalition at the national level.

Indeed, a poll released last week shows nearly two-thirds of West Germans want Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who leads the Christian Democrats, to step down. And more than half of those polled don't expect the coalition to survive next year's national election.

Problems have mounted steadily for Mr. Kohl since the death last year of Bavaria's arch-conservative leader Franz-Josef Strauss, who helped bind many right-wing voters to the mainstream conservatives. At the same time, voters are grumbling about a growing array of issues - from unpopular health and pension reforms to the government's clumsy handling of the Libyan poison-gas factory controversy earlier this year.

The most explosive issue, however, is the influx of foreigners into West Germany.

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Even many who won't vote right wing are rankled by Bonn's immigration policies, particularly a provision which allows people from East-bloc countries with German ancestors to claim automatic citizenship and social benefits in West Germany. Last year, more than 200,000 of these ``East-bloc Germans'' flooded into the country - and that number is expected to leap to 350,000 this year.

These newcomers, together with a steady flow of asylum-seekers from developing countries and workers from southern Europe, are seen by many West Germans as soaking up too many jobs, apartments, and benefits.

``People look for simple answers to their problems - and they get them from the right wing, which blames the foreigners,'' says the Rev. Cornelius Mann, one of W"olfersheim's Protestant pastors.

Outside a factory gate on the edge of town is a poster for the National Democrats, which proclaims ``First Germany, then Europe'' and ``Jobs for us Germans!'' These slogans sell well in the working-class neighborhoods that branch off W"olfersheim's weaving main street - even though there are few foreigners here.

``The position of the [Christian Democrats] in this election also made it easier for Germans to vote for ideas that might have otherwise been considered taboo,'' Mr. Mann says.

The Christian Democrats, in a last-minute push to retain right-wing voters, are emphasizing tougher immigration laws.

W"olfersheim's local leader of the National Democrats, Volker Sachs, chuckles that voters had a choice of supporting his party or the Christian Democratic ``imitation.'' Mr. Sachs, an electrician known for his gracious manners, insists the National Democrats have nothing to do with Germany's Nazi past.

``There are no serious people in Germany who want the Nazis again, including us,'' he says.

But he also doesn't pull any punches when talking about the far right's favorite issue, immigration. The ``Turkish flood'' coming into West Germany is threatening to snuff out this nation's identity, he insists. And Germans, he says, must regain a ``healthy degree of national pride.''

``We're not against a small percentage of foreigners in Germany, but we're against this mass immigration,'' says Sachs, who contends that the influx of foreigners is somehow connected with a plot by Germany's enemies to slowly destroy the country. ``It can't be an accident,'' he says.

Meanwhile, for W"olfersheim, the main issue is an uncertain economic future.

The largest employer in town - a coal mine and power plant - will close down in 1992, when supplies of coal run out. Some politicians want to build an incinerator to burn household waste on the site of the power plant, creating jobs to replace those lost. But others, including the environmentalist Greens, want to establish a huge dump just outside the town.

W"olfersheim is usually a secure stronghold for the Social Democrats. But the waste issue - together with the growing unpopularity of the Social Democratic mayor - has ruffled voters.

Indeed, 25 percent of the town voted for a group called the Free Voters, an anti-party coalition formed during the last weeks before the election with the aim of opposing the dump and ousting the current town government.

Meanwhile, experts say the issue now is how the mainstream parties will react to such upheavals. They have little time. Right-wing parties are pouring money into June's elections for the European Parliament.

``The results in June will show that this is more than a protest vote,'' says W"olfersheim's NDP leader Sachs.

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