MUNICH, WEST GERMANY
JUST a year ago, the far-right Republikaner Party seemed to be alarmingly on the rise. Its popularity worried West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who seemed unable to prevent the defection of voters from his own conservative party to the nationalist ``Reps.'' The Republikaners even gained 7.2 percent of the German vote in the European Parliament elections last June.
But then the wall came down - and with it, a major reason for the party's existence. In two key West German state elections on May 13, the Republikaners garnered less than 2 percent of the vote. In another state race in January, they did only slightly better with 3.3 percent.
``The Republikaners are out of German politics,'' says Kurt Sontheimer, a specialist in German domestic politics at the University of Munich.
The reasons for his party's recent losses are external, says Franz Sch"onhuber, a former member of the Waffen SS, a journalist, and the controversial chairman of the Republikaners.
``The main reason is the unbelievable persecution we've suffered at the hands of the media. I can only compare it to the Nazis' campaign against political dissidents in 1933.''
Political observers outside the party, however, see other causes for the losing streak.
``Basically, the Republikaners' key issues faded into the background once the wall came down,'' says Professor Sontheimer.
``Last year, they tried to stir up resentment against East German and East European immigrants. ... But the Republikaners are German nationalists. They couldn't very well polemicize against the East Germans moving to West Germany - the East Germans are Germans, too.''
The Republikaners were also unable to capitalize on the all-important reunification issue, even though they have been preaching the reunification of Germany for some time.
``We are the original reunification party and the others are just copies. But the media, of course, put the spotlight on the copies,'' says Mr. Sch"onhuber.