“Die Republikaner”, 1983-1994 – a Party between Conservatism, the New Right, and Right-Wing Extremism


Only two years after the founding of the Green Party, a new party entered the West German political arena known as Die Republikaner or “Republicans”, who some observers expected to challenge the country’s system of political parties. Founded in a split from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the party took a clear turn to the “right” in 1985, displaying right-wing extremist tendencies by 1989 at the latest. Under the leadership of its chairman Franz Schönhuber (1923-2005), the party succeeded in winning seats in several state parliaments between 1985 and 1994, which led to a debate within the Union parties in particular on how to deal with their new rival and whether there could ever be a “democratically legitimized party” to their right.

Although the “Republicans” were at the center of heated discussion in the media, the political arena, and among political scientists around 1989/90, they have yet to be a significant topic of research among historians. This dissertation will thus focus on the history of the party from its founding through the end of the “Schönhuber era” in 1994, highlighting continuities and ruptures. The aim is, however, not that of a classical organizational history: Instead, the political and intellectual milieu of the “Republicans” is to be researched between Conservatism, the New Right, and right-wing extremism, along with the reactions to their electoral successes, their communications and media strategies, and the regional mobilization tactics of the party. The project will, moreover, seek to contribute towards a better understanding of current phenomena viewed under the rubric of “populism” and shed light on the democratic self-image of the Federal Republic from the perspective of the history of democracy.

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