Hitler or Höcke? Regional AfD boss cuts short German TV interview

The far-right AfD politician Björn Höcke broke off an interview with the German broadcaster ZDF after his words were compared to those of Hitler.

Hitler or Höcke? Regional AfD boss cuts short German TV interview
AfD Thuringia boss Björn Höcke during the election campaign in Brandenburg on August 30th. Photo: DPA

Höcke, boss of the AfD in the eastern state of Thuringia, and his press spokesman had asked to restart the awkward interview because Höcke had allegedly been surprised by the questions on his use of language.

The ZDF journalist refused to do this. Höcke and his spokesman then broke off the interview after a short discussion.

At the beginning of the conversation, which was broadcast on Sunday evening during the programme “Berlin direkt”, the interviewer had shown the AfD politician short videos in which his party colleagues were confronted with excerpts from Höcke's book.

READ ALSO: How did Germany's 'most dangerous book' come into existence?

They were then asked to say whether the quotes came from Höcke – or from “Mein Kampf”, Adolf Hitler's 1925 autobiographical manifesto.

None of the politicians wanted to answer the question. AfD Member of Parliament Martin Reichardt said: “Well, I won't be able to answer the question because I didn't read “Mein Kampf”. And I don't know if that is from Mr. Höcke either.”

Another AfD MP, Jens Maier, said: “If (I had to guess) then more from “Mein Kampf”, I would say, but not from Mr Höcke”.

After watching the videos, Höcke said: “That says above all that most people have not read my book at all.” 

When confronted with overlaps in his language and the terminology of Nazism, the AfD's top candidate for the upcoming state elections in Thuringia said it was “absurd” to continually reference the Nazi regime.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the AfD surge in German regional elections

According to Höcke, there is no universal definition of what Nazi language is. The ZDF journalist continued to ask Höcke whether the terms he used – such as “degenerate”–  were also well-known Nazi vocabulary.

Höcke defended himself, saying these terms “can’t be boiled down to any period in time,”  adding that the terms he used were mentioned before and after Nazism.

High emotional effect

The interview then got even more awkward, with Höcke appearing rattled.

The spokesman then intervened. He said:  “This is not possible.” He went on to say the questions had had a high emotional effect on Höcke and asked that the interview be restarted from the beginning.

“We certainly won't do that again, but you know that too,” replied the ZDF journalist, who added that it raises issues of freedom of the press when politicians are allowed to be satisfied with their answers.

Höcke and his spokesman claimed not to have been prepared in advance for the questions. However, the ZDF journalist stressed that he had mentioned the questions about Höcke's language before the interview.

When the journalist refused to restart the conversation, Höcke said that politicians and journalists could no longer talk to each other in a spirit of trust.

It was clear that “there would be no more interviews with me for you,” said Höcke. He then hinted that the journalist might regret this in the future. “We don't know what's coming,” he said, adding that maybe he would become an “interesting individual, political person in this country.”

'Dark chapter'

The interview was conducted last Wednesday in Erfurt. ZDF has published the interview and the dispute over the new beginning of the interview both as a full-length video and in written form.

The Federal Chairman of the German Journalists' Association, Frank Überall, said it was absolutely right that the ZDF journalist did not engage in “softening” the interview for Höcke.

“Björn Höcke opened another dark chapter of the AfD's disturbing dealings with freedom of the press in general, and critical journalists in particular,” said Überall.

'Monument of shame'

Höcke belongs to the extremist wing of the party and has stirred controvesy since he entered German politics.

There was national outrage when he described Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame in the heart of the capital” in 2017.

“We need nothing less than a 180-degree shift in the politics of remembrance,” he added during the speech in Dresden.

State elections will be held in Thuringia, in the former communist East Germany, on October 27th. In the recent Brandenburg and Saxony elections, the AfD made huge gains.

READ ALSO: Far-right AfD second strongest force in Brandenburg and Saxony

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Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne