They weren’t the first controversial remarks coming from a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party. And an internal strategy paper, outlining the party’s campaign of “targeted provocation,” suggests they certainly won’t be the last.
In a speech to an AfD youth group in Dresden last week, regional party leader Björn Höcke urged Germany to end its “culture of remembering Nazi crimes,” claiming the country needs to make a 180-degree change in how it reflects the past.
“We Germans, our folk, are the only people in the world who planted a memorial of shame in the heart of the capital city,” he said, referring to Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. He described Germany’s frame of mind as a “brutally-beaten people.”
Despite the remarks, leaders of the fledging AfD party, formed four years ago, decided on Monday not to oust Mr. Höcke, who heads the party’s operations in the state of Thuringia, but to have him face disciplinary measures instead.
After describing Mr. Höcke as a “burden for the party” and hinting that he might be thrown out, AfD’s prominent head, Frauke Petry, agreed in a three-hour meeting with other party leaders to keep him on board.
Jörg Meuthen, a top AfD figure often at odds with Ms. Petry, told German media he could “live with this decision,” arguing that Mr. Höcke contributed to maintaining the party’s broad spectrum of views. He was joined in support of the decision by extreme-right regional heads Alexander Gauland und André Poggenburg. All three are vocal critics of Ms. Petry’s leadership.
Björn Höcke is known for his provocative remarks.
These will hardly be the last controversial remarks from Mr. Höcke – and other AfD leaders including Ms. Petry herself, for that matter.
The AfD is following a strategy of “targeted provocation” to garner attention ahead of three state elections in the coming months and the federal elections later this year, according to an internal paper seen by public broadcaster ZDF.
The strategy encourages party members to make comments that go beyond what is considered socially acceptable. Party leaders later condemn the remarks, which have already created a media stir, and then half-heartedly distance themselves from them.
Mr. Höcke is a prime example of that strategy in action.
Last year, Mr. Höcke also grabbed headlines when he said African reproductive rates would continue to drive Europe’s over-population if the continent continued to accept refugees from the region.
The AfD has also reached out to Europe’s other far-right populist parties to stir still more media buzz. Under the slogan “Freedom for Europe,” the party organized an unprecedented meeting Saturday in Koblenz together with France’s National Front, Italy’s Northern League and the Netherlands’ Freedom Party, or PVV.
Ms. Petry and National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who could make a splash in French presidential elections also set for this year, appeared for the first time in public together.
One day after Donald Trump received the keys to the White House, the far-right populist leaders, including PVV leader Geert Wilders and Norther League’s Matteo Salvini, called on voters across Europe to follow the U.S. example and support nationalistic policies.
“Yesterday a free America, tomorrow a new Europe,” Mr. Wilders told a cheering audience, adding: “Europe needs Faulke, not Angela.”
Among the protesters gathered outside the venue were German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Luxemburg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Populist parties are on the rise across Europe, fueled by unemployment, austerity measures, record-breaking numbers of refugees and terrorist attacks.
The AfD is currently polling at between 12 and 15 percent in national polls and is currently represented in 10 state governments. In addition to its hard anti-immigration position, the party is highly critical of the European Union.
In a recent joint interview with the German newspaper Bild and the Times of London, Mr. Trump said the E.U. had become a “vehicle for Germany” and predicted that more countries would leave the bloc after Britain.
John Blau is a senior editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the editor: email@example.com