Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or in the case of Germany’s political satirists, a way to prank your rivals.
In the final weeks before the Sept. 24 election, satire such as the Transvestites for Germany campaign and absurdist party Die PARTEI has caught voters’ attention in what’s been an otherwise quiet campaign. Most of the effort is spent on spoofing the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has lost momentum in the polls this year but is still on track to enter the Bundestag for the first time. The anti-immigration AfD has drawn international headlines for its campaign posters with slogans including “New Germans? We make our own” and “Burqas? We’re into bikinis.”
So in a response to those posters, Transvestites for Germany, or TfD, said they wanted to stand up to xenophobia and racism — in stilettos. They created a series of campaign posters featuring drag queens that spoofed the AfD’s anti-Islam stance with lots of sparkle. At the bottom-right corner of every TfD campaign posters, the group’s logo of a red high heel against a backdrop of light blue directly invokes AfD’s red arrow.
While the recent spoofs and parodies have gone viral, they are more than just fun and games for TfD. The group believes it can provide important political lessons. “We want to show what impact political decisions can have, for example, we are not just about the elections,” TfD’s website says about its mission. “We are much more about day-to-day positioning against xenophobia, homo- and transphobia, misogyny and all of its subspecies.”
Alexander Winter, one of the founders of the TfD, said a second series of eight posters has launched featuring more drag queens and also incorporating drag kings and transgender men. TfD created its first campaign posters during last year’s state election in Berlin as a response to the AfD’s growing popularity. Since then, Mr. Winter said the “party” has grown modestly from three to five members.
“We didn’t think the whole project would take off, over the borders of Berlin,” he told Handelsblatt Global. And he said TfD plans to stay active in politics beyond this election. “There’s a need for this involvement and also that we really believe in the cause,” Mr. Winter said. “This fight is not over.”
“This fight is not over.”
But they’re not the only ones who have been active in electoral pranks this campaign season. Founded in 2004 by editors of the satire magazine Titanic, Die PARTEI, a backronym in German for Party for Labor, Rule of Law, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites and Grassroots Democratic Initiatives. Die PARTEI, is known for its campaign antics and drawing attention in comedic and sometimes controversial ways. This time, Die PARTEI infiltrated 31 private Facebook groups run by AfD supporters with a combined membership of about 180,000 people. In an 11-month effort, Shahak Shapira, a comedian now working with Die PARTEI, said they gained the trust of the groups’ administrators, eventually gaining access to make them public and change their names.
What was once a fan club of Frauke Petry, a top AfD leader, is now a home for fans of Die PARTEI. And the “Love your Homeland” group? It’s now a haven for hummus lovers. “The reactions were pretty great. There were 180,000 people who weren’t so happy about it, but everyone else seems to be enjoying it,” Mr. Shapiras said.
AfD spokesman Christian Lüth responded to the Facebook hack in a statement to Deutsche Welle, calling it a “stupid joke that is supposed to annoy the voters and us.” He added, “apparently this party has no interest in doing its own, serious election campaign, but would rather occupy itself with damaging other competitors in an illegal way.”
A self-described “extreme center” party, Die PARTEI has campaigned on rebuilding the Berlin Wall and waging a war of aggression against Liechtenstein. And while Die PARTEI has never joined federal or state parliaments in Germany, co-founder Martin Sonneborn managed to win a seat in the European Parliament back in 2014.
Since its inception, Die PARTEI’s membership has ballooned to tens of thousands. For the 2017 election, the party program calls for an end to animal experiments (products will instead be tested on top athletes), addressing the gender pay gap by paying managers according to bra size, and support for universal justice — in fact, twice as much as the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
But for Die PARTEI, the prank was not completely a joke.
“I think it’s a bit more than a prank, because what I’m trying to show here is how people can be manipulated in the dirtiest ways when it comes to politics and what powerful tools they have with Facebook, Twitter and social media,” Mr. Shapira said. “It’s an issue we should take seriously.”
Lisa Hagen is working with Handelsblatt Global as an Arthur Burns fellow. To contact the author: email@example.com