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POLITICS

How a Holocaust row threatens to split the AfD apart

Anti-Semitic comments made by a politician for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party threaten a rift among the leadership.

How a Holocaust row threatens to split the AfD apart
From left: Frauke Petry, Beatrix von Storch and Jörg Meuthen. Photo: DPA

The row started when comments made by an AfD member of the state parliament in Baden-Württemberg about the Holocaust came to light.

In a book published in 2012, Wolfgang Gedeon described the Holocaust as “certain infamous actions” and Holocaust deniers as dissidents.

After he won election to the state parliament in March,  the comments resurfaced in the press, with newspapers describing them as a trivialization of the Holocaust and an implicit show of support for Holocaust deniers.

Jörg Meuthen, who along with Frauke Petry is party head of the AfD on the national level, agreed and called on the party chapter in Baden-Württemberg, which he leads, to throw Gedeon out.

If they did not chuck Gedeon out, he would leave the party himself, Meuthen warned.

But the ultimatum did not go down well with co-leader Petry, who accused Meuthen of turning “a professional matter into a personal one”. 

The party chapter in Baden-Württemberg were also angered, claiming Meuthen had decided upon Gedeon’s guilt before they had had a chance to properly look into the incident.

With the fledgling party threatened with loosing its second leader within a year – after founder Bernd Lucke was deposed last summer – on Tuesday a compromise was agreed.

After a meeting in Baden-Württemberg, Gedeon agreed to have his party membership suspended until an internal investigation came to a decision on his case in September.

While his demand for Gedeon to leave the party was not met, Meuthen interpreted the decision as a victory.

“I think I have clearly asserted myself,” he said. “I won’t work together with Gedeon any further in this party.”

But according to Die Zeit the dispute is far from settled, with the agreement of 16 of the 23 members of the AfD in the state parliament needed to remove Gedeon from the party.

The row could be more costly for Petry than Meuthen though, writes Die Welt.

Almost the entire party leadership are behind Meuthen, a fact that has as much to do with concerns over Petry's leadership style as over the specifics of the current row.

“It’s touch and go now for Petry,” the conservative daily writes, noting that only one member of the party’s executive committee still supports her.

In state elections in March, the AfD won 15 percent of the vote in Baden-Württemberg, becoming the third largest party in the state parliament.

It also scored double-digit results in Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt, leading the media to take it seriously as a national party for the first time.

The AfD has been in a series of rows over recent weeks for comments on race and homosexuality by elected officials.

Most recently the party's deputy leader Alexander Gauland suggested that most Germans wouldn't want national football player Jerome Boateng, whose father is from Ghana, as a neighbour.

The remark met widespread disapproval and has been used to explain a recent drop in the AfD's popularity in polling.

POLITICS

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.

‘Symbols’

His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE

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