Even with a global rise of the extreme-right, it’s safe to say no one would expect its leaders to visit a holocaust memorial with any intention other than to cause trouble. That seems to have been the thinking as member of the German far-right wing AfD, Björn Höcke, was blocked from attending a holocaust memorial at the former concentration camp Buchenwald. Such a decision at first seems reasonable; even sensible, but there are implications.
Would Höcke have been rejected entry to the memorial if he had not made his recent speech in which he called for an end to what in his eyes is a culture of lingering on nazi crimes?
He described the Berlin holocaust memorial as a ‘memorial of shame’ and demanded a ‘180 degree turn in political memory’. These are hardly the words of a politician wishing to attend a holocaust memorial to pay respects. Either he is a hypocrite who likes to make controversial statements for fun and not for action, or Höcke intended to carry out some form of twisted protest at the very site of historical horror and regret.
Höcke’s party leader, Frauke Petry, even denounced the speech, stating that “Björn Höcke has become a burden for the party, with his go-it-alone attitude and constant sniping”. This highlights how much he and his views stand outside of an already far-right party. Petry’s condemnation could however be taken to be in the light of the recent attempted ban of the extreme-right NPD (national democratic party). The AfD cannot risk being seen as too far-right as that would risk being considered Verfassungswidrig, against the constitution.
As right-populist as the AfD is, they are not the NPD. It appears as if Höcke would fit nicely into the more extreme, but in disarray party. The decision not to ban the NPD was followed by disbelief at the time, as the reason given was that the part was too insignificant to damage Germany’s democracy. The AfD in contrast is not insignificant and therefore would not have the same defence against an attempted ban .As unfortunate as Höcke’s views are, he should be allowed to express them. We know from the past that banning extreme opinions in their entirety causes greater problems by driving supporters of such views underground. In Germany that has led to groups like the NSU (national-socialist underground) and the RAF (Red Army Faction) terrorist organisations of the not-so-far past.
Höcke’s ban from attending the memorial therefore comes down to location. Although historical memorials do have a political background and do have political consequences, they are not the location for aggressively stirring up emotionally-fuelled political questions. It is impossible not to be shaken emotionally by a visit to a former concentration camp. Many visiting the Buchenwald memorial will have been affected more personally than others. Whether Germany does as Höcke believes linger too much on past horrors or not, a place symbolic of millions of innocent lives lost is not and never will be the place to express that opinion.
We are left in the difficult situation of having to grant Höcke his unpleasant beliefs, but that certainly does not make him welcome where his beliefs would bite hardest.
Tim Van Gardingen
(Image courtesy of The Irish Times)