https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/ ... in-germany
Holocaust memorial replica stunt shines light on rightwing radicalism in Germany
Art collective likened to ‘terrorist organisation’ by far-right politician Björn Hocke
Members of the art collective Centre for Political Beauty pose inside the replica of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.
When a group of performance artists erected a replica of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial next to the home of a far-right politician, they were hoping to draw attention to the revisionist views of a rising figure on Germany’s nationalist right.
But as the collective finds itself targeted by the first criminal investigation of its kind against a group of artists in modern German history, their stunt is instead putting the spotlight on the proximity between far-right politics and the public servants in formerly Communist east German states.
In November 2017, art collective Centre for Political Beauty had erected a replica of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial next to the home of Björn Höcke, a leading far-right politician from the Alternative für Deutschland party who has called on Germans to stop atoning for the crimes of the Nazi era.
Höcke, who has dismissed architect Peter Eisenman’s original Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as “a monument of shame”, unsuccessfully tried to launch criminal proceedings against the artists’ replica, which remains in situ next to his home in Bornhagen, Thuringia.
However, a route parliamentary question by leftwing party Die Linke revealed last week that the state prosecutor in the east German state has for the last 16 months been investigating the art collective’s artistic director, on suspicion of “forming a criminal association”.
The investigation was launched just four days after Höcke likened the Centre for Political Beauty to a “terrorist organisation” in a speech at a gathering of far-right figures, and rests on a legal provision known as paragraph 129, which lends the state far-reaching surveillance powers such as wiretapping.
Other groups investigated under paragraph 129 in Thuringia include members of Isis and the Al-Nusra Front, Holocaust deniers and football hooligans.
The criminal investigation was reportedly launched because the art collective had announced its replica memorial would go hand-in-hand with a surveillance operation targeting the most prominent politician of the AfD’s nationalist wing. A video by the group hails their project as “the most extensive long-term monitoring of rightwing radicalism in Germany”.
The Centre for Political Beauty has a history of staging provocative performances teetering on the edge of illegality. In one of its first stunts in 2009 the group put chancellor Angela Merkel up for auction on eBay.
Since, the group has removed white crosses marking the lives of Germans who lost their lives crossing the Berlin Wall and moved them to the EU’s outer borders, organised a reburial in Berlin of the exhumed body of a Syrian woman who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean, and taken out an ad in a Swiss magazine with the words “Kill Roger Köppel”, a rightwing publicist-turned-politician. In the latter case, a Swiss court ruled that the advert was not a call to murder but covered by artistic freedom of expression.
In the case of the group’s “surveillance” of Höcke’s home, a court in Cologne too ruled last year that their threat should be legally treated as an art performance rather than an intended crime, taking note of the “satirically heightened costumes” including beige trenchcoats and binoculars.
Nonetheless, the state prosecutor in Gera has persisted with his investigation – leading German media and politicians to question whether it was politically motivated.
The AfD, which aggressively styles itself as a law and order party, has managed to attract public servants working at Germany’s courts and for the police. One of Höcke’s leading allies in the Bundestag, delegate Jens Maier, was a district judge in Dresden before he was elected to parliament.
An investigation by newspaper Die Zeit has over the weekend also raised questions about the Gera state prosecutor, Martin Zschächner. While Zschächner is not a member of AfD, the newspaper revealed he made a small donation to the party via a PayPal account in April 2018.
Zschächner did not respond when asked by Die Zeit about the nature of his affiliation with the AfD, but has previously denied his investigation of the Centre for Political Beauty was politically motivated.
Katja Kipping, co-leader of Die Linke, described Zschächner as someone striving to “please the right wing”, and said the prosecutor had previously dismissed a threat by an AfD politician to “roast her on a spit” as mere “grandiloquence” and use of “revolutionary rhetoric”.
“What is truly shocking is that the AfD is already managing to assert an understanding of art that is all too familiar from totalitarian regimes: in their view, artists – and especially political artists – are essentially criminals,” Philipp Ruch, the artistic director of the collective, told the Guardian.
“Some light urgently needs to be shed on this affair,” he added. “The justice ministry has known about this investigation for days, so why has it not acted? Their inaction is the real scandal here.”
While the justice minister of Thuringia has insisted that the investigation of the art collective was “consistent and not politically motivated”, the state’s culture minister has suggested that Zschächner should resign if he was to reflect on the “basic principles that he has sworn a pledge to”.
Thuringia, currently the only German state to be governed by Die Linke in coalition with the Social Democrats and the Green party, faces state elections in October this year. Current polls suggest the AfD could get as much as 20% of the vote.