Björn Höcke and the Potential Return of Sanity in German Politics

Karla Friedrich


On January 17th 2017, one of the leading members of Germany’s new alternative conservative party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Björn Höcke, gave a speech before his party’s youth organization (Junge Alternative) in the city of Dresden. In his 20-minute speech, Höcke addressed the future of his party, its rebellious function and patriotic orientation, the architectural disfigurement of landscapes and cities, the failures of the political establishment in the refugee crisis, German cultural identity and — yes, he did — the World War II guilt cult and the Holocaust memorial. The speech had the potential of ringing in a new era of self-liberation from the shackles of the post-war historical narrative that denies the German people their sense of self-worth.

However, Höcke clearly poked a hornet’s nest, given the hysterical reactions across the political establishment, including the media and representatives of the Jewish lobby in Germany. Although the speech was well-received by young patriots, some remarks did not go over well with the ruling class. Höcke had been bold enough to suggest that

  1. Instead of focusing primarily on those twelve dark years of the country’s history, German youth should be allowed to develop a positive identity by remembering and honoring the achievements of Germany’s numerous composers, poets and philosophers, of which the country had produced perhaps more than any other.
  2. Germany was the only country in the world that had decided to plant a ‘monument of shame’ in the heart of its capital, and had made the most horrible event in its history the foundation of its national identity.
  3. The Allied fire-bombing of Dresden was a war crime comparable to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The guilt cult, however, allowed for a portrayal of Germans as perpetrators only, preventing them from mourning their own victims.

The press reacted “with disgust and horror” — as if Höcke had denied the Holocaust (which he didn’t). Although Höcke had remained rather factual in his description of the status quo without attacking anyone in particular, vocabulary from the familiar arsenal of curses was hurled at him: “Nazi”, “right-wing extremist”, “Goebbels”, “hard right”, “populist”, “nationalist”, “national Romantic”, and so on and so forth. In an article by Amanda Taub and Max Fischer in the New York Times, his brownish-grey hair suddenly turned blonde, more or less subtly conjuring up images of the blonde Germanic beast, familiar from countless anti-German Hollywood productions and books.

Some English articles also paid heightened attention to the venue where the event had taken place: a beer hall. There are many beer halls in Germany, of course, but the Telegraph did not miss the opportunity to point out the historical parallel of Adolf Hitler’s first important meeting, which had taken place in a beer hall in Munich. According to the author Justin Huggler, drawing the comparison was “inevitable.” Apart from the occasional deliberate mistranslation — “mourning our own sacrifice” instead of “mourning our own victims” (Telegraph), or “monument of disgrace” instead of “monument of shame” (BBC) — the New York Times felt the need to instruct their readers on how to pronounce Höcke’s name: “HOOK-ay.” Needless to say, this is not the correct pronunciation either but since it is reminiscent of hooker, they must have thought “we might as well use it.”

It was interesting to note the awkward attempt to justify the idea that what is normal for every other people must be denied to the Germans under all circumstances:

Calls for asserting a strong national identity are not pernicious on their own — all nations have identities, after all — but they remain somewhat taboo in Germany. And that taboo is precisely the point. Only the fringes would be brazen enough to champion a nationalist identity. But that risks letting those fringes define its contours. (Taub & Fischer, New York Times)

Apart from the fact that the paragraph is devoid of logic, it is important to note that nowhere did Höcke promote a “strong national identity.” He merely advocated a more balanced identity that is not “broken,” with a more pronounced focus on positive points of identification. The adjective “strong” probably just had to be thrown in there somewhere. After all, any assertion of German national identity that goes beyond complete self-debasement must be presented as muscular and dangerous for the rest of the world. “Only a guilty German is a good German,” a Jewish American recently said to a friend of mine in Berlin. By admitting the fact that Höcke’s fairly sane proposition is a “brazen” fringe position in Germany, whilst it is taken for granted in any other country, the writers indirectly admit that they think making this request in Germany is a problem in itself. How about allowing Höcke’s position into the center and lifting the taboo, so that every German child can grow up with a healthy cultural identity — like everyone else?

I guess the problem is that “German” and “healthy” are seen as a paradox from their point of view, as the pathologization of everything German has been part and parcel of post-war anti-German propaganda. It was also a key ingredient in the Allied Re-education Program inflicted on the Germans after 1945. Whereas World War I propaganda had likened Germans to the Huns — those wild, barbarian hordes from the East — it was Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung who suggested that 10% of Germans were psychopaths, and that all of them must be made to confess their guilt, including the resistance fighters. After all, every single German shared the collective unconscious of his/her Volk. Jung was quick to make this assertion in an interview in May 1945, just two days after the Wehrmacht had surrendered, perhaps fearful of being dragged to Nürnberg himself for his positive relations with members of the National Socialist government in the 1930s. Jung’s suggestion must have been gratefully received by the British Department of Psychological Warfare (if it wasn’t suggested by them in the first place), and was implemented relentlessly.

This poster was used to instill a sense of collective guilt into the defeated Germans.

It reads:

These Misdeeds: Your Guilt!
You silently watched and tolerated it.
This is your great guilt — you are co-responsible for these cruel crimes!

The victors’ version of German history was communicated to the defeated through strictly controlled, licensed media, new educational materials, and carefully screened, selected protagonists in public institutions and the political arena, who would assist in implementing the victors’ future vision of the country. It was mandatory that people’s resistance against the occupation, their will, and cultural pride be broken.

Things haven’t really changed that much, it seems. It is interesting to note that Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious became unfashionable eventually, whilst the idea of collective guilt for the Germans does not appear to ever go out of fashion.

It has to be repeated that Höcke did not call “for the country to stop atoning for its Nazi past,” as the Telegraph falsely claims. He merely asked for the country to stop constructing its national identity solely around the relatively short but traumatic period from 1933–45, and instead, also remember the achievements in previous centuries. The Telegraph is also wrong in stating that Höcke “condemned the national Holocaust memorial as a ‘monument of shame.'” This is a misrepresentation of what he actually said, despite the fact that it was widely repeated in the German press, too. The expression “monument of shame” might sound offensive, but is actually ordinary political language, referring to monuments commemorating the less honorable events in a country’s history. It was also used in a statement by Rudolf Augstein, the former chief-editor of the prominent weekly magazine Der Spiegel, when he criticized the construction of the Holocaust memorial in 1998:

It would be quite foreign for other nations to handle their past in this way. We suspect that this monument of shame is directed against the capital and the new Germany that is in the process formation. And yet, (…) nobody will have the courage to keep the centre of Berlin clear of such a monstrosity — in deference to the New York press and those sharks dressed as lawyers. [Der Speigel]

In his response to these misrepresentations, Höcke issued a statement clarifying what he had actually meant — although what he said was quite clear in the original speech already. He also quoted the Jewish architect of the Holocaust memorial, Peter Eisenmann, who had expressed his concerns regarding the purpose of the memorial:

Of course, antisemitism got out of hand in Germany in the 1930s, a terrible moment in history. But how long are you going to feel guilty?

I hope that this monument, with its absence of allocation of blame, will actually help to overcome feelings of guilt. It is impossible to live with guilt. If Germany did that, the entire country would have to see a therapist.

Interestingly, neither of these two crucial quotes for clarification were rendered in the English-language press. The most impertinent comments were made by Taub/Fischer in the New York Times, where authors showed zero compassion for the German cause:

Because these young Germans say that the political establishment has denied them sufficient pride in their national identity, they feel as if they are being oppressed, even though they have every right and live in a country that has one of Europe’s best-performing economies. [my emphasis]

“As if they are being oppressed.” Let that sink in. “Even though they have every right and live in a country that has one of Europe’s best-performing economies.” In saying this, the authors display a singularly materialistic attitude, devoid of any feelings of German national identity or understanding of the level of suffering of a people who were assigned pariah status in the international community (Germany is still listed as an “enemy state” in the UN Charter). As if being systematically indoctrinated with the idea that something is fundamentally wrong with you was not oppressive. And as if being dehumanized and shamed out of your right to exist could be compensated with money.

Besides, Germany’s relative economic success has been exaggerated to attract the resentment and envy of other peoples in Europe, and to make Germany a magnet for economic migrants. If Germany is doing so well, then why do so many Germans move to Switzerland and Austria for work? In the Eastern part of this “best-performing economy” in Europe, where the speech was held, unemployment is very high, and many families are struggling to make ends meet.

The low income sector is growing at an alarming rate, and many highly qualified academics with PhDs, especially in the humanities, have no prospect of ever earning a decent salary. None of my friends in their early 40s — most of whom are middle-class and have a university degree in arts and humanities — have been able to accumulate any savings to buy a flat, let alone a house, which is perhaps contributing to the low reproduction rate. Private ownership of property is even lower than Cyprus. And let’s not forget that Germany is number 3 among the countries with the highest national debt. Many businesses in East Germany are heavily affected by the sanctions against Russia due to business ties inherited from the Cold War era. The German economy on the whole is suffering under these sanctions, which were implemented in 2014 as a result of pressure from the US government, effecting a loss of 17 billion Euros.

Claiming that we have “every right” is of course a joke if we consider the fact that people are risking their jobs when voicing their criticism of Merkel’s wide open borders policy, and are made to pay fines for pressing the wrong ‘like’ button on Facebook. And I don’t know what they mean by “every right”, when the association with anything remotely ‘right-wing’ makes you a social pariah and attracts the immediate attention of the intelligence service and Antifa, who, strangely, appear to have the same goal.

And finally, the debate is not about “pride”, as the article repeatedly claims, but about the fundamental birthright of every human being: a sense of self-worth.

In Germany, strong words of condemnation came from the political establishment and leading press organs with transatlantic ties. Jewish representatives were outraged at Höcke’s allegedly “anti-Semitic and utterly inhuman words” (Josef Schuster from the Central Council of Jews, quoted in the Independent) — although it is not quite clear what exactly they mean by that, because Höcke’s point was about Germans and their relationship with their own history. Indeed, one of the purposes of Jewish lobbies in Germany appears to be the maintenance of German guilt — a suspicion that was confirmed by Israeli journalists in 2015, who were shocked to hear at a press conference at their embassy in Berlin that “Israel had no interest in full normalization of relations with Germany”, because “Maintaining German Guilt About Holocaust Helps Israel” (Jun 25, 2015). Israeli Ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, who was reportedly present at the meeting, demanded an apology from Höcke: “An apology to all the victims of National Socialism would be appropriate, starting with the six million Jews who were killed in industrial mass murder,” he is quoted by the Telegraph. I don’t remember the German government demanding an apology from the Israelis for their professed intention of forever exploiting German good-will and maintaining what Ronald L. Jay has aptly termed an “abusive relationship“.

Höcke’s party colleague Marcus Pretzell, who revealed his long-suspected allegiance by attending last week’s ENF summit (“Israel is our future”), was also among those who condemned the speech, together with party leader Frauke Petry, his new spouse. Pretzell boldly suggested that Höcke needed a history lesson — which is especially insulting since Höcke is professionally a history teacher.

The Dresden ballroom-brewery where Höcke held his speech was paint-bombed by unknown individuals the day after. It is widely suspected that the ‘Antifa’ is behind the attacks, whose sole purpose in Germany and other countries is to keep any budding sense of national regeneration in check and terrorize people with patriotic sentiments. The owners of the ballroom distanced themselves from Höcke’s speech, promising they would not rent out the venue to AfD ever again.

Dresden’s Ballhaus Watzke was paint-bombed the day after Höcke had given his speech. The owners of the restaurant regret they let out their venue to AfD’s youth organization Junge Alternative and distanced themselves from the speech.

It remains to be seen how the effects of Höcke’s remarks are going to play out in the national scene. Höcke has many supporters in the Eastern counties of Saxony and Thuringia, where AfD is expected to win many seats. Hence, it would be unwise for the party to exclude him — which was the initial reaction of some more establishment-minded party members. The application to exclude him was reportedly filed by AfD’s charming Alice Weidel, a former employee with Goldman Sachs who is openly gay. She is one of the few AfD members who are handled with velvet gloves by the mainstream media.

It will be equally interesting to see how the debate is going to affect Germany’s position on the international stage. In my travels, I came across many people who thought that Germans were obsessing too much over the past and overdoing their confessions of guilt. An Indian friend thought that Germans had fetishized their guilt-complex. Little did he know of the moral pressure exerted on German citizens from their own educational and political institutions and various interest groups from outside, and he didn’t want to hear about it either. He also hadn’t heard of psychological warfare, atrocity propaganda, and re-education — despite the fact that colonial and post-colonial India must have been exposed to similar strategies of subjection.

With regard to Germany, there seems to be an unwritten law that everything must always be presented as if it was the fault of the Germans — including the guilt complex. On the international scene, a new narrative is emerging, where Germans are blamed for having cultivated their guilt-complex in such an extreme manner. Merkel’s open border policy, which angers and worries many Germans, is interpreted as a result of this allegedly self-imposed guilt. In this new narrative, which problematizes German guilt, US and Israeli interference with German domestic politics are conveniently dropped from the picture.

If the institutionalized guilt cult is not good for Germans (i.e., the traditional people of Germany), then who is it good for? I leave it up to the reader to figure it out for themselves. But I genuinely believe that it would be good and healthy for the international community, including the Israelis and those “sharks dressed as lawyers”, if the guilt cult was finally exposed for what it really is: an extortion racket based on emotional abuse. (I owe the expression ‘extortion racket’ to Norman Finkelstein, whose scheduled talks in Germany about the ‘Holocaust Industry’ have been cancelled in the past due to pressure from certain lobbies).

In his speech, Björn Höcke merely encouraged Germans to redefine their sense of self by reclaiming control of their historical narrative and to stop over-identifying with Germany’s National Socialist past. For doing so, he is called a ‘Nazi’. Apparently, this nasty type of word magic still works on many people.

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