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German far-right firebrand denies using Nazi slogan

Bjoern Hoecke at the court in Halle, Germany, over his alleged use of Nazi phrases
Bjoern Hoecke at the court in Halle, Germany, over his alleged use of Nazi phrases - Copyright AFP Sam Yeh
Bjoern Hoecke at the court in Halle, Germany, over his alleged use of Nazi phrases - Copyright AFP Sam Yeh

A divisive German politician denied using a banned Nazi slogan as he appeared in court Tuesday ahead of key regional elections that could see him crowned the country’s first far-right state premier.

“I have nothing to reproach myself for,” Bjoern Hoecke told the court in the central city of Halle during his half-hour of testimony, saying he was “completely innocent”.

Hoecke, 52, leads the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Thuringia, one of three former East German states where the party is leading opinion polls ahead of regional elections in September.

He is accused of using the phrase “Alles fuer Deutschland” (“Everything for Germany”), once a motto of the Sturmabteilung paramilitary group that played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, during a campaign rally.

The phrase is illegal in modern-day Germany, along with the Nazi salute and other slogans and symbols from the Nazi era.

Hoecke, a former high school history teacher, told the court that “I actually did not know that (the phrase) was also used” by the Sturmabteilung. 

He said he thought it was an “everyday saying” and even though he was a teacher, he would not necessarily know about the connection to the paramilitary group.

He held up several history books in court which he said were used by him as a pupil and teacher, and which he said did not show any link between the Sturmabteilung and the banned slogan. 

Hoecke allegedly used the slogan at an election rally in Merseburg, a town in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, ahead of Germany’s 2021 federal election.

A conviction for using the phrase is punishable with a maximum prison term of three years.

But the judge indicated Tuesday that the court considered a fine to be appropriate if the allegation is proven. 

The trial began last week and is set to last until mid-May. 

It is one of several controversies the AfD is battling ahead of EU Parliament elections in June and regional elections in Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony this autumn.

Founded in 2013, the anti-Islam and anti-immigration AfD saw a surge in popularity on its tenth anniversary last year, seizing on concerns over rising migration, high inflation and a stumbling economy.

But its support has wavered as it contends with a series of scandals. 

They include claims that an aide to one of its MEPs spied for China, and that senior party members were paid to spread pro-Russian positions on a Moscow-financed website.

AFP
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