A request issued by Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) in June this year, has sparked comparisons with the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany.
The far-right Eurosceptic party requested disclosure of the number of ballet dancers, actors, singers and musicians employed in state theatres in Baden-Württemberg without a German passport. The AfD also wanted to know the artists’ nationalities and where they were trained. AfD politician, Rainer Balzer, justified the request as a means of obtaining a “realistic inventory of the status quo”.
The parallels with the Nazi regime generated immediate concern. “In the context of Germany’s past, the idea of a list of names and nationalities was really quite shocking”, Baden-Württemberg deputy arts minister, Petra Olschowski, told the FT. The managing director of Staatstheater Stuttgart, Marc-Oliver Hendriks, reported that the parliamentary request incited fear in many of its employees.
The Baden-Württemberg arts ministry complied with its legal obligation to reply to the parliamentary request. However, the ministry provided only general figures rather than a precise breakdown of nationalities.
The AfD was founded in 2013 as a Eurosceptic party and moved far right after Germany opened its borders to 1.5 million refugees in 2015. The AfD is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag and is on course to beat Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats at state elections this Sunday (1 September).
AfD rhetoric pits German citizens against German immigrants. At a local rally, AfD Member of the Bundestag, Gottfried Curio, decried the perceived erosion of German culture in public life. “Every day little signs make us feel our homeland is disappearing. Refugee shelters open up next door, we see women in veils and more and more shisha bars”, Curio said to an enthusiastic crowd.
The AfD is also critical of what it considers the domination of the arts scene by the left. Senior AfD member, Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, wants German theatres to return to classical repertoire and highlights the need to “protect our freedom of art from totalitarian neo-leftist tyrants who dominate the cultural scene”.
German arts organisations are not taking this rhetoric lying down. In response to the AfD inquiry, the Theater Ulm crafted a mock parliamentary request online, which asked: “How many AfD members in the state of Baden-Württemberg have criminal records?”. In January, Hachenburg’s Cinexx movie theatre offered free admission to a screening of the Oscar-winning 1993 Holocaust film ‘Schindler’s List’ to members of the AfD.
“We are not saying AfD voters are Nazis”, the cinema said, “however, the AfD’s party program strongly suggests a trivialization of the events of that time”.