Senior members of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition lambasted Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder for continuing his alliance with the populist Free Voters after the party’s leader was caught up in an antisemitism scandal.
Hubert Aiwanger, Soeder’s deputy in the regional government, has been under pressure to step down after a newspaper report a week ago linked him to a pamphlet written in the late 1980s, which appeared to make light of the Holocaust. Aiwanger denied writing it while in high school. His brother subsequently claimed to have been the author.
Soeder, chairman of the conservative Christian Social Union, ordered Aiwanger to provide written answers to 25 detailed questions about his conduct before announcing Sunday that there weren’t sufficient grounds to fire him.
“The answers were not all satisfactory,” Soeder said at a news conference in Munich. However, because there is “no evidence that he wrote or distributed the pamphlet” and Aiwanger has expressed remorse, “dismissal from office would not be appropriate,” he added.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens and Social Democrat Interior Minister Nancy Faeser were among the first to react. Habeck, who’s also vice chancellor, called Soeder’s decision “unfortunately not a good one” and Faeser accused the Bavarian leader of damaging the nation’s international reputation.
“This is not about the youthful sins of his coalition partner, but in the end about the basic consensus of this republic, which every federal and state government must fully protect,” Habeck was quoted as saying by news agency DPA.
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The decades-old leaflet, published on Aug. 25 by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, describes a mock contest to choose the “biggest traitor to the fatherland,” with the first prize a “free flight up the Auschwitz smokestack.”
Separate allegations emerged last week when public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk quoted a former classmate of Aiwanger’s as saying that he made the stiff-armed Nazi salute and told jokes about Jews at school.
Aiwanger, 52, told Bild newspaper that he had no recollection of behaving in that way. He called what was written in the pamphlet “truly abhorrent” and said he was “a democrat and humanitarian from the bottom of my heart.”
The scandal could impact the state election due to be held on Oct. 8. Soeder’s CSU ruled Bavaria alone for most of the post-World War II period but since 2018 has needed to govern in alliance with Aiwanger’s party to sustain a majority and will likely need a coalition partner again.
A GMS poll for SAT.1/Antenne Bayern published last month showed support for the CSU on 39%, with the Greens and far-right Alternative for Germany each on 14% and the Free Voters on 12%.
Faeser said that Aiwanger has “neither apologized convincingly nor been able to convincingly dispel the accusations.”
“Instead, he declares himself a victim and doesn’t give a second thought to those who still suffer massively from hostility toward Jews today,” she was quoted as saying by media group RND. “This is how boundaries shift that should not be shifted.”