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Verdict expected in trial of German far-right firebrand

Hoecke used the Nazi slogan

One of Germany’s most controversial politicians, from the far-right AfD party, faces a court verdict on Tuesday on whether he deliberately used a Nazi slogan at a rally.

Bjoern Hoecke, 52, is in the dock for using the Nazi slogan “Alles fuer Deutschland” (“Everything for Germany”) during a 2021 campaign rally.

Once a motto of the so-called Sturmabteilung paramilitary group that played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the phrase is illegal in modern-day Germany, along with the Nazi salute and other slogans and symbols from that era.

The former high school history teacher claims not to have been aware that the phrase had been used by the Nazis, telling the court he was “completely not guilty”.

Hoecke said he thought the phrase was an “everyday saying”.

But prosecutors believe Hoecke used the phrase in full knowledge of its “origin and meaning”.

Hoecke, the leader of the AfD in Thuringia, is gunning to become Germany’s first far-right state premier when the state holds regional elections in September.

Presiding judge Jan Stengel signalled early on in the trial that the court considered a fine to be an appropriate penalty should Hoecke be found guilty.

But prosecutors are seeking a six-month suspended sentence plus two years’ probation, and a payment of 10,000 euros ($10,800) to a charitable organisation.

– ‘Memorial of shame’ –

The trial is one of several controversies the AfD is battling ahead of European Parliament elections in June and regional elections in the autumn in Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony.

Founded in 2013, the anti-Islam and anti-immigration AfD saw a surge in popularity last year — its 10th anniversary — seizing on concerns over rising migration, high inflation and a stumbling economy.

But its support has wavered since the start of 2024, as it contends with scandals including allegations that senior party members were paid to spread pro-Russian views on a Moscow-financed news website.

Considered an extremist by German intelligence services, Hoecke is one of the most controversial AfD personalities.

He has called Berlin’s Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame” and urged a “180-degree shift” in the country’s culture of remembrance.

Hoecke stands accused of using the banned slogan at an election rally in Merseburg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in the run-up to Germany’s 2021 federal election.

He had also been due to stand trial on a second charge of shouting “Everything for…” and inciting the audience to reply “Germany” at an AfD meeting in Thuringia in December.

However, the court decided to separate the proceedings for the second charge, announced earlier this month, because the defence had not had enough time to prepare.

Prosecutor Benedikt Bernzen on Friday underlined the reach of Hoecke’s statement, saying that a video of it had been clicked on 21,000 times on the Facebook page of AfD Sachsen-Anhalt alone.

Hoecke’s defence Philip Mueller argued the rally was an “insignificant campaign event” and the offending statement was only brought to the public’s notice by the trial.

Germany’s domestic security agency has labelled the AfD in Thuringia a “confirmed” extremist organisation, along with the party’s regional branches in Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.


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