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Culture

Agent Provocateur Schlingensief Feels the Heat

Controversial performer Christoph Schlingensief has attracted the attention of federal prosecutors with his “Aktion 18,” a mock-support campaign of the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

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The firestarter

Provocation is his game. And Christoph Schlingensief plays it with a full deck.

These days, the Berlin-based performer can be found touring the German republic unleashing an arsenal of controversy and cynicism.

His main target is Jürgen Möllemann, vice-president of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), whose alleged anti-semitic remarks have sparked a quarrel with the Central Council of Jews in Germany and unleashed a debate about the country’s conduct towards its Jewish population.

As a reaction, Schlingensief has launched Aktion 18, a shock mock-support campaign of the FDP’s efforts to win 18 percent of the German voters in the upcoming September parliamentary election.

The content is a twisted maelstrom of Nazi rhetoric and guerrilia public performances echoing the darkest chapters of German history – all supposedly in the name of Möllemann’s party. Wherever Schlingensief appears, books, flags, and straw effigies of Ariel Sharon go up in flames.

The artist justifies his recent actions with his disdain for the Neo-nazi movement. Möllemann’s policy is taking up themes of the Neo-nazi scene in a manner that is undifferentiated, the performer said.

“Möllemann needs to shut his mouth. He has hurt many people, especially of the Jewish community, and thereby destroyed the work of 20, 30 years,” Schlingensief told Der Spiegel. It is his role as an artist to make a statement, before the election brings Möllemann to power.

But in his eagerness to pour oil into an already burning fire, it seems the 41-year-old is also about to get burned.

Federal prosecutors have started investigating after Möllemann said Schlingensief's performance violated his civil rights. Officials also believe Schlingensief’s Aktion 18 web site displays regalia of organizations deemed unconstitutional in Germany.

Has He Gone too Far?

If Schlingensief aims to attract public attention, his tour to “awake Germany” to the ideas of “national liberalism” - a phrase reminiscent of Nazi ideology - is right on track.

During a theater performance in the city of Duisburg on Sunday, the notorious agent provocateur attacked a picture of Möllemann with vigor and a power-drill. Law officials are now reviewing a videotape of the action to verify whether Schlingensief had chanted “Kill Möllemann,” in front the
crowd.

If so, he might face charges of instigating people to commit a criminal act.

“Something was heard there that hasn’t been said,” Schlingensief claimed. He insisted there had been a “dramatic pause” between the words.

Plus, “what I do on stage has to be seen in the context of art,” Schlingensief told reporters.

Möllemann himself said Schlingensief’s actions transgressed the boundaries of free artistic expression guaranteed by the German constitution, and is demanding criminal prosecution.

The FDP official made a comparison to the case of Islamist Metin Kaplan from Cologne, who had been sentenced to four years in prison for instigation to commit murder.

“Our democratic system does not tolerate such appeals,” Möllemann said.

For the Volk and the Reich

Schlingensief also uses the world wide web as part of his artillery. The Aktion 18 website mimicks the official site of the FDP in its design and colors.

Visitors are greeted with martial marching music, before a speaker proclaims the “unbreaking effort to unite the German Reich.” The audio then cuts to a skinhead rock group proclaiming “We stand by the Volk and the Reich.”

On the mock party-website, images of Möllemann are displayed next to a sign saying “Jews not wanted.” Instead of the liberal party’s slogan "More Take-Home Pay, More Education, More Employment" stand the words “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer.”

Visitors can vote which books should be publicly burned during the campgaign. Edmund Stoiber’s “Das Maß der Dinge,” is currently first among the 17,505 votes before titles by Paul Spiegel and Günter Grass.

The site also has links to European right-wingers like the Austrian FPÖ or the French National Front, which are presented as allies to take “revenge for Pym” Fortuyn, the recently assassinated Dutch politician who campaigned on an anti-Immigrant platform.

Since some of the other organizations displayed are forbidden by German law, officials are currently deciding if the site needs to be taken off the net.

“All parts of the site have been assembled from sources available elesewhere on the web,” Schlingensief defended the website and urged officials to also check the original sources.

No end in sight

With a history of persisting in the face of possible punishment, it is unlikely Christoph Schlingensief will stop.

When Jörg Haider’s FPÖ became part of the Austrian government in 2000, Schlingensief went to Vienna where he wielded signs saying “Out with the foreigners,” and locked up several asylum seekers inside a container. Though heavily criticized and slapped with an FPÖ lawsuit, Schlingensief managed to escape unscathed - and undaunted.

“I will stick to my issues,” he said.

Though the artist is under heavy surveilance, it is unlikely Schlingensief will run out of ammo any time soon. The Aktion 18 campaign is expected to continue fueling the flames of controversy in Cologne on Friday.

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