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Bavaria's Aiwanger keeps job after antisemitism scandal

September 3, 2023

State Premier Markus Söder has said he did not see sufficient cause to sack his embattled deputy. Hubert Aiwanger, Bavaria's deputy premier and economy minister, had been accused of antisemitism in his youth.

Hubert Aiwanger (left) and Markus Söder
Image: Frank Hoermann/SvenSimon/picture alliance

Markus Söder, the premier of the southern German state of Bavaria, is keeping  Hubert Aiwanger as deputy premier and economy minister, after a turbulent week of antisemitism allegations against the latter.

"I know not everyone will like my decision, and others will have residual doubts. But I stress again, this result is the outcome of a fair and orderly process," Söder told a press conference he had announced at short notice — highly irregularly in predominantly Catholic Bavaria on a Sunday, when Germany tends to shut down almost entirely.

Aiwanger had come under fire over an antisemitic flyer circulated when he was in high school. His elder brother claimed to be the pamphlet's author after it surfaced in the media, first attributed to the minister directly. 

But pressure on Aiwanger persisted, both because of his potential involvement at some level with the pamphlet and because of other allegations pertaining to his youth.

Bavarian politician keeps job despite anti-semitism scandal

What did Söder say?

The state premier said he had carefully analyzed the allegations and concluded that Aiwanger apparently made serious errors in his youth but he distanced himself from these errors and demonstrated regret.

He said there was no proof that Aiwanger either authored or distributed the leaflet, and said that "the whole thing is indeed 35 years in the past. Hardly any of us is today as they were at 16."

Söder had requested that he answer 25 questions, which Aiwanger yesterday said he had done. Söder on Sunday said, citing Aiwanger's answers, that the event had been a drastic experience for the embattled minister that prompted much soul searching. 

Markus Söder addressing the press on Sunday
Söder said he had a long conversation with Aiwanger on Saturday eveningImage: Sven Hoppe/dpa/picture alliance

The state premier said Aiwanger could have still handled the issue better. 

"To first dispute everything, then partly admit some things, some of the contradictions, this has not increased his credibility in the past week," Söder said. 

"Late, and in my view not too late, there was a clear apology and clear distancing of himself from the comments. This was right and necessary," he added. 

In remarks published earlier on Sunday, Aiwanger told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag that he saw "no reason whatsoever to resign or to be released from office." 

The minister, who's the leader of Söder's junior coalition partner — the right-wing Bavaria-only Free Voters (Freie Wähler) — and therefore deputy state premier, is 52 years old and was a secondary school student in the 1980s, northeast of Munich.

Aiwanger apologized but with caveats, alleged political agenda

Soon after the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper first reported on the issue in August, Aiwanger denied direct responsibility for the flyers. A few hours later, his elder brother Helmut claimed to have been the real author. The two are separated by just a year in age and attended the same school.

But Hubert Aiwanger later admitted that copies of the antisemitic leaflet had been found in his school satchel. 

It wasn't until last Thursday that Aiwanger apologized for potential mistakes in his youth, albeit also repeating that he had no recollection of some of the other allegations he faced, for instance of having been seen conducting a Hitler salute in school. Still, he said he "deeply regretted" if his actions had caused offense.

His apology was "first and foremost to all victims of the Nazi regime, their surviving dependents and all those involved in the valuable remembrance work."

But Aiwanger still said that the accusations were part of a political campaign against his right-wing Free Voters (Freie Wähler) party, weeks ahead of elections.

Bavaria is set to head to the polls on October 8. 

He also said he believed it wasn't fair to dig up comments from so long ago, and argued that such scandals could put other people off entering politics. 

fb/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters) 

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