A parliamentary inquiry into purported left-wing extremism in Germany's Saxony-Anhalt state has begun, chaired by a far-right firebrand. André Poggenburg grabbed headlines in February with anti-Turkish remarks.
Saxony-Anhalt's governing three-party coalition led by Christian Democrats (CDU) vowed Wednesday that the Poggenburg-chaired inquiry would not end up as a "defamatory instrument" against civil democratic groups and individuals.
The three-party declaration followed the first session of the inquiry which was initiated last August when the Alternative for Germany (AfD) used its 22 seats in the state's Magdeburg assembly to trigger the probe.
At the time, some of the assembly's 31 CDU deputies also voted for the inquiry into whether extremist left structures "profited from public funding," prompting a rare rebuke from CDU federal party chief, Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Landslide entry in 2016
In Saxony-Anhalt's last regional election in March 2016, eastern Germany's previously strong Left party was relegated into third place in Magdeburg, behind the AfD, whose first-entry landslide amassed nearly a quarter of all votes cast.
Re-elected premier Rainer Haseloff formed a coalition comprising his first-placed CDU, the fourth-placed center-left Social Democrats and the fifth-placed ecologist Greens.
Poggenburg, 42, delivering an end-of Carnival speech in February in neighboring Saxony state, had depicted people of Turkish origin in Germany as "camel drivers" and caraway seed traders."
Already, during parliamentary debate in Magdeburg, he had labelled "extremist left students" as an "ulcer in the body of the German folk".
Long under internal party pressure – at state and federal level – he quit in March as regional AfD chairman and parliamentary group leader in the Magdeburg assembly, blaming "enormous media pressure" saying had not reckoned upon such widespread reaction.
Bid to 'discredit' civil society
As the 12-member inquiry committee adjourned its work until September on Wednesday, the Left party's leader in the assembly Thomas Lippmann accused the far-right party of wanting to "discredit all that is [positioned politically] left of the AFD."
"And that is a lot, particularly in civil society," added Lippmann.
Poggenburg, before Wednesday's session, had said he would also target trade unions.
Climate of fear being spread
An alliance of culture professionals, trade unions, youth groups and churches accused the AfD of spreading a climate of fear since first entering the Magdeburg assembly in 2016.
Saxony-Anhalt did not have a knowledge gap about left-wing and right-wing extremism, said Greens interior affairs expert Sebastian Striegel.
"We know who endangers our democracy and they above all are right-wing extremists," asserted Striegel.
Poggenburg, on the AfD's Saxony-Anhalt website, said the need for the inquiry was illustrated by property damage caused during a recent "leftist demo" in Salzwedel, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Magdeburg.
Police quoted by German DLF public radio said a window and glass door of an AfD office in Salzwedel has been shattered by stone throwers on Tuesday night.
The words "Nazis out" had been sprayed in pink of the building's facade.
Extremists already identified
At the inquiry's next session in September, Saxony-Anhalt's Verfassungsschutz domestic intelligence agency will enlarge on findings ascribing 490 people to the extreme left and 1,300 to the extreme right.
"Herr Poggenburg can probe whatever and as long as he wants – the phenomenon of left-wing extremism will not become bigger as a result," said Striegel.
Leading CDU inquiry member Dietmar Krause said his party stood for a "fact-oriented" debate within the parliamentary inquiry committee.
Support for AfD slumps
On Tuesday, the Berlin-based newspaper Die Welt and the Munich-based magazine Focus reported that the AfD's landslide 24.3 percent of 2016 had slumped.
If Saxony-Anhalt voted next weekend, the AfD would garner only 15 percent, said Focus.
Haseloff's CDU would climb to 35 percent – a gain of 5 percent over 2016 – and the Left party and the Social Democrats would each benefit as well.