The Center for Political Beauty's Holocaust memorial replica built next to AfD's Björn Höcke home maddened the far-right party — but it pleased many others, including the initiator of the original memorial in Berlin.
The replica of Germany's national Holocaust memorial outside the home of Björn Höcke, Thuringia's leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD), installed by the artist collective Center for Political Beauty ("Zentrum für Politische Schönheit") attracted media attention worldwide — and provoked strong reactions.
"It's psychological warfare," said Stefan Möller, the AfD's spokesperson in Thuringia, in a press conference on Wednesday evening.
But the initiator of the actual Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Lea Rosh, described the project as "a wonderful idea" and an "exquisite punishment" for the politician.
Earlier this year, Björn Höcke caused outrage by describing the memorial in Berlin as a "monument of shame." He had also called for a "180-degree turn" in Germany's attitude to World War II.
Aggressive mobs and death threats
A press release from the the Center for Political Beauty said that Saxony's AfD deputy Jens Maier had falsely claimed that the activists had taken photographs of Höcke's children. When it initially publicly presented the action, the artists' group said it had been spying on Höcke since January, when it rented the property neighboring to the politician's house. However, the center declared that children were in no way part of its activist art installation and plan to file a claim if Maier repeats his statements.
Meanwhile, a mob threatened the artists and journalists who were on the site of the Holocaust memorial replica in Bornhagen on Wednesday. Several death threats were posted by Björn Höcke's followers on Facebook and not deleted by the account owner.
The Center for Political Beauty activists had to leave the site on Wednesday night for security reasons. The Holocaust memorial replica will be under constant police surveillance. On Thursday, Christian Carius, Thuringia's state parliamentary speaker and member of the CDU party, asked the region's interior minister to put the artists "under surveillance." The Center for Political Beauty thanked the authorities for the security.
'Deal' or 'extortion'?
Within one day, the activists had already met their expected crowdfunding goal of € 69,000 (nearly $82,000) for the upkeep of the memorial. The group estimated the costs at €8,400 a year, and they are now covered at least until 2022.
The artists say that they will remove the installation of 24 cement stelae if Höcke accepts to fall to his knees in front of the Holocaust memorial and begs for forgiveness for Germany's actions during World War II — repeating the famous gesture of penance former Chancellor Willy Brandt had done in Warsaw in 1970.
State parliamentary speaker Carius described this as extortion: "Having been through two dictatorships, we Germans know such methods all too well," he said. Philip Ruch, artistic director of the Center for Political Beauty, countered that they weren't blackmailing the politician, but that they were rather offering him a "deal."
Police investigations have been launched against the group of activists, on claims of stalking, coercion and theft, a spokesperson for the regional Landhausen police department told press agency EPD on Thursday.
The Center for Political Beauty is renowned for its ambitious and controversial performances, which have often taken European refugee policies as a target.