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State premier loses temper with protesters

Carla Bleiker
April 25, 2016

Thuringia's premier Bodo Ramelow found harsh words for left-wing protesters. Never one to hold back, he lashed out at a group from his own side of the political spectrum over a contentious protest march.

Bodo Ramelow in Erfurt. (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Schutt)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Schutt

Politicians are not usually known for their clear language. More often than not, they seem to prefer beating around the bush to being straightforward, for fear of being held to a certain statement later or offending potential voters. Not so Bodo Ramelow, premier of Thuringia in eastern Germany and the first-ever state premier from the Left Party.

"Your arrogance pisses me off," Ramelow said to protesters at an awards ceremony on Saturday. When he realized he was being filmed, he reached for the smartphone in question, at which point the video stops abruptly.

Aside from the unusual candidness, another surprising factor about the incident was the fact that the protesters came from the far-left "Antifa" movement. Antifa is short for "anti-fascist." Ideologically, the protesters were close to Ramelow's own party.

"The left wing of the Left Party does have a rather close relationship with Antifa," party researcher Torsten Oppelland, who is also a professor of political science at Jena University in Thuringia, told DW. "The abrasiveness and clarity of Ramelow in this situation were surprising."

So what happened to make Thuringia's premier so mad?

Contentious protest march

A couple of days earlier, Ramelow had taken to Twitter to criticize an event organized by several Antifa groups. The leftwing activists are calling for supporters to join them in a protest on May 5, Ascension Day, in the town of Bornhagen.

The village in Thuringia only has around 300 residents. One of them is the head of Thuringia's chapter of the rightwing-populist AfD ("Alternative für Deutschland" or Alternative for Germany), Björn Höcke. Organizers named the upcoming protest in Bornhagen "Straight to hell" and are not holding back about their plans for May 5.

"Let's ruin the holiday fun of Thuringia's AfD chief and his voters with our sheer presence and tell them: Go straight to hell!" reads a call to action that has been posted online.

Höcke has said the planned protest is an attack on his privacy - and Ramelow agrees with him, even though the AfD is about as far away from the Left Party as you can get.

"Those are Nazi methods," the state premier tweeted. "Why do these people stoop to the level of racists?"

The anti-fascists were outraged at the comparisons and approached Ramelow at the awards ceremony last weekend where the now infamous video was recorded.

Thuringia's government spokesman Günter Kolodziej said that the protestors took advantage of the event and its hosts "to propagate their strange and false slogans." He added that they "harassed" Ramelow in a manner that was completely inappropriate.

Insulting former heads of state

While some have criticized the premier's word choice, others are supporting his clear stance.

"We have to give the premier credit for not trying to ingratiate himself to his potential clientele," party researcher Oppelland said. "Instead, he pushed back, in line with basic principles. And he's completely right. Hosting a protest in such a village is aimed not at a policy but at the person behind it."

Silvio Berlusconi in 2008. (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Dal Zennaro)
Ramelow wasn't very fond of Italy's former PM Silvio BerlusconiImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Dal Zennaro

Ramelow is known for expressing himself in a way that's unusual for a politician. He once called former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a "dirty ass," and was promptly rebuked by politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU.

The sad tale of Tröglitz' mayor

When Ramelow linked Antifa's planned Bornhagen protest march to Nazi methods, he called to mind an incident that occurred last spring.

In March 2015, the neo-Nazi party NPD announced a rally in front of Markus Nierth's house. Nierth was the independent district mayor of Tröglitz, a small town in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. He had worked hard to convince his citizens that accepting and integrating refugees was a good idea and was countered by NPD politicians at every turn.

When he got no support in stopping the rally in front of the house where he lives with his wife and seven children, Nierth finally gave up and resigned.

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