Passionate motorcyclist or scary neo-Nazi? Debate erupted in Germany over a controversial campaign poster that shows Udo Voigt, the candidate for the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), on a motorcycle, accompanied by a slogan that translates to "step on the gas."
Some opposition party leaders are calling for the NPD, which has ties to the neo-Nazi movement, to put the brakes on a slogan that they say takes on a very different meaning, given the source.
The Green Party leader Volker Ratzmann called the campaign an "intentional provocation." Andreas Gram, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union party in the Berlin city government, denounced the poster's "association with gas chambers" that killed millions of Jews in Nazi death camps.
The 22,000 posters that have been distributed around Berlin, where Voight is running for city parliament, have caused an uproar just a month before elections.
But Voigt says the accusations are baseless. He told Spiegel magazine, "I am a passionate motorcyclist and want to power my way into the (parliament) with gas." He added, "After 66 years, people need to stop bringing up things from the past."
The NPD didn't have a problem with bringing up the past in a party pamphlet crossword puzzle that included this clue: five-letter German name that has "fallen somewhat out of fashion." Answer: "Adolf." Or another that focuses on a "freedom flyer" of the 20th century. Answer: (Rudolph) Hess, Hitler's deputy.
The NPD, which runs on an anti-immigration platform, is hoping to win 5 percent of the vote, the required minimum to gain seats in the local parliament. Meanwhile, a regional public radio station in Berlin refused to air an NPD ad that blames foreigners for all of Germany's problems, saying the racist language is illegal.
Provocation does seem to be the point. A past campaign flyer from the party shows immigrants riding a flying carpet with the headline "good flight home."
To get a sense of how the politics differs in Germany from the United States, Michael St. Clair, who specializes in Germany linguistics at University of California at Berkely, explained it's all in the meaning of the message. "What's problematic to German politicians is whether or not the poster promotes the Nazi past or Nazi era." St. Clair emphasized, "That would definitely be illegal under the law."
However, the scholar is not convinced that for this is the case with the flyer, saying that the phrase in colloquial German is more a phrase that means "to accelerate" or "hurry up"--and not to gas people.
Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, agrees. He said in a statement to Yahoo! News, "One may take issue with Udo Voigt's political views and associations, or those of his party, but to draw a connection between this poster and Nazi gas chambers is ridiculous."
At the very least, the party is guilty of bad taste. Notes Devin Pendas, history professor at Boston College, "Whether the reference to the Nazi gas chambers was intentional, or whether, as seems more likely, the NDP intended to refer to getting the German economy moving again, phrasing it in the way they did shows poor political judgment and a lack of sensitivity to the character of German history."