In the affair surrounding an old anti-Semitic leaflet and after further allegations about his school days, Bavaria's deputy head of government, Hubert Aiwanger, has publicly defended himself.
“I have never been an anti-Semite or an extremist,” the Free Voters leader told the German Press Agency in Munich on Wednesday evening. "I don't remember any allegations against me as a teenager, but they may be due to things that can be interpreted one way or another," added the 52-year-old.
On the sidelines of an appointment in Donauwörth, Aiwanger had previously said to the Welt TV station in the presence of other journalists: "It is definitely the case that perhaps in adolescence one or the other can be interpreted in one way or another, what as a 15-year-old here I'm accused of." However, he emphasized: "But in any case, I've been saying since adulthood, the last few decades: not an anti-Semite, not an extremist, but a philanthropist." He could "put all hands on fire for the last few decades". What is now being discussed from adolescence surprises him a little.
Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) had previously asked Aiwanger to answer the 25 questions he was asked quickly, comprehensively and unequivocally, including on new allegations. The heads of the Berlin traffic light coalition, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) and Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP), also demanded clarification - and, if necessary, consequences. The free voters in Bavaria, on the other hand, rallied behind Aiwanger and complained about a "smear campaign".
The new allegations come from a former classmate of Aiwanger: In the 1980s, when entering the already occupied classroom, Aiwanger is said to have "showed a Hitler salute" from time to time, as the man told the ARD magazine "Report Munich", according to a classmate from the 7th to 9th grade. In addition, Aiwanger "very often imitated these Hitler speeches in this Hitler slang". Even anti-Jewish jokes were "definitely made". What "strong attitude" was behind it, he said: "I have no idea."
The "Bild" said Aiwanger to the accusation of showing the Hitler salute: "I don't remotely remember that I should have done something like that." On Aiwanger's profile on X (formerly Twitter) there was a new entry for the first time in days: "
Söder is now waiting for Aiwanger's written answers to the 25 questions. He will then make a final assessment. This means that he will probably have to make a very specific decision as to whether or not to dismiss Aiwanger, and that less than six weeks before the state elections.
He is in an almost hopeless dilemma: In the event of Aiwanger's dismissal, the free voters could benefit massively in the state elections - at least that is the great concern of the CSU. On the other hand, Söder and the CSU could ultimately be held jointly liable if he continues to hold on to Aiwanger despite everything.
On Saturday, Aiwanger had denied in writing that he had written an anti-Semitic leaflet during his school days that the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" had reported on. At the same time, however, he admitted that "one or a few copies" were found in his school bag. Shortly thereafter, Aiwanger's older brother admitted to having written the pamphlet.
"All questions must be clarified beyond doubt. There must be no suspicion left," said Söder. Aiwanger now has the opportunity to express himself reasonably, fairly and comprehensively. "We should also receive a timely and highly transparent answer, so that we can then have a credible discussion about how we assess it."
On Tuesday, Söder said: "Until there is final clarification, as long as there is no new evidence or what has been said so far can be completely refuted, dismissal from the office of a state minister would be excessive." But he added: "That means nothing more can be added now."
Scholz calls for complete clarification
Chancellor Scholz said at the cabinet meeting in Meseberg near Berlin: "Everything that has become known so far is very depressing. And that's why it is very clear to me that everything has to be clarified." If that happened and nothing was "hidden" then the necessary consequences would have to be drawn from it.
Habeck said in Meseberg that he found Aiwanger's handling of the reports disingenuous. In recent speeches he had "obviously" used the language of "right-wing populism". It was a question for Söder whether he wanted to continue working with a colleague who acted like this. "I find it hard to imagine." And Lindner also said: "In my opinion, the handling and the willingness to provide information have not been credible so far." Clarity must urgently be created with the consequences that may then be necessary.
Aiwanger said of the feedback he is currently receiving: "I have very, very predominantly the statement that a smear campaign is being driven here and that I should be destroyed here politically and personally." Most said: "It can't be that you're confronted with things that happened so long ago."
Free voters in solidarity with Aiwanger
The free voters in Bavaria are united behind Aiwanger. This was emphasized by several members of the party and parliamentary group executive committee on Wednesday after joint deliberations in the state parliament in Munich. "And we will continue to do so," said Secretary General Susann Enders. Group leader Florian Streibl said: "We are in solidarity with him." He criticized that the fate of millions of Jews was now being used to finish off a politician.
In response to Söder's statements on Tuesday, Streibl added: "We have to send a message: There will only be a coalition in the future with Hubert Aiwanger." Streibl did not respond to speculation that Aiwanger could move from the ministerial office to the head of the Free Voters faction in a kind of castling. "Aiwanger will always be there somehow. (...) It won't work without it."
Söder said on Tuesday that he wanted to continue the coalition. However, coalitions "did not depend on a single person," said Söder. "It's the same with or without a person in state office."
Environment Minister Thorsten Glauber from the Free Voters made it clear that he sees no basis for Söder to dismiss Aiwanger. "Nothing is explicitly proven here." What is not proven cannot be brought to justice. The presumption of innocence applies.