Hubert Aiwanger and the Auschwitz pamphlet: the CSU leader demanded “complete clarification” from his coalition partner. Is Markus Söder enough to say that his brother wrote the paper? Doesn’t look like it.
When Markus Söder occasionally wanders through Bavarian history, as befits a proud prime minister, he likes to remind people of the Wittelsbach family. The royal family initially allied themselves with Napoleon for their own benefit, but later turned their backs on him. Söder, who has always been accused of power-political opportunism, likes to cite this with a wink as an example of the fact that Bavarian rulers traditionally have a certain flexibility.
Since this weekend it looks as if the next test on the example is imminent. Hubert Aiwanger, 52, has nothing in common with Napoleon, apart from the fact that Lower Bavarian is almost as difficult to understand for untrained ears as French. But because of him, Söder is threatened with a veritable government crisis in the middle of the Bavarian state election campaign, and the Prime Minister has to decide with whom he wants to share power in the future.
Aiwanger is the boss and poster boy of the Free Voters, has been a coalition partner of Söder’s CSU since 2018, Minister of Economics in his cabinet and therefore Deputy Prime Minister. But whether that will remain the case is now, six weeks before the election, an open question. And the rather tricky decision about this lies primarily with Markus Söder.
Anonymous witnesses incriminate Hubert Aiwanger
On Friday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on a leaflet discovered in 1987 at the high school Hubert Aiwanger attended. In it, a “national competition” is supposedly advertised: “Who is the biggest traitor to the fatherland?” According to the typewritten paper, applicants would like to apply for an interview in the “Dachau concentration camp”. Deadline: January 1, 1988. The first prize to be won is a “free flight through the chimney in Auschwitz.” The SZ reports, citing several anonymous witnesses, that Aiwanger is said to have written the pamphlet, which he had previously denied through his spokesman.
Söder initially had contact with Aiwanger on Saturday and later publicly asked him to clarify the matter. The allegations would have to be cleared up “completely,” said Söder. In the afternoon, after a long period of reflection by his standards, Aiwanger spoke up. He knows the author of the leaflet, he will explain himself. Shortly thereafter, Aiwanger’s brother took responsibility and regretted the pamphlet.
The CSU continues to consider the matter “dubious”
The range of public reactions, readable in the social media, is maximum: Aiwanger’s brother is just a pawn, say some. The others think Aiwanger is relieved. Now Söder has to decide: Has the allegation against Aiwanger been completely eliminated, as the Prime Minister requested? Or does he have to stop working with his coalition partner? From the CSU it is said that the matter remains “dubious”, the variant with the brother “little credible”. There is no proof that Aiwanger actually wrote the leaflet. On the other hand, he himself admits that it was found in his satchel. He no longer wants to know exactly whether he distributed the pamphlet. It is considered unlikely that Söder will stand behind Aiwanger on this basis.
The matter is delicate. Because Söder’s decision depends first and foremost on whether he himself will be contaminated by the Aiwanger case. If he is too lenient, he could scare off middle-class voters, who have long been disgusted by the populist behavior of the Free Voters boss. This could also cause him difficulties in his own ranks, where not everyone approves of the tolerance that Söder has shown towards Aiwanger so far. Also at stake is his aura that, despite all his power-political flexibility, he shows no mercy when it comes to National Socialist ideas. Just a few days ago, Söder launched a campaign that was actually directed against the AfD. Franz Josef Strauss can be seen on posters with the quote: “We want nothing to do with far-right fools and extremists.”
The risk of solidarity with Aiwanger
However, if Söder drops his coalition partner, he must fear a solidarity effect that could drive further voters to Aiwanger. Conspiracy theories that it was a set up game so that Söder could get rid of the free voters would flourish unhindered. Just a few weeks ago, Aiwanger drew massive criticism from the CSU after he questioned democracy in Germany at a rally. Söder also spoke at the event organized by a cabaret artist – he was booed by parts of the audience.
In the polls for the election on October 8, the CSU is at 40 percent, with the AfD, Greens and Aiwanger’s Free Voters fighting for second place. Since an absolute majority seems unattainable, Söder is dependent on a coalition partner and committed himself to the Free Voters early on.
Who could be the new coalition partner?
So far, Aiwanger’s squad has seemed to be the easiest partner for Söder, even if there were always conflicts. The head of the Free Voters, even when in government, repeatedly portrayed himself as a people’s tribune and even stirred up opposition to laws passed by his own coalition. In the Corona crisis, Aiwanger, in contrast to the Prime Minister, showed himself to be a vaccine skeptic and only allowed himself to be immunized from within his own ranks after a rebuke from Söder and criticism. But the closer the state elections got, the more peace-loving both sides presented themselves.
Should Söder nevertheless do without the Free Voters, there would probably be no shortage of potential coalition partners in purely mathematical terms. But politically it would be far more exhausting for Söder. The AfD is out of the question, from Söder’s point of view the SPD and the Greens have the flaw that they belong to the traffic light coalition in Berlin. As is well known, it is not very popular anywhere at the moment, which is why Söder does not want to get too close to it. In addition, the alleged discrimination against Bavaria by the government of Olaf Scholz could always be polemicized.
So far he has completely ignored the SPD in the election campaign. If the name of the top candidate Florian von Brunn is mentioned, CSU members have fun asking: “Who?”. The Greens, on the other hand, have Söder in their sights again and again, mainly to mobilize his supporters against alleged regulatory rage from heating to eating. It would take a great deal of Wittelsbach suppleness to form a coalition with them.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.