During the election campaign, a small pile of fliers from the far-right party AfD appeared at the entrance to my building. I took them to the recycling bin, feeling like an Antifa Supersoldier.
On Wednesday, a company called Flyerservice Hahn revealed that they had gotten their hands on 72 tons (!) of campaign materials from the Alternative für Deutschland. Four days after the election, they presented three giant trash containers filled to the brim with blue AfD fliers. At the improvised Recycling Centre at Holzmarktstraße, people could tear up pamphlets or wade around in them like a racist ball pit.
Flyerservice Hahn – this is probably obvious – is not a real company. It is the latest stunt of the Center for Political Beauty (ZPS). Part art collective and part human rights organisation, the ZPS is like a not-boring version of Amnesty International defending an “aggressive humanism.”
Half a year ago, they started writing to the AfD offering to distribute fliers at rock-bottom prices. 85 different branches sent their fliers to a logistics centre in Mainz – where they remained until after the election. The campaign website is full of angry messages from far-right politicians: “we haven’t seen a single flyer in mailboxes!” etc. etc. etc.
Was it hard? “The AfD made it extremely easy for us,” is what Thilde Rosenberg of the ZPS told me. They were never expecting to get truckloads of materials. I had always assumed that party members were the ones handing out fliers. “Maybe they don’t have enough sympathisers, or they’re afraid, or they’re lazy – or everything together” said Rosenberg. In any case, the AfD jumped at the chance to have someone else campaign for them.
This 15-minute video explains how it was done (in German):
One thing the AfD has is lots of money. The right-wingers like to present themselves as defenders of the “little guy,” but their party gets lots of donations – both legal and illegal – from extremely wealthy racists. As I wrote a few months ago, a construction site near my house belongs to a billionaire who gives illegal donations to the AfD.
The campaign materials all centred around the AfD slogan “Germany, but normal.” The AfD got 4.8 million votes – that is 10.3% of people who voted, or 7.8% of people eligible to vote, or 5.8% of people living in Germany. It is kind of funny to think of such a tiny minority thinking of themselves as the “normal” ones. I know they would consider me – a commie with a foreign accent – abnormal. But they are saying that over 90% of the country has abandoned normality. In a sense, I think it was much more normal for people to say absurdly racist things just a few years ago, and I guess a tiny minority is having trouble with them.
Looking at these mountains of misappropriated fliers, the German part of my brain started freewheeling: what about contracts? What about Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen (AGBs or terms of service)? Wasn’t somebody going to get in trouble?!? The first ZPS person I asked – easy to recognise with streaks of paint on their faces – was amused: who was going to come? Was the AfD going to show up and take back the fliers? That would actually be quite practical if someone else could take care of the recycling!
The ZPS has been doing actions like this for over ten years partly thanks to their great lawyers. The AfD handed over their material voluntarily, and every business would warn that fliers might not be handed out in time.
But I was seeing this all wrong: this has nothing to do with a business contract. Flyerservice Hahn is not a company and not in the commercial register. It is an art project. And freedom of art is protected by Article 5 of the German constitution.
Four years ago, the ZPS put up a mini version of the Holocaust memorial in front of the house of the fascist AfD politician Björn Höcke in rural Thuringia. Höcke, who just a few years ago can be clearly recognised at Nazi demonstrations, had said the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was a disgrace. So they put one that he could see every day – and thanks to freedom of art, courts have ensured that it still stands there today.
The principle is explained by the musician Danger Dan, who had an enormous hit half a year ago with the song Das ist alles von der Kunstfreiheit gedeckt (This is all covered by freedom of art). As an artist, Dan can say what he wants about right-wing ideologues and conspiracy theorists.
If I, as a journalist, were to write that AfD honorary chair Alexander “Gauland seems like a national socialist,” then I could potentially get in trouble for insulting him, or something. So I’m not going to say that. But I can write that Danger Dan sings that “Gauland seems like a national socialist” – then I’m just reporting on art. Pretty cool!
The AfD handed over those five million fliers in the framework of an art project – and it’s not up to the viewer to decide on what an artist does.
This kind of high-tech antifascism is not, at the end of the day, what we need to stop the rise of the Far Right. We need a mass movement to beat them politically, rather than relying on brilliant artists to outsmart them. I must admit, however, that as I was wading around in a pile of racist fliers three metres deep, I felt extremely happy. The only thing that makes me happier is being in a crowd of tens of thousands of people blocking AfD events. Antifascist art is an important component of such a mass movement.
For legal reasons, let me close by quoting Danger Dan: “Fascists never stop being fascists. You don’t discuss with them — that’s what history has shown. You also don’t trust the state or the police apparatus, because Germany’s secret service helped build the NSU. Because the police was itself always filled with Nazis. Because they restrained Oury Jalloh and burned him to death. If you can’t stop the violence peacefully, then the last resort for all of us is militancy.”