Shalom Life | April 28, 2014

Germany Responds to neo-Nazis with 'The German Apples Front'

'We like it when people get confused, this is why we do it,' says leader of political group intent on fighting far-right politics in Germany by ridiculing Nazi political culture

By: Polina Garaev

Published: April 21st, 2014 in News » World

Apples and Garlic

Upravitelev doesn’t cite the weakening of the extreme right as an achievement. Instead, he prides himself on the front’s influence over the occurrence in another country, Hungary, where the like-minded Garlic Front was founded in 2010.

“We chose the garlic because it’s something very Hungarian and it symbolizes strength,” explained the founder Armin Langer, 23, who until recent served as president of the propaganda and ideology department. “If something can count as a national vegetable in Hungary, except paprika, it’s definitely garlic”.

Langer was at an international seminar in Austria about fascism when he encountered the Apple Front’s activity. “In Hungary ‘anti-fascism’ means that 70-year-old people go to put flowers on Soviet monuments, and the Apple Front’s activity seemed so exciting,” he recollected. So he recruited his friends - some of them political activists, artists, and journalists - and ever since they have been working the implement the Apple Front’s model in their country also.

“The difference between us and our German peers is that they are mocking something that today is pretty marginal, but in Hungary it’s in the mainstream,” Langer emphasized.

“You can see the shift towards the extreme right, and this is what we are fighting against”. For Upravitelev, their efforts came as a complete surprise. “We never imagined it would be possible to adapt our concept to a different country. When the Garlic Front was founded, I was ready to leave the whole thing. Now we are wondering if this might work in other countries”.

One egged Stork

While the Apple and Garlic banner-men search for a new front, others are joining the fight inside Germany. One of those initiatives gave birth to the Storch Heinar - a stork with a military helmet, a narrow mustache, an allergy to frog meat, and a dream to become an artist, or a fashion designer to be exact.

“It’s a parody on Adolf Hitler’s life story”, explained Julian Barlen, the manager of the project, which includes selling t-shirts with the stork’s image. “We even wrote a book, a took-off of ‘Mein Kampf’, to describe Storch Heinar’s difficult childhood and how everyone ignored its art. It also tells about its single egg, referencing the rumors that Hitler only had one testicle”.

Barlen, now a member of the state parliament in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, founded the brand with his friends as part of their protest against the opening of a store in downtown Rostock, which sold CDs by neo-Nazi bands and cloths of the brand Thor Steinar.

One of Barlen’s friends pointed out how similar the brand’s name to the word “stork”, and the joke gave birth to political protest. “If the Neo-Nazis use fashion to spread their ideas, so can we,” he explained. Thor Steinar, on their part, were not amused: in 2008 they accused the humorous brand of violating copyrights, ironically taking them to court in Nuremberg - “I guess they overlooked the irony,” noted Barlen - but the Storch Heinar prevailed.

Since then the project has expanded to additional fields: Besides selling t-shirts, mugs, and bags on their website, the people behind Storch Heinar now also organize school events and mass rallies attended by the stork figure, in order to raise awareness to extremism.

“We formed a band called Storchkraft (stork power, in German) as a spoof of a famous neo-Nazi band, Störkraft, with which we perform in schools for at-risk youths,” added Barlen.

“Our target audience is people who might be vulnerable to the neo-Nazi ideology but haven’t adopted it yet. We want to make them think and look for more information about what it really means,” he continued.

According to Barlen, the use of parody and humor succeeds in grabbing the attention of people who are otherwise indifferent to politics, but he also admitted he’s no stranger to the troubles faced by The Apple Front: "We have over 70 thousand likes on Facebook and every time we publish something, at least a thousand don’t get the joke and complain. For the Apples it must be even worse”.

Like the Apple Front, the people of Storch Heinar introduced the stork as a political candidate and a “neo-Nazi alternative” at the state election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern two years ago and yet again this year.

In the coming election, the stork is planned to run for office in three other states. Nevertheless, Barlen pointed out the difference between storks and the Apples: “Their activity is terrific in my view, but some people, especially the elderly, told me they were really frightened when they saw them all dressed in black and carrying red flags. One really needs to look closely to understand they’re not Nazis. I guess we take a softer approach”.

Upravitelev confirmed that in the beginning the movement was attacked by people who claimed their activity is too aggressive, but he rebuffed the criticism himself: “Satire need to disrupt the order, to daze and confuse people. We laugh occasionally at the ideology that led to the Nazi’s actions, but we would never disrespect the victims.”

Langer concurred: “I’m a Jew and almost half of the members of The Garlic Front are Jewish, and many times people thanked us because at least we bother enough to take action against the Nazis. Even if at first it’s annoying to see those symbols, after a few moments it’s clear to all that we aren’t real Nazis. Nobody ever felt that we belittle the memory of the Holocaust.”

Reprinted with permission from Ynet News

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