Shalom Life | July 01, 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

One clear morning in 2004, an elderly man walking down the streets of the German city Leipzig came across a familiar sight which awoke unpleasant memories of the past: Dozens of demonstrators with a red arm-band with a white circle on it and a black symbol within. He witnessed Nazi demonstrations in his city in the past, but this time he decided to take a stand. He stuck out his leg as the protest’s leader passed him by, tripped him and watched with a smile as he fell to the ground.

The activists’ reaction was handing the old man a flyer. The elderly man walked away, and only after a few dozen feet suddenly noticed: The symbol on the arm of the demonstrators was not a swastika, but an apple.

“We like it when people get confused, this is why we do it,” explained Max Upravitelev, one of the leaders of The German Apples Front, in an interview. Contrary to first impressions, he is not the head of an extreme right wing party, but the “minister of propaganda” of a group that pokes fun at neo-Nazis by manipulating symbols and slogans usually associated with them.

The German Apples Front’s provocative actions often inspire outrage, but Upravitelev insisted that “most people like us, except, of course, the Nazis themselves”. And the elderly man they came across during one of their first demonstrations? “He came back 30 minutes later, apologized and applauded the work we were doing.”

The German Apples Front began its operations in 2004 in Leipzig, after the National Democratic Party (NPD) won ten seats in the state parliament of Lower Saxony. Their symbol was chosen as a “tribute” to the leader of the NPD, Holger Apfel (apple in German), and their operations were inspired extremists.

“They always stole symbols from the left,” argued Upravitelev, and reminded how neo-Nazis used to ware Che Guevara t-shirts at their demonstrations. “The Nazis always tried to make themselves seem like something they’re not, but we have created a concept they can’t steal”.

The strategy may be familiar, but The Apple Front hoped that utilizing it in favor of the left would freshen up political protest culture. “We offer an alternative to the usual methods, simply because they are boring. Instead of just standing around at a protest and waiting for something to happen, we create a comic relief,” clarified Upravitelev.

Photo: Max Upravitelev
Photo: Max Upravitelev

“When we started, people used to see us and think we were Nazis, but then they would realize that nowadays neo-Nazis look differently. Now the initial shocked reaction is gone, but our tactics still work well”.

Dangerously misunderstood

In a country where displaying Nazi symbols is an offence punishable by up to three years in jail, such a misunderstanding can also entail trouble with the law.

“The police didn’t know what to do with us for a long time,” Upravitelev confirmed.

“At our first demonstration, the policemen took pictures of us and sent them to a guy who looked through a bunch of photo folders, to check if we are wearing uniforms and if we’re breaking the law. Even later, when we attended right-wing demonstrations, they didn’t know if to let us join them or to send us to where the counter-protest was staged”.

Upravitelev added that “we didn’t really want to explain who we were, since that was the whole point”.

The Apple Front does seem like a militant organization at first glance, and the movement’s Wikipedia page tells the story of an organized operation, complete with its own youth group and women’s movement. In reality, it functions more like a democracy.

“We never bothered to change the (Wikipedia) page because it served our purpose,” Upravitelev admits. “But actually our inner circle consists of 30 people who come up with ideas and plan everything together. We have a ‘leader’, an actor who plays the Fuhrer, but we don’t really worship him. We present ourselves to the public as the true national force of Germany, but it’s all part of the act”.

The Apple Front is most identified with their catch phrase “Germany for German apples” and “southern fruits get out” – a satirical jab at the extreme right’s reaction to influx immigration into Europe – but lately the movement has begun expanding its targets.

Photo: Max Upravitelev
Photo: Max Upravitelev

“After years of telling the same jokes, we also grew bored,” confessed the ‘propoganda minister’, explaining the motive behind the organization’s latest action: Barging into a right wing convention on family values in Leipzig to protest homophobia.

“The NPD had collapsed from within,” claimed Upravitelev. “The Neo-Nazis stopped holding massive demonstrations like they did a decade ago. They don’t provide us with enough material anymore. That is why we are trying to expand, and I feel that Europe’s problem is the whole right wing movement, that a few years ago persecuted Muslims, and now rallies against gay marriage. These people and their perception of how Europe needs to look like endanger us all”.

Continue Reading on Page 2

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