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AfD Leader on Trial: Taking a Look at Germany's Denazification and Strafgesetzbuch

Far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Björn Höcke has recently gone on trial after being accused of using a banned Nazi slogan. Höcke is currently running to be state governor of Thuringia, a state in Germany’s east. He is accused of ending a May 2021 speech with the phrase “Alles für Deutschland” which translates to “Everything for Germany.” Höcke is then accused of repeating that same offense in December 2021. This phrase is banned due to it once being a motto of the Sturmabteilung, the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party that played a significant role in the rise of Adolf Hitler. If convicted, Höcke faces three years in prison. 

After World War II, Germany underwent a process of denazification where all forms of Nazi ideology and influence were removed from every aspect of public life. The occupying Allies (the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and France) carried this out by banning the Nazi Party, making the advocacy of Nazi ideas punishable by death, banning Swastikas and other emblems, having Germans fill out questionnaires about their involvement in Nazism and taking ex-Nazis on tours of concentration camps. These efforts aimed to re-educate Germans to leave Nazism behind as well as to confront the crimes of the Nazi regime. Those who had been involved in any suspected war crimes were tried at Nuremberg. 

From 1945 to 1946, Nazi leaders stood trial for crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the conspiracy to commit any such crimes. These trials began with the indictment against 24 major war criminals and seven organizations. The US would go on to hold 12 subsequent trials. As the Nuremberg Trials concluded, 199 total defendants were tried. 161 would be convicted and 37 would be sentenced to death. 

Section 86a of Germany’s Strafgesetzbuch (“Penal Law Book”) bans the distribution of online and offline propaganda and public display or distribution of “flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans, forms of greeting and belonging to political parties and organizations deemed unconstitutional by the German Federal Constitutional Court outside the contexts of art, science, research and teaching.” This section is primarily used to outlaw fascist and Nazi symbols as well as communist, Islamic extremist and Russian militarist symbols. The rationale behind this is to prevent the glorification of Nazi ideology and to promote societal tolerance in general. 

Section 130 criminalizes certain types of hate speech. Specifically, it bans “incitement to hatred and insults that assault human dignity against people based on racial, national, religious or ethnic background.” It is most often used to prosecute racist and antisemitic threats and carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. In 1994, Section 130 expanded to explicitly ban Holocaust denial

Regarding the German electoral system, political parties must earn five percent of the vote to take seats in the Bundestag, the German parliament. This was introduced to control fractured party politics which in the past provided a platform for the Nazi regime. This rule was implemented to ensure that smaller parties would not be able to gain momentum and that no fringe political party could enter the mainstream and obtain power.

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