The Financial Times has reported on a chilling occurance in the German arts community that has eerie parallels with the country’s Nazi past. A politician from the country’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, Rainer Balzer, issued a formal parliamentary request for the nationalities of opera and ballet employees in the Baden-Württemberg region of the country. The arts ministry of the region is obligated to comply with the request. “In the context of Germany’s past, the idea of a list of names and nationalities was really quite shocking,” said Petra Olschowski, Baden-Württemberg’s deputy arts minister, to the Financial Times. As the article explains, the AfD has recently begun to target Germany’s arts community in its larger campaign to combat cultural diversity in the country:
It is the latest stage in the culture wars that are raging throughout Germany. Nationalists want to remove what they see as leftwing bias in the arts; state-funded arts organisations are horrified that national history may be repeating itself. They have engaged in fierce battles. In January, Das Blaue Wunder, a new play at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden, satirised a dystopian future under the AfD. Days earlier, the Cinexx cinema in Hachenburg offered party members free tickets to a screening of Schindler’s List . The AfD’s standard responses to such provocation have been to obstruct performances, issue death threats and call for cuts.
Now, as the party gains momentum ahead of critical regional elections, a more elusive battle for hearts and minds is taking form. Parliamentary requests on questions of ethnicity are a favourite tool of the AfD, but this, the ministry believes, is the first time arts organisations have been addressed. The strategy is to mount pressure on theatres while instrumentalising them as a symbol of a broken, multicultural Germany. Balzer says he wanted to reveal that “the proportion of qualified local artists has become small”. Olschowski believes that opera and ballet, which is more international than spoken theatre, were simply easy targets.
But the German arts community is fighting back against the far right’s nationalist offensive. As the Finanical Times explains, “Now German theatres are rallying together to co-ordinate the counteroffensive. In February, the Verein für Demokratische Kultur in Berlin published tips for arts organisations on managing confrontations with nationalists … Theatres are diversifying their skills, becoming campaigners and shrewd communicators.”
The article is behind a paywall, but if you have subscriber access to the Financial Times, it’s well worth a read.
Image via Financial Times.