The leader of the Thuringian CDU, Mario Voigt, wanted to face Höcke in Thursday's television duel. At least: the catastrophe did not occur. But that's still far from good.

Two white men smile at the camera

Björn Höcke (AfD, left) and Mario Voigt (CDU, right), main candidates for the state elections in Thuringia Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa

SEDAN taz | At the end, when the broadcast time has already passed, Mario Voigt returns to summarize his message. “They are not bourgeois, they are ethnic; “We are democratic, they are authoritarian,” he says belligerently to Björn Höcke, who is next to him at the lectern in the WeltTV studio. Voigt, state leader of the CDU in Thuringia and his party's main candidate for the state elections in September, wants to replace left-wing Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow.

The night could have been worse for the CDU man. In the television duel with his AfD opponent, the far-right Höcke, it takes him a while to find his way of speaking. First, when it comes to economic issues, he goes on the defensive with a statesmanlike tone. Höcke accuses him of saying that the CDU, as the long-ruling party, is partly responsible for the country's problems.

At least: the catastrophe does not happen. Voigt does not lose the duel. But that doesn't mean anything good.

However, this could be enough for the CDU man. After all, strategically, this evening is about two things: increasing his popularity with the duel, because many Thuringians, whose prime minister he wants to become, don't even know him. And the current Ramelow, the still popular leftist, will be the main opponent. The AfD is ahead in the polls, but since no one wants to form a coalition with them, the fight for prime minister will probably be fought between the CDU and the left. A public exchange of blows between Voigt and Ramelow would be obvious. In fact.

Podium for the fascist

But Voigt wants to remove Ramelow from the scene and turn the state elections in Thuringia into a duel between the CDU and AfD. If you want to prevent the far-right Höcke, you have to vote for the CDU, that should be the message to voters. The prime-time television duel is the start of this.

“It's easy to call him fascist. I don't have to do that, a court has already done that,” says Voigt at some point during the duel. Except that Voigt – and the Springer publishing house – are currently offering this fascist a national podium that makes him appear as a completely normal political competitor and normalizes right-wing extremism. By the way, on the anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Thuringia. This had already received strong criticism from the beginning.

But also praise for Voigt's bravery. He had announced that he wanted to provide content for the AfD and “bring Höcke to the light”. Höcke's positions are already illuminated.

The somewhat chaotic duel ended up lasting 71 minutes instead of the planned 45 minutes. Sometimes nothing is understood because not only the two speakers but also the two moderators are speaking at the same time. The fact that the latter announce a data verification several times, but only for the next day, does not improve matters. Höcke gets away with making false statements about, for example, development aid spending and the costs of illegal migration. He can claim that the British will be better off after Brexit and he can rant against Muslims. Nobody intervenes.

The debate does not revolve around Thuringia, except for a somewhat strange dispute over whether raw minced meat in a roll is called Mett or minced meat. Voigt, who corrects Höcke, wants to make it clear that he is actually from Thuringia, but Höcke is just a wessi who has moved here. Otherwise, there is a debate about Europe and migration, the culture of remembrance and the war in Ukraine.

Sometimes defensive

There are also moments when Höcke ends up on the defensive. For example, when the moderator and Voigt asked about the issue of “remigration,” by which far-right extremists understand the expulsion of millions of people, including those with German passports. Höcke wrote about this in his book.

But now, after many questions, he offers a completely new definition: that it is about bringing back Germans who have emigrated abroad. “I would have hoped they would have had more courage to stand their ground,” adds Voigt. Some AfD supporters may not like this.

Or when Höcke no longer remembers his statements about the current vice president of the Bundestag, Aydan Özuguz. He said that it had no place in Germany because, apart from the language, there was “no specifically German culture” to recognize. The SPD politician has Turkish roots. At that moment you get the feeling that Höcke is starting to lurch.

But self-trivialization (that is, the attempt to make one's agenda seem less radical) is also a far-right strategy. The AfD should look like a normal party. The prime-time exchange of blows with the CDU state leader may have helped. Höcke did not win the duel. But it was definitely a success for him.