Mario Voigt can be satisfied. The assumption that he would be defeated by AfD man Björn Höcke in a speech duel proved to be wrong on Thursday evening. On the contrary: Voigt seemed confident and well prepared, while Höcke appeared nervous and not very confident for long stretches. As the show progressed, Voigt became stronger, while Höcke became weaker, also because the moderators asked him more decisively. He was obviously keen to appear as a moderate politician.

Markus Wehner

Political correspondent for Saxony and Thuringia based in Erfurt.

Voigt said he would have expected Höcke to have the “guts” to stand by his theses. But Höcke didn't even think about it. When it came to the term remigration, i.e. the return of millions of people from Germany propagated by the AfD, Höcke came up with a completely new definition: He used the term to refer to the one and a half million Germans who had emigrated in recent years come back to Germany, so they should remigrate.

It's a lot about migration

The discussion began with the topic of the European Union. Leaving the EU would be a catastrophe for Germany, said Voigt. He accused Höcke of plunging Germany into an economic catastrophe with the Dexit demanded by the AfD. Höcke, on the other hand, referred to the EU's climate policy and its “hysterical fight” against the internal combustion engine and diesel. It was clear that Voigt doesn't feel very comfortable here.

Höcke was also able to make a few points on the subject of migration when he discussed the policies of CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel. “You have led the country to the edge of the abyss with your migration policy,” he accused Voigt. Now the message to the world must be that the “German World Social Office” is closed. Voigt campaigned for decisive action against illegal migration. At the same time, he said that there is an urgent need for labor migration in Thuringia and Germany: every fourth doctor in Thuringia's clinics comes from abroad. But if a “Reich Chancellor Höcke” were to rule, then none of them would want to come anymore, said Voigt. He usually smiles without skimping on polemical formulations.

Voigt claimed that Thuringian local politicians were the first to introduce a payment card and a work requirement for asylum seekers, while the AfD district administrator in Sonneberg did nothing of the sort. The AfD puffs out its cheeks, but does nothing. Höcke said he does not reject workers from abroad. But for him it is more important that Germans have more children again. This must be encouraged.

Voigt accused Höcke of wanting to expel 20 to 30 percent of the population from Germany, including Germans. The CDU values ​​every person in their dignity. But Höcke wanted everyone out of Germany who didn't suit him: “At some point it's the people who wear glasses.” Höcke replied that Voigt had misunderstood his statements.

Höcke has gaps in his memory

When it came to the SPD politician and Bundestag Vice President Aydan Özoguz, whose expulsion Höcke had indirectly called for in his book published in 2018, Höcke did not want to remember. When asked if he would request it again today, he said the book was already six years old. He had to read the passage again himself. “What was her name again?” continued Höcke. “I no longer have the lady on my radar.” That seemed embarrassing.

At the end of the discussion it was also about German culture of remembrance. The duel took place on the day of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Voigt said he would attend the memorial service there on Sunday. He is of the opinion that someone like Höcke, who is banned from the memorial, should not be allowed to become Prime Minister in Thuringia. Höcke replied that he and his party friends were banned from entering the building there, which was a sign of how bad freedom of expression was. He is in favor of a “vital culture of remembrance”, and for this the positive aspects of history must be put at the center. Voigt recalled that Höcke said in an interview that the big problem was “that Hitler was portrayed as absolute evil.” “We Germans live a modern patriotism, people don’t want your bogus statements,” said Voigt.

Höcke even claimed that he did not know that the phrase “Everything for Germany” was banned when he used it in a campaign speech. That is a “common saying”. That seemed unbelievable, and not just because Höcke was a history teacher at the high school. In the end, he said that his hand was extended further when it came to a civil coalition with the CDU. Voigt rejected this: “You are not bourgeois, you are ethnic.”