FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Goetz Kubitschek, a leading light of Germany’s far right, stood in his stall at the world’s biggest book fair on Wednesday, ignoring the hostile glances from activists, politicians and writers close by.
The presence of the firebrand speaker - a regular at rallies that helped push the anti-immigrant Anternative for Germany (AfD) party to its strong showing in last month’s vote - touched a raw nerve at Frankfurt’s annual literature fest.
Across from his position in the city’s fair ground, the anti-extremist Amadeu Antonio Foundation held a vigil to reject what it described as his racism and hostility to democracy.
A handful of representatives of the German booksellers’ federation staged a silent march past Kubitschek’s stand, holding white-on-black placards reading “Freedom and Diversity” and “Respect for the Dignity of All People”.
“We have let in these publishers in but we also want to show that we disagree with them,” said the federation’s managing director, Alexander Skipsis.
Kubitschek stayed at his stall on Row H on the first floor of Hall 3, promoting his publishing house Antaios and its surprise bestseller, “Finis Germania” (The End of Germany) - a collection of essays denounced as “right-radical, anti-semitic and revisionist” by Spiegel magazine.
Kubitschek, a tall man with cropped hair and designer stubble, said his presence reflected “normality”.
“It is quite normal to have left and right. And now, through the parliamentary election, it has become clear that there is a strong right-conservative constituency in Germany,” the 47-year-old told Reuters.
“BANS NOT AN OPTION”
Although not directly linked to the AfD, Kubitschek has gained prominence as a speaker at rallies in formerly communist eastern Germany that drew support from people angered by an influx of more than a million refugees in the past two years.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost almost a million votes in the Sept. 24 vote to the AfD, which won 13 percent support to enter parliament for the first time.
Kubitschek said his first appearance at the book fair in years was inspired by what he called the “hypocritical” reviews of Finis Germania - a posthumous collection of writings by the historian Rolf Peter Sieferle.
Critics said the book came close to denying the Holocaust - a crime in Germany - by describing the Auschwitz concentration camp as “the last myth of a totally rationalised world”.
It expounds a thesis that Germans have had a moral debt foisted upon them by the war victors that they can only repay by being eliminated as a people.
The fair’s organisers said there was never a question of banning Kubitschek.
“Bans and censorship are not an option for us ... An idea does not disappear if you get rid of its author,” said Book Fair chief Juergen Boos.
“It’s important that they are let in - we are for freedom of opinion and we shouldn’t apply it selectively,” said Meron Mendel, director of the Anne Frank Educational Centre which is based in Frankfurt and used the fair to launch a campaign against intolerance.
“It’s important that other voices are heard - and that is our voice, the voice of the majority,” he added.
Frankfurt’s mayor, Peter Feldmann, turned up to back the Anne Frank organisation, and helped Mendel carry his anti-intolerance petition up to the Antaios stand. Kubitschek kept talking on his mobile phone, ignoring them.
Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Andrew Heavens