March 16, 2017 / 1:32 PM / 2 years ago

Right-winger could get ceremonial post in German parliament

BERLIN (Reuters) - A veteran right-wing politician who once wrote that the Holocaust was used as an “effective tool to criminalize Germans and their history” could assume a ceremonial post in parliament if his anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party wins more than 5 percent of the vote in September’s election.

Wilhelm von Gottberg, who turns 77 later this month, would be the oldest member of the Bundestag if the AfD wins seats there for the first time, allowing him to open the first session of parliament and make a speech.

He would join noted German politicians like Willy Brandt who have held the honorary title of “president by seniority,” in what weekly newspaper Die Zeit called a “paradigm shift in German politics”.

“Some 70 years after the end of the Second World War, a man would enter the stage of parliamentary democracy who wants a different interpretation of Germany history,” the newspaper said in a full-page article on von Gottberg published on Thursday.

Polls put support for the AfD at around 8 or 9 percent - well above the 5-percent threshold needed to enter parliament, but below a high of 15.5 percent seen at the end of 2016.

Scandal rocked the party in January when Bjoern Hoecke, its leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, called Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “monument of shame”. He also denied that Adolf Hitler was “absolutely evil” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Von Gottberg, a former mayor in the northern town of Schnega in Lower Saxony and an ex-member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, also has a long history of controversial writing and remarks.

In an interview published in the 1990s, von Gottberg spoke of “the right of return” of German refugees pushed out of eastern Europe after World War Two and demanded apologies from Poland and the Czech Republic for “genocidal crimes of expulsion” against the Germans, according to Die Zeit.

In a newspaper published by a group representing those refugees, von Gottberg also wrote: “The genocide against European Jews continues to be used as an effective tool to criminalise Germans and their history.”

He also quoted Italian neo-fascist Mario Consoli, who criticized the ongoing “propaganda machine” that perpetuated the “myth” of the Holocaust.

Von Gottberg told Die Zeit he had publicly apologized for quoting Consoli in a German newspaper but declined to name it.

Neither a spokesman for AfD co-leader Frauke Petry nor the party’s Lower Saxony branch had any immediate comment.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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