Frauke Petry takes the chair

For some months, since the October 2017 Federal Election, Germany’s governance has been a little confused as Chancellor Merkel has struggled to maintain, through negotiation of coalitions and party alliances, a workable majority. I am not a student of German politics, and my opening sentence is evidence of that, but one thing seems clear. It was a tsunami in the popular vote for AfD (Alternative for Germany), a party which won 94 seats from zero in the Bundestag, that put the cat among the pigeons. The party was led into the election by Frauke Petry; and she resigned the leadership immediately afterwards. Her reasons for that are well documented on the internet, so I shall not attempt to summarise here.

However I was interested to see what sort of person could inspire such a dramatic democratic revolution. Her university discipline was chemistry (like Margaret Thatcher). Even more intrigued I went searching for a speech. I haven’t found one with her speaking in English, but this one has subtitles. That’s far from ideal for my purposes (and I’ve never done it before on this blog) but before I discarded it I decided to watch. What I found is an impressive study, not so much of public speaking but of audience control. The speech was delivered in May 2016.

The posting on YouTube apologises for the poor English in the subtitles, and I think we all spot the typo in the third one, but the subtitler did a lot better than I could.

After just a few niceties that includes apologising for the demonstrations outside, she digs from her pocket a piece of paper – a leaflet that has been handed out to and by members of the audience. It makes some aggressive claims against her and her party. She proceeds to invite its authors to approach the stage, restate the claims and be prepared to debate them.

That is brave, impressive, and indicates a remarkable confidence in her political position and her ability to promote it. It also indicates that she is in favour of free speech.

Only one is brave enough to rise to the challenge, a student in apparently his late teens. The others skulk at the back, heckling.

Petry treats him with courtesy, answers his arguments and politely silences any in the audience that interrupt him, whether in favour or opposition to him. He returns to his seat.

Half a dozen more students, emboldened, proceed to come down to the front to try their luck. One of them displays his insecurity with insolence and boorishness. Others are more polite. In all cases Petry remains courteous but firm, chairing this ad hoc meeting with extraordinary skill, while still keeping a firm lid on the audience. We are left wondering at the competence of these students’ teachers.

It’s very impressive indeed, and occupies the rest of this half-hour video.

As mentioned earlier, immediately after the Federal Election Petry resigned her leadership, and indeed membership, of AfD. She now sits as an independent. Nevertheless I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her, and that bothers me not at all

She could be described as Far Right, but only by the Far Left.

Henryk Broder was right.

On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.

Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities. I have spent many happy times there. My late wife was Danish, my sons are half-Danish, and I have many in-law relatives there. I salute The Danish Free Press Society and its President, Katrine Winkel Holm for holding the conference and her sister, Marie Krarup, member of parliament, for hosting it. The first speaker was German, Henryk Broder.

Broder begins with a charmingly quiet ad lib section, almost under his breath, extolling the virtues of Copenhagen.

Then, when he turns to his script, my heart sinks. He has already proved to my satisfaction that his English is good enough for him to shoot this speech from the hip, yet he is reading it. In the process he takes a big percentage of the stuffing out of it. He either does not know how to prepare a speech to be delivered without the assistance of paper, or he does not trust himself to try. He could easily do it. The only excuse is the language. It would be a very good excuse – I could not deliver a speech in German to save my life – but not only does that tiny opening section indicate that he speaks English very well, but ten minutes of Q&A after the speech absolutely confirm it. What a pity!

Nevertheless I would infinitely prefer to hear these words read than not hear them at all. It is a beautiful piece of writing, and a magnificently argued message. It is measured, tempered, sober, yet devastatingly well aimed. I know there will be some who do not share his sentiments; but surely no one would dare to challenge his prescience, uttered more than three months before New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Being shown to be right goes a long way towards being proved to be correct.

Compare his warnings, now already justified by events, with the weaselly wittering of those who disgracefully and lamely try to blame Cologne on the victims.

He closes with a quotation from Winston Churchill. It is the cherry on the icing.