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Bayreuth director to face court over Hitler salute

Jonathan Meese, the German provocateur who has been booked by the Wagner sisters to stage Parsifal in 2016, will face a court in Kassel on Thursday, charged with giving an illegal Hitler salute. The specific offence is ‘using the symbol of an unconstitutional organisation. Meese says he threw the salute, during a public interview, as an act of artistic freedom. Here’s our boy in action in Mannheim.



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  1. An artist who feels s/he has to be deliberately provocative and offensive in order to prove tha he/she has “artistic freedom”, doesn’t.

  2. Rosana Martins says:

    Mr. Meese acts like a disrespectiful, offensive moron who deserves the freedom of being charged by the courts as such.

  3. PK Miller says:

    isn’t it time Germany moved on, stopped being so hypersensitive. The Swastika is originally an ancient rune. Yes, it was co-opted for evil. One can do that with any such symbol. Sometimes, a la the Gay community and the Pink Triangle (Gay prisoners of the Nazi’s had to wear it a la the Jews’ Star of David) we make a badge of shame into a badge of honor. If this guy was just being a smartarse, does he deserve the opprobrium he seems to have engendered? The Three Stooges once had a routine in a Nazi Prison Camp where someone would go “Heil Hitler!” and one of them would reply “Hiya!” The 3 Stooges were JEWS and their humor, our Chasid friends always remind us, was unmistakably Jewish! Being offended seems to be the great international pastime. Surely the German government has more important things to worry about. (There also was Hogans Heroes that would have EVERYONE’S knickers in knots today–never even make it to pilot stage!)
    And a comment of Jeffrey Salzberg’s above, some people “get off” on pushing the envelope. Some people–a la John Cage–will be enfants terrible, “push the envelope” centuries after their death. Yes, some times it’s stupid, tasteless–a la current Saturday Night Live that ceased to be “funny” 20 years ago. Most of the time it isn’t worth the furor–a la Serrano’s Piss Christ.

    • Rosana Martins says:

      I disagree with PK Miller. The time should NEVER come when swastikas and “Heil Hitler” become something of the past. It isn’t just the Germans who are sensitive to these things, but most of humanity. The suggestion of moving on can make some people forget and serve as encouragement to future atrocities.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      PK Miller says:
      July 15, 2013 at 7:48 pm
      “Isn’t it time Germany moved on, stopped being so hypersensitive”

      Well, it’s a hypersensitive subject. And it’s very hard to draw a line and say “on this side of the line is sensitive enough, on the other side of the line is too sensitive”.

      The new German constitution of 1949 (Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was, obviously, drawn up with the recent experience of the Nazi regime very fresh on everybody’s mind. Especially the fact that the Nazis managed to take over the country and transform it from a democracy into a dictatorship using mainly completely legal methods because the constitution of the Weimar Republic didn’t have enough safeguards in place to defend the system against such a hostile takeover.
      The BRD therefore defines itself not simply as a democracy but as a “streitbare, wehrhafte Demokratie” which is kind of hard to translate exactly (“agressive, ready to defend itself”) but it basically means that the state is obliged to defend the fundamental rights of its citizens and the integrity of its democratic institutions actively, sometimes pro-actively.

      Article #1 of the Grundgesetz is:
      “Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.”
      “The dignity of the individual is untouchable (or inviolable). To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.”

      The fundamental rights of every individual are then outlined and they include freedom of speech. It is therefore the state’s duty to protect the freedom of speech of its citizens as well as their individual dignity. So how can it then be illegal to display, for instance, Nazi insignia or symbols or spread Nazi propaganda? Isn’t that part of freedom of speech?
      Here is where the “aggressively defensive” part comes in. Because in order to enjoy these freedoms, individuals and organizations have to respect the dignity and the rights of other people, and participate in the democratic process outlined for everyone. Individuals or organizations which propagate a totalitarian ideology aimed at removing those fundamental rights or who are not prepared to respect the dignity of the individual and who want to replace the democratic processes with a totalitarian form of government – like, for instance, the Nazis who did just that – are therefore not protected by the state anymore. On the contrary, it is the duty of the state to prosecute them actively to guarantee the fundamental rights and protect the dignity of the individual citizen.

      Also, the actions of the 3rd Reich caused the deaths of tens of millions of people and affected the lives of millions of survivors. It is therefore not really hypersensitive to say that the aggressive and deliberate display of Nazi symbols violates the dignity of many people. Not just those few who lived through the period who are still alive, but also the dignity of groups of people who were collectively targeted by the regime.
      It is not illegal to display such symbols in a historical context, be it in a movie, a book, or a play about the period. Nor will people get prosecuted simply for giving the “German greeting” or displaying Nazi symbols here and there or maybe denying the holocaust in a bar conversation. But public, deliberate display of such symbols or denial of the holocaust aimed at provoking and hurting people will get prosecuted in the interest of defending the rights and the dignity of the individual citizen.

      And that is more important than some douchebag having the freedom to trivialize such things just to provoke, hurt people, and draw attention to himself. There is great danger not such in the active propagation of totalitarian attitudes but also in trivializing them.

    • C. Kedmenec says:

      PK Miller. I’m not sure that it is time for Germany to move on. I think it is with good reason that all symbolism regarding all things Nazi are banned (Even though a lot of the symbolism pre-dates the Nazi party). There are still quite a few areas of Germany where right wing extremism is an ongoing problem. To allow one person to use such symbolism surely everyone should be allowed. Then we face the situation of Neo-Nazis marching under the Swaztika, and saluting, and I am pretty sure no body wants that.

      The Nazi party brought Germany to the brink of destruction and 70 years ago was one of the most feared and despised nations on earth. It is now a very dark but permanent chapter in their history and Germany has moved on in so many amazing ways. I certainly hope that they don’t move on in the sense you are suggesting though. The thing with re appropriating negative symbols is that it is the right of the victim to do so. In the same way that it is offensive for a white person to use the word “Nigger” and for a hetrosexual to call someone a “fag”, i find it deeply inappropriate for a German to use Nazi symbolism in a flippant way. Even if it is just an artist wanting to make a half baked point.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        The US in it’s current mentally ill constitution is a much bigger threat to mankind than the sleeping ghosts of Germany’s violent past. Let’s face the the fascistic threats of today first.
        There may be a few areas of Germany where right wing extremism is an ongoing problem with a small minority of people.

        But there are vast areas in the US, where right wing extremism is the daily culture of the majority of the masses!

        I find this constant obsession with Germany’s past, while the US kills worldwide thousands by breaking international law and running concentration camps outside of any lawful order, torturing suspects in secret prisons etc. a bit paradox.

        • Mr Fabrici. It is not the US Constitution that is mentally ill. You have just surrendered the last of your credibility.

        • “The US in it’s current mentally ill constitution is a much bigger threat to mankind than the sleeping ghosts of Germany’s violent past.”

          10 million killed in death camps. 20 million Soviets killed. ____ killed in the Blitz.

          Just putting it into perspective.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Into what perspective? Are you saying that as long as the numbers of victims aren’t that big, any violence perpetrated by a government or a society or some kind of organization today is just OK? I am not suggesting that that is what you are saying, just asking for clarification.

            Current Neonazis in Germany do not pose a big threat at all. But they and their activities are being attentively watched by a society which in its overwhelming majority rejects such extremist views because it is well informed about the past and where such things can lead, and by the Verfassungschutz (“Office for the Protection of the Constitution”) which is the agency charged with investigating activities aimed at spreading extremist views and at infringing on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of people living in Germany. Even though the current threat is very small, it would be dangerous to ignore it. It is important to learn from the past and keep vigilant. Like they say, if you don’t learn from history, it keeps repeating itself.

            But there is also great danger in always pointing to the Nazis and ignoring other bad things that happened in history and that still happen today. There is still a lot of unadmitted and unprocessed bad history out there. And today’s bad things do have a tendency to happen in those place which have the most unadmitted bad history. It is very convenient to always just point to the Nazis instead of looking at the skeletons on one’s own closet just because there may be fewer skeletons there. But there is also great danger in that. If you don’t learn from history, it keeps repeating itself.

          • No. I’m saying — in clear language — that if the numbers on one side are bigger, by definition, the other side is not worse.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Makes sense – thanks for the clarification. But I think you are a little confused about the “sides” here. Current Neonazis in Germany are a nuisance and an embarrassment, and it would be foolish to assume that they don’t pose a threat – but they are well contained and do not enjoy wide acceptance in the current population, nor do they have much influence at all on current German politics. And they are not the same as the historical Nazis who actually caused the deaths of tens of millions of people. Even though, I guess, they would like to see themselves as being “in that league”.

            So you are making the mistake of discounting whatever pointless wars in the interest of geopolitical gains and corporate profits and other activities which cause death and misery to large numbers of people current governments conduct – note that I am not singling out the US government because I don’t believe in a simple world view of “good guys and bad guys” and today’s realities are far more complex than that – because they are “on the other side”.
            In reality, these activities are much more alike the activities of the 3rd Reich – under different pretexts and with different ideological branding, of course – than anything Neonazi hooligans and provocateurs in Germany are doing today – or even capable of doing because they don’t have huge national industrial and military resources at their disposal.
            So it would really be better to stop obsessing about the Nazis for a moment and to look around to take stock of what has happened in the world, and what is happening in it today, since Hitler put the pistol in his mouth. The world has not been an entirely happy place since then either…

          • “Current Neonazis in Germany are a nuisance and an embarrassment, and it would be foolish to assume that they don’t pose a threat – but they are well contained and do not enjoy wide acceptance in the current population”


            The original Nazis were not much of a threat in 1929.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            They were, but it wasn’t obvious to too many people at the time. But, we have learned a lot from history. That is why I am saying it is important to keep an eye on current extremists, however insignificant they may appear to be.
            It may be very hard to impossible for you to understand what I mean by saying “we have learned a lot from history” because you come from a society which has a lot of unadmitted and unprocessed history, and that accounts for many of the problems your society is currently experiencing. But you seem to be totally blind to that. You are fixated on the Nazis but you don’t see what has happened since and what is happening in the world today. Which, once again, confirms that if you don’t learn from history, it keeps repeating itself.

    • There was a difference between “prison camps” (which were bad enough) and “death camps”, just as there was a difference between the Wehrmacht and the SS.

  4. Rob van der Hilst says:

    Whatever it is,: he has gained with this His at least Fifteen Minutes Of Fame. Hurray!

  5. Anders Nilsson says:

    Well, then the court in Kassel has to continue with the real nazis in german neonazi-organisations such as:

    National Democratic Party of Germany
    Autonome Nationalisten
    Deutsche Heidnische Front
    German Alternative
    Nationalist Front
    Action Front of National Socialists/National Activists
    Gesinnungsgemeinschaft der Neuen Front
    National Offensive
    Socialist Reich Party
    Free German Workers’ Party

  6. David Hardie says:

    I’m trying to reconcile this with the ‘Pussy Riot’ case in Russia. Both purported to do something that was highly offensive in under some self administered artistic license.

    Yet Pussy Riot are made to be the victim, and Herr Meese is made to be the culprit.

    • One is protesting an oppressive government; the other is saying, “Look how outrageous and cutting edge I am!”

      • Gurnemanz says:

        Destruction of religious artefacts is not protesting anything, it’s vandalism, plain and simple.

        • Sure it is. It might not be an appropriate, responsible protest, but a protest it certainly is.

          …And anyone who believes, seriously, that vandalism is why they’re in jail, is woefully mistaken.

          • Gurnemanz says:

            Really? Would you say the same if a couple of white guys enter a black church in America and start “protesting” against Obama?

          • Are you somehow under the impression that the members of Pussy Riot are in any significant way ethnically different from the majority of Russian society? That it’s not *their* church as well?

            What I’d say is what I do say whenever I see “white guys” protesting against President Obama: “It’s their constitutional right.” I don’t know is Russia has a similar legal guarantee, but *everyone* has the moral right.

          • Gurnemanz says:

            How much the Russian Orthodox Church is theirs is questionable.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            My impression wasn’t that they actually “destroyed religious artifacts” but that they protested against the church being too closely allied to the worldly powers, specifically Putin who I believe the orthodox patriarch even called “a miracle sent by god” or something similar. So it appeared to me that they didn’t even destroy any objects and that their protest was directed less against religion as such but at how church and politics are too closely aligned in Russia these days. Or did I misunderstand that?

  7. The term “freedom of Art” is abused here. Freedom in general also includes resposibility which also refers to Freedom of Art. Mr Meese is bearing no responsibility here at all. He behaves like a little child….

  8. Theodore McGuiver says:

    Complete half wit. This ceased to be cutting edge or relevant about forty years ago. I wonder how long Bayreuth’s fabled nine-year waiting list for tickets will stand up to the hammering it’s been taking these last few editions.

  9. Stephen says:

    Now that Mr. Meese has hd his 15+ minutes of fame, could we please be done with him being served up as a news item?
    “Freedom of Art” has been trampled under his boot because he eschews responsibility. What might be the larger public context for his actions intended or otherwise, because there always is. Any artist engaged in the process of making art (whatever it might be) must at some point engage the larger issue of the public context for the art.
    If they refuse like some recalcitrant school-child, then their path of engagement becomes different. It is sad that he will have a courtroom to spout and spew in, and that will also be news.
    His is, at the end of all of this, a local talent to be played before his admiring circle of friends. the rest of us need to be spared.
    As to Nazism and moving on, it is still a running wound and just maybe it is unhealable. Too early for a scar and moving on.

  10. Mark Shulgasser says:

    Wagnerism is not Nazism, of course, but the effort to entirely separate the two is illegitimate, and Meese and Bayreuth are right to remind us of the always possible connection between the aesthetic and evil. Which is not to say that Meese should not be prosecuted: he courageously broke a good law for a good purpose and must take the consequences. Let us hope that the court, in meliorating his punishment, distinguishes his intentions from those of neo-nazi groups.

    • Gurnemanz says:

      “Wagnerism is not Nazism, of course, but the effort to entirely separate the two is illegitimate”

      This is an absolutely outrageous statement. Who died and made you the chief arbiter of artistic and political associations?

  11. The guy is obviously a nut who has no place in art – even Wagner!

  12. What precisely is the art in using Nazi symbols that Mr. Meese is so keen on expressing and protecting?

  13. Gurnemanz says:

    Why am I not surprised that the Bayreuth Gruesome Twosome hired this man? The three really deserve each other!

    • It is sign of a lack of real directing talent when people have to resort to such things – like completely ignoring what the composer wrote – to gain effect.

  14. Musiker says:

    By way of an update, Meese is up in court in Kassel today (July 18) over the charges.
    But public prosecutors in Mannheim, where the performance pictured above took place, have also decided to investigate Meese for possible incitement of hatred.
    Here’s the story from DPA:

    Mannheim/Kassel (dpa) – Der Künstler Jonathan Meese ist wegen des verbotenen Hitlergrußes nun auch in Mannheim ins Visier der Staatsanwaltschaft geraten. Die Staatsanwaltschaft Mannheim ermittelt gegen ihn wegen möglicher Volksverhetzung, wie ein Sprecher derBehörde der Nachrichtenagentur dpa am Donnerstag sagte. Der Künstlerhatte bei einer Theateraufführung während der Mannheimer Schillertageim Juni für Aufregung gesorgt: Er zeigte auf der Bühne mehrmals den Hitlergruß und beschmierte eine Alien-Puppe mit einem Hakenkreuz. Gegen den Künstler, der 2016 bei den Bayreuther Festspielen Wagners «Parsifal» inszenieren soll, begann am Donnerstag zudem einVerfahren in Kassel. Auch hier geht es um einen Hitlergruß in derÖffentlichkeit. Die Staatsanwaltschaft Mannheim mache es nicht vomVerfahrensausgang in Kassel abhängig, ob sie ein Strafverfahreneinleite, sagte der Mannheimer Sprecher.

    • Let us know when you hear the result of today’s hearing.

      • Musiker says:

        Hi Norman,

        the case was adjourned yesterday until July 29 with Meese’s defence arguing that the judges were biased.
        Meese’s lawyers challenged a first judge because she rejected their request for an experts’ report.
        Their challenge was thrown out by a second judge. But they subsequently accused him of being biased, too, because when entering the courtroom, he had shaken hands with the lawyers, but not with Meese.
        A third judge will now decide whether to accept or reject that second challenge by July 29.

        Earlier, during the hearing, Meese — dressed completely in black — had admitted to making the Hitler salute, but insisted it was part of an art performance.
        “It was a performance,” said the 43-year-old.
        Normally, in private, he was a very reserved sort of person, the artist argued.
        “I wouldn’t make a Hitler salute in a restaurant. I’m not totally barmy,” Meese said.

        Source: DPA

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