Sketchy Past Controversial Rightist Tapped for Education Ministry in German State

The governor of the eastern German state of Thuringia has come under fire for nominating a politician who was an editor at a publication that has been widely criticized over its right-wing leanings. Critics say he may be making overtures to the far right by nominating Peter Krause to become the state's minister of education and culture.

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Peter Krause, the pick to run the state's Ministry of Education and Culture, served as an editor at a controversial rightist magazine.
DPA

Peter Krause, the pick to run the state's Ministry of Education and Culture, served as an editor at a controversial rightist magazine.

The governor of Thuringia in eastern Germany is pretty much free to do whatever he wants. Dieter Althaus of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) runs his state with an absolute majority. He can also be certain of the support his the party: After all, he sits at its helm.

If someone goes against the Althaus system, they simply have to go, as seen in the recent case of former Interior Minister Karl Heinz Gasser. But when Althaus then tried to reshuffle five other ministers after throwing Gasser out, he ran up against a problem: His candidate to run the eastern German state's Education Ministry was seen as a mistake -- even before Althaus uttered his pick.

His name is Peter Krause, and he's the head of the CDU in the city of Weimar. Krause is a quiet, cultured man with a doctorate in philosophy. But politically he's poorly regarded. In 1998 he worked as an editor for a right-wing weekly Junge Freiheit, or "Young Freedom" -- for two-and-a-half months according to his version of events, for half a year according to the paper's editors. After that he worked as a freelance writer for the newspaper, and for another called the Ostpreussenblatt, or "East Prussian Paper."

Krause was born in 1964 and was already fighting the system in the days of East Germany. In 1998 he was fired from a Weimar paper called the Thuringer Tageblatt for political reasons. After studying history and German he came to Junge Freiheit. "I wanted to write for a kind of Die Zeit (a highly regarded center-left German weekly), but one coming from the right that would fundamentally open up the crusted-over discourse in Germany," he told a local newspaper in the state in 2004. He had just moved into the state parliament as a CDU member, and before that had worked for Vera Lengsfeld, a Christian Democratic politician in parliament with a history of opposing the former East German government.

Ambitious but Naive

Krause was apparently not only ambitious, he was also naive: "I wasn't familiar with Junge Freiheit as being on the extreme right," he continued in the 2004 interview. Technically, he is correct. After the paper successfully sued at Germany's highest court in Karlsruhe to have its name removed from reports compiled by the German government's domestic intelligence agency on right-wing radicalism in the country, the media can no longer use the labels "extreme right" or "right-wing radical" to describe the paper. Instead, it's now considered the main organ of the so-called "New Right" and it articulates a political stance somewhere between democratic conservatism and the far right. A number of politicians and public figures have been sharply criticized for giving interviews to the paper.

So was it just a youthful indiscretion, as the CDU politician claims? That doesn't appear to be the case. On Thursday Krause discussed his background as an editor at Junge Freiheit in an interview with the local Thüringische Landeszeitung newspaper. "The accusation often comes from people who have no idea what they're talking about," he said. "Junge Freiheit has developed in such a way that it's become a recognized medium in the press landscape." Then he struck a tenor as high-minded as it was democratic: "I have a strong belief in freedom: the press, the right to gather, etc."

Politicians with the state's opposition parties are suspicious of Krause. Bodo Ramelow, the top candidate for the Left Party in upcoming state elections, argues that Krause "has placed no clear boundaries between ultra-conservativism and neofascism." In the opinion of Jochen Staschewski, the leader of the Social Democratic party in Thuringia, Krause is still a man who falls into the "gray zone of the extreme right."

Carsten Schneider, a member of parliament from Thuringen's largest city, Erfurt, and a senior member of the state's center-left Social Democratic Party, argues: "If Mr. Krause is unable to clearly define his statements, then I think he is unsuited to be the minister responsible for the state's students and teachers." If he doesn't, Schneider suggests, then the person who chose him -- Governor Althaus himself -- should rescind the nomination.

Krause clearly wants the first option as little as Althaus is capable of carrying out the second option. The senior ranks of the CDU in Thuringia are so depleted there are few alternatives to Krause. Indeed, opposition politicians are not unjustified when they refer to Krause's nomination as a "last resort."

Krause's Past Known

Or perhaps Althaus doesn't want anything else. "Of course Krause's history at Junge Freiheit is known within the party group," a CDU member of parliament told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "And he's never distanced himself from it."

In an interview with the Thüringer Allgemeine newspaper, however, Althaus tried to throw some water on the fire. "Peter Krause publicly distanced himself from all of this in 2004," he said. When asked about Krause's recent comments justifying his work for Junge Freiheit, Althaus remarked: "I don't know anything about that statement."

That has helped to foster the distrust of Thuringia's Jewish community. "That could be Althaus ingratiating himself to the right," said Wolfgang Nossen, head of the Thuringia Jewish Association. The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) is gearing up for 2009 state elections in Thuringia. Nossen said it was "regrettable that Althaus had been unable to find a more suitable candidate." After all, the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs that Krause would lead is also responsible for relations between the state government and its religious communities.

But sensitivity is hardly the autocratic politician's forté -- and Althaus is a politician with an autocratic style. This is seen not only in his recommendation for the minister of education and culture, but also in his choice of Marion Walsmann to be the state's justice minister. As a member of the East German CDU party in the Volkskammer (or "People's Chamber," the country's rubber-stamp parliament), she was a part of the communist regime from 1986 right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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