BERLIN >> A leading member of Alternative for Germany, the nationalist party whose recent election successes have shaken the country's political system, faced fierce criticism Monday after calling for a racially charged term once favored by the Nazis to be rehabilitated.
Party co-chairwoman Frauke Petry said in an interview published Sunday that words such as "voelkisch" should no longer be taboo. Frequently used by the Nazis — their party newspaper was called Voelkischer Beobachter — the term refers to people who belong to a particular race. It derives from "Volk," the German for "people."
"We should finally regain a relaxed, not uncritical, but normal way of dealing with our nation and terms such as 'Volk' and words that are derived from it," Petry told weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.
Asked whether she would count "voelkisch" among the words that should experience a renewal, Petry said she doesn't use the term herself but dislikes that it is only used negatively.
"Let's work on giving the term a positive connotation," she said.
Her remarks prompted a swift backlash from politicians, commentators and historians who warned that Petry's party was trying to legitimize ideas that were once at the core of Adolf Hitler's Nazi ideology.
"Her statement that one should work on giving the term 'voelkisch' a positive meaning is disgusting," daily Neue Westfaelische wrote in an editorial. The paper said that in its view Petry was trying to blur the lines between conservative and extreme-right opinions.
Volker Beck, a Green Party lawmaker who heads the German-Israeli parliamentary group, called Petry's comments "dangerous arson."
"The voelkisch ideology of the 20th century resulted in national-socialist race hatred and the mass murder of Auschwitz," Beck said.
Alternative for Germany has become a potent electoral force since its founding three years ago, sweeping into four state legislatures this year on a wave of anti-migrant sentiment.
In doing so, the party has tried to portray itself as the only real defender of the German "Volk."