German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was attending an election campaign event in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony last Friday (Aug. 12) when a group of far-right protestors began heckling him, calling him a “race traitor,” among other things.
The group also mentioned Gabriel’s father, a Nazi sympathizer, saying: “Your father loved his country, and what do you do? You destroy it.”
The Social Democrat leader cut all ties with his father when he was 18, because of his Nazi beliefs. An attempt at reconciliation failed in 2005—his father refused to meet and was still holding firm to his old convictions. Gabriel opened up about the relationship in an interview with Die Zeit (link in German) in 2013, saying he felt “almost unbridled anger” about the time in his life.
His response to the fascists last week—which appeared in German media today (Aug. 17)—was far from angry. He didn’t say a word, simply smiled and raised his middle finger, before turning away. He afterwards invited the 20-strong group of protestors to have a discussion with him with the provision that they remove their masks. They refused and left.
Gabriel, Angela Merkel’s number two, is a strong supporter of the chancellor’s open-door refugee policy, and has strongly condemned attacks on refugee homes, which has made him the target of growing far-right hate mail and threats towards the SPD central office in the past months.
It’s not the first time someone from the Social Democratic Party has given the middle finger, or the “Stinkefinger,” as Germans call it. In 2013, Peer Steinbrück, then a candidate for chancellor, caused a furor when he was pictured raising his middle digit on the cover of the Süddeutsche magazine—a week before the parliamentary elections.