Teachers give way to hostility at schools in East Germany

Max Teske is not allowed to say exactly what the right-wing extremist incidents he denounced at his previous school in Burg im Spreewald looked like. The school authorities, he reports to Deutsche Welle, have forbidden him and his colleague Laura Nickel to do so. These are “service-internal” processes.

But then Teske describes feedback from colleagues who teach at other schools in the eastern German state of Brandenburg and with whom he exchanges ideas. What are they reporting on?

“Incidents very similar to those that took place in Burg,” says Teske, “ie about Hitler salutes, about graffiti, about sexism, homophobia. These are issues that affect all schools.” Teske and Nickel have now announced that they are leaving their school in Burg.

Right-wing extremism in schools in East Germany

About three months ago, the two teachers had complained about right-wing extremist incidents at their school in Burg im Spreewald, a place a good 80 kilometers south-east of Berlin, in a “Brandbrief” sent as an anonymous email. Since then, according to Teske, the two have experienced personal hostilities and threats.

As the ARD reports, stickers in the vicinity of their school recently showed photos of the two and asked them to leave the school. “‘Piss off to Berl*in,” it said. The two are, says Teske, “in exchange with state security”; who is in Germany involved in politically motivated crime.

High AfD election results

Burg im Spreewald – for many Germans, not only for Berliners, the place stands for a holiday region on their doorstep, nature, remote idyll. Politically, however, the region stands out. Election results and polls make this clear.

In the most recent state elections in Brandenburg in 2019, the right-wing populist AfD in Burg became the strongest party with 28 percent. The region reported significantly higher AfD numbers than the national average.

In the 2021 federal election in Burg, 32.2 percent of the first votes (which apply to the specific candidates) and 30.4 percent of the second votes (which apply to the parties) went to the AfD. Recent survey results also point in the right direction.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution as the German domestic secret service classifies parts of the AfD as right-wing extremist and rates the entire party as a “suspected case”. In eastern Germany, where the AfD is above average, recent studies show widespread racism.

dismay in politics

There is dismay in politics. Not only in the state of Brandenburg, but also on the big stage in political Berlin. Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier was “concerned” about the developments at the school in Burg.

“We must do everything for those who oppose populism and extremism and stand up for tolerance and democracy in this society,” he said: He will fight “that democracy in this country does not lose!”

The political evaluation after the announcement of the two teachers in the federal state itself is striking. Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) confirms: “In Brandenburg there must be no place where the right wants to stir up fears and drive out those who think differently.”

State education minister Steffen Freiberg, also a social democrat, speaks in an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” of “social developments” that “cannot ignore the school as an institution”. He sees a “tangle of conflicts” at the school in Burg.

But Freiberg also criticizes Teske and Nickel. He “cannot understand” their complaint about the lack of support from the school authorities. He would not necessarily recommend the approach of the two “for imitation”. Freiberg means the first – anonymous – letter from April 2023.

worry about employment

The same applies here: Teske held back in the DW interview on the behavior of the responsible school authorities. He is not allowed to comment specifically on this, otherwise it could have legal effects on his employment relationship, he says.

But the teacher specifically names what needs to change socially in the region. “Civil society must find a common consensus on how to deal with the issue,” he warns. And projects that promote democracy should be more in the focus of schools. “Democracy must be promoted in schools. At school, the people who work for democratic values ​​must be strengthened,” says the pedagogue.

After the summer holidays, Teske and Nickel will teach elsewhere. They go. “Of course also for self-protection,” says Teske, referring to daily threats near the school, but also near the home. He is also concerned with responsibility for the specific school: “I think that the students and teachers also need a little more peace and quiet in order to be able to process certain situations in part”.

A “radical left informer” and his “comrade” are gone, announced the Cottbus AfD district chairman Jean-Pascal Hohm. And: “Civil engagement works.” He also wrote: “There is no right-wing extremism problem in Brandenburg’s schools.”

The summer holidays have now begun in Brandenburg’s schools. At the end of August, everyday school life gets serious again. Politically, meanwhile, things also remain serious. The state elections in Brandenburg are scheduled for September 2024.

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