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Germany

State government moves to keep extremists out of pre-schools

After a member of a far-right party nearly took over a cash-strapped pre-school in northern Germany, the state government moved quickly to stop it from happening again. But the government is treading on thin ice.

Children paint in pre-school

A pre-school in Barkow needed 15,000 euros to stay open

In an effort to keep right-wing extremists out of early-childhood education, the state government of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania has ordered all heads of state-funded pre-schools to swear allegiance to the German constitution.

The order, which takes effect August 1, came after a scandal involving a pre-school in the tiny village of Bartow, population 550. The village needed 15,000 euros to keep the school running when Mattias Schubert, a father of seven, offered to run the school for free.

It was soon discovered that Schubert is a member of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), which the German government accuses of racism and anti-Semitism. The town council quickly rejected Schubert's offer.

Manuela Schwesig

Schwesig said children should grow up in freedom and democracy

It was the first known case of its kind in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, but state Minister of Social Affairs Manuela Schwesig said she wanted to act before

"We want our children to grown up in freedom and democracy, and not in the shadow of extremists," she said.

Party platforms

The government says the order would not affect just the far-right, but the NPD is clearly the main target. The party openly rejects the German constitution, saying it was imposed by the victorious Western allies after World War II.

Despite its extreme platforms, numerous attempts to ban the NPD have failed. In addition, the party won 7.3 percent of the vote in the last state election in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania in 2006.

Udo Pastoers, chair of the NPD group in the state parliament, said he doubted the order was legal, and accused the government of exploiting the issue to distract people from unemployment and budget deficits.

"You shouldn't forget that here in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, the old East German network of educators is in charge of a very high number of educational facilities, including kindergartens," he said. "And nobody in the government here seems to have a problem with that, although their political objectives are highly doubtful."

NPD demonstrators hold flags

The NPD openly rejects the German constitution, but attempts to ban it have failed

Limited effect

Pastoers also accused the state of overreacting to a small, isolated case in a tiny village.

Anne-Rose Wergin, who heads an anti-extremism group Lola for Lulu, said she admits the danger of pre-schools being infiltrated by the NPD on a massive scale has been low so far.

"But if you consider the impact that such a case would have in a small village, one should really take it seriously," she said. "Kindergarten staff have enough on their plate to deal with some of the kids' parents who come to them with clearly racist and xenophobic attitudes. We need more well-trained educators who can handle this and who can serve as inspiring democratic models themselves - you can't do this with NPD people in charge."

Wergin added, however, that parents have a much stronger influence on their children's development than educators, meaning the state's decree may do little to stop the spread of right-wing extremism.

Author: Hardy Graupner (acb)
Editor: Rob Turner

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