The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is facing growing opposition over a controversial scheme that allows students to report teachers who voice political opinions in the classroom.
The far-right AfD's Hamburg chapter last month launched an online portal called Neutral Schools, where pupils can lodge anonymous complaints about school staff seen to be breaching political neutrality and criticizing the party.
According to local media reports, the AfD also wants to roll out the platform in nine other states, including Bavaria, Brandenburg, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony.
Teachers groups and politicians from other parties have spoken out against the idea.
"They are organizing open denunciation — these are all building blocks toward totalitarianism," said Winfried Kretschmann, state premier of Baden-Württemberg, on Tuesday.
The German Education Union (GEW) and the German Teachers Association — the country's biggest teachers' union — also voiced opposition to the plan.
"It's to be expected that a party that wants to ostracize dissenters is now creating platforms to denounce people who have different opinions," GEW board member Ilka Hoffmann told the Funke newspaper group. "Teachers should be scared. This is a frightening development."
German Teachers Association President Heinz-Peter Meidinger called the scheme "an attempt to exploit children and young people and to instigate denunciation."
Information or denunciation?
The AfD won seats in Germany's national parliament for the first time in last year's federal election after campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform. It is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag.
Bernd Baumann, a senior member of the AfD's parliamentary group, insisted the online portal had "nothing to do with denunciation."
He said the AfD had collected evidence showing that teachers felt compelled to discuss their political view of the party at school, often painting "a very harsh picture of the AfD as radical, inhuman, cold."
Katrin Ebner-Steiner, the AfD's top candidate in the upcoming Bavarian state election, told the Funke group she would welcome the scheme in her state, adding that its main aim was to spread awareness about the neutrality law.
For many Germans, the concept of informing on other people is reminiscent of dark chapters in the country's history, such as the Nazi era or the communist German Democratic Republic, when denunciation was actively encouraged.
Thuringia's education minister, Helmut Holter, said the AfD move was reminiscent of "the darkest chapter in German history."
"All alarm bells should go off," Holter said, about the potential surveillance and denunciation of teachers. He called on educators to continue to engage in open dialogue when they teach, stressing that "this is the foundation of our democratic society."
Christian Piwarz, the culture minister from Saxony, echoed Holter's view, saying the AfD was displaying a "disgusting" snooping culture that was known to Germany from the Nazi dictatorship or the East German Stasi.
nm/rt (AFP, dpa, epd)