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In Germany, far-right violence increasing in school life

May 14, 2023

Each day, five people are victims of far-right attacks in Germany. Racism persists as a pressing reality. Alarmingly, such violence is on the rise among young people.

Max Teske and Laura Nickel at the demonstration with microphone and text sheet
Max Teske and Laura Nickel speak out against right-wing extremism in schoolsImage: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

Waving colorful flags and hand-painted signs, about 150 students, teachers and parents marched outside the offices of school authorities in Cottbus. In this city, in the state of Brandenburg near Germany's eastern border, they took a stand against far-right violence on Tuesday.

"The issue of racism, sexism and homophobia in schools affects us all," teacher Max Teske shouted to the protesters. "This is a threat to all of society."

Teske and his colleague Laura Nickel made headlines across Germany in late April when they published a letter detailing their concerns over racially motivated violence at their primary and high school near Cottbus.

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In the letter, they described hearing right-wing extremist music playing during class, swastika graffiti on furniture and verbal abuse in the school corridors.

"The few foreign-looking or more tolerant students at our school experience exclusion, bullying and threats of violence," the teachers wrote. That's why they no longer wished to "keep their mouths shut." Instead, they're demanding additional social workers, increased training for teachers and more initiatives to promote democracy in schools.

More than 500 young victims of far-right violence

"Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases, rather just the tip of the iceberg," Heike Kleffner told DW. She leads the Association of Counseling Centers for Victims of Right-Wing, Racist and Antisemitic Violence in Germany, VBRG.

"The number of children and young people who have become victims of antisemitic and racist attacks doubled in 2022. The victim support centers have heard from more than 520 children and young people who have been physically injured," she said.

In total, the victim support centers counted 2,871 people affected by about 2,100 far-right, racist, and antisemitic attacks — some 700 more than the previous year. An increase in politically motivated acts of violence is also reflected in current police statistics. They record not only physical attacks but also verbal abuse.

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These are "only a snippet of a truly dramatic reality," Kleffner said. The true number of attacks is likely much higher. "We know of far too many cases where the victims say they are afraid to go public because the offenders live in their neighborhood. They are also scared to go public because they might themselves be blamed," she said.

Attacks of this nature often have far-reaching consequences for the victims, Kleffner said. She gives the example of an 8-year-old boy who was racially insulted, pushed and kicked by a 71-year-old at a swimming pool in the central German state of Thuringia in February 2022.

"Because of this attack, the child continues to be very insecure, very frightened and is still in therapy."

Threats made at a holiday camp

At a lakeside leisure destination in Heidesee near Berlin in early May, police stepped in to prevent insults and threats from escalating into assault. A school class from Berlin, mostly made up of students with an immigration background, was there to study for a math exam at a weekend holiday camp.

But during the event, several young locals reportedly directed racist abuse at the 10th graders and threatened violence against them. The students and their teacher fled the holiday camp under police protection in the middle of the night.

Entrance to the Kiez Frauensee camp
The youth from Berlin fled the camp in Brandenburg for fear of racist attacks from localsImage: Kai Horstmann/IMAGO

"The fact that this school class found the courage to go public with their experience of far-right threats, with far-right violence and racism — that is a really important signal," said Kleffner. "That is the only way that things will really change."

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser labeled the incident at the holiday camp "awful." It was "also terrible that it was those who were attacked who ended up having to back down [instead of the perpetrators]," she said on Tuesday at a presentation of the latest statistics on politically motivated violence in Germany.

Faeser called for a thorough investigation, with the aim of preventing such events in the future.

Listening to victims' perspectives

These reports of far-right violence have reminded some observers of the period in the 1990s when a wave of racially motivated attacks spread fear and horror across Germany. Now, as then, the risk of becoming a victim of such an attack is statistically higher in the states which made up former East Germany.

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However, Kleffner sees a key difference between now and then. "Ten, 20 or 30 years ago the focus was on the perpetrators, not on the experiences of the people who were attacked, the injured," she said. The way these incidents are reported has changed. "And that is also urgently needed," she added, "because all too often the victims experience that their perspectives, their experiences are not believed or that they are doubted."

Often, she said, the victim support centers are the only ones who believed the accounts of those affected by far-right violence.

This article was originally written in German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Peter Hille Bonn 0051
Peter Hille Peter Hille is a multimedia reporter with a strong background in African affairs@peterhille
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