Dictatorship 101

Germany’s AfD incites schoolkids to denounce teachers

Schülerin im Unterricht
Who knows what a “snitch” is, kids? Source: DPA/Daniel Karmann

The far-right Alternative for Germany’s decision to set up web portals to denounce teachers who express political opinions in the classroom unleashed a storm of protest this week. Critics hear an echo of Nazi tactics or repression in Communist East Germany.

The controversial party, known as AfD for short, has launched a pilot site in Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, and plans to roll it out in several other states. The party has done so in Baden-Württemberg already. Titled “Neutral Schools,” the Hamburg site allows for anonymous complaints about violations of the political neutrality that German schools are obliged to uphold.

“Along with fake news, the AfD toolbox now includes right-wing agitation, spying and intimidation,” Till Steffen, Hamburg’s state justice minister, told Handelsblatt. “This is another serious attack on our social order when the AfD tries here to stir up feelings against political education in schools.”

‘Dictatorial methods’

The federal justice minister, Katarina Barley, also condemned the site. “Organized denunciation is the method of dictatorships,” she said. “Anyone using a political party to expose and pillory disfavored teachers reveals much about his own understanding of democracy.”

The criticism took on a more humorous tone as trolls flocked to the AfD’s online denunciation form, entering mock messages and sharing screenshots on Twitter. One contributor called “barista” posted: “My teacher, whose name is Mohammed, is truly super-nice. Quite the opposite from Herr Meyer, who has only a huge inferiority complex and probably votes for the so-called AfD for that reason.” Another user “complained” that she had to learn Arabic numerals in school.

The latest uproar comes just days before a crucial vote in Bavaria, where the AfD is polling 12 percent and threatening to rob the center-right Christian Social Union of its traditional majority in the state.

The erosion of support for the CSU and its partner, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), forced Ms. Merkel to once again rely on a grand coalition with the Social Democrats to stay in power after last year’s federal election.

AfD exploits backlash against immigrants

In the meantime, the coalition isn’t looking so grand as its three partners continue to lose support. By taking a strong anti-immigration stance, the AfD is exploiting a political backlash over the influx of more than a million refugees into Germany since 2015.

By launching the new portal, the AfD claims it is only trying to stop teachers and school officials from bashing the party by wearing “FCK AfD” T-shirts, or by putting up posters about anti-AfD demonstrations or other violations of school neutrality.

As criticism rained from all sides, the far right doubled down. AfD Vice-President Georg Pazderski said that the online portals are “absolutely necessary” because in many schools, teachers spread and only tolerate “a one-sided left-wing worldview.”

On Thursday, the AfD in Baden-Württemberg launched its own web-based denunciation form, also allowing students to enter their teachers’ names – a step that legal experts warn could violate teachers’ rights. On Friday, hackers overloaded the site and it crashed.

The AfD is currently the main opposition party in Germany’s national parliament, ahead of established parties like the Free Democrats and Greens. Founded only in 2013, they have passed the 5 percent minimum threshold for representation in Hamburg and 13 other state legislatures. They are virtually certain to win seats in Bavaria after Sunday’s election, as well as that of Hesse in a ballot two weeks later to gain representation in all 16 state parliaments.

Darrell Delamaide is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global based in Washington, DC. To contact the author: d.delamaide@extern.handelsblatt.com

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