With colorful flags and signs they had painted themselves, they marched in front of the Cottbus school authority. There, in the federal state of Brandenburg in the far east of Germany, around 150 students, teachers and parents demonstrated against right-wing violence on Tuesday (9 May). “The issue of racism, sexism and homophobia in schools affects us all,” said teacher Max Teske to the demonstrators. “It’s a threat to society as a whole.”
Teske and his colleague Laura Nickel made headlines nationwide with a fire letter at the end of April. In it they reported on right-wing extremist music in class, swastikas on furniture and insults in the school corridors. “The few foreign and tolerant students at our school experience exclusion, bullying and threats of violence,” wrote the teachers of a primary and secondary school near Cottbus. That’s why they don’t want to “shut up any longer” and are calling for more social workers, more teacher training courses and more projects to promote democracy in schools.
More than 500 young people are victims of right-wing violence
“Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated cases, they’re just the tip of the iceberg,” Heike Kleffner told DW. She is the managing director of the Association of Counseling Centers for Victims of Right-Wing, Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence. “The number of children and young people who have become victims of anti-Semitic and racist attacks has doubled in 2022. The victim advice centers have learned of more than 520 children and young people who have been physically injured.”
In total, the victim advice centers counted 2,871 victims of almost 2,100 right-wing, racist and anti-Semitic attacks, around 700 more than in the previous year. An increase in politically motivated acts of violence, which can also be seen in the current police statistics. It not only records physical attacks, but also criminal offenses such as insults.
Fear of the next act
This is “just an excerpt from a really dramatic reality,” says Kleffner. In reality, the number of attacks is likely to be much higher. “We know of far too many cases where those affected say they are afraid of making it public because the perpetrators live in the neighborhood. They are also afraid of making it public because then they share responsibility is pushed.”
Attacks of this kind often have long-term consequences for the victims, says Kleffner. She gives the example of an eight-year-old boy who was racially insulted, pushed and kicked by a 71-year-old in a Thuringian swimming pool in February 2022. “The child remains very unsettled, very frightened and in therapy from this attack.” The family rightly fears that they are no longer safe. “They say: ‘We don’t even know when we’ll meet the next man or woman who insults, discriminates or even physically hurts us for racist reasons.'”
Threats at camp
In Heidesee, not far from Berlin, the police were able to prevent insults and threats from turning into bodily harm last weekend (May 7). A Berlin school class, mostly with a migration background, wanted to prepare for a maths exam in a holiday camp. Several young people are said to have racially insulted the tenth graders on Sunday night and threatened them with violence. Under the protection of the police, the students and their teachers left the camp.
“The fact that this school class has found the courage to publicize their experiences with right-wing threats, right-wing violence and racism is a really important signal,” says Heike Kleffner from the Association of Victims’ Counseling Centers. “Because that’s the only way to actually change something.”
Right to stay for victims of right-wing violence?
Kleffner is calling on the German Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, to introduce a humanitarian right of residence for those affected by racist and anti-Semitic violence without a permanent residence status. “This humanitarian right to stay would ensure that those who were attacked would be available as witnesses for the entire duration of the criminal proceedings. And it would send a clear signal that the rule of law is standing by the side of those who were attacked.” The Left Party had introduced a corresponding draft law in Parliament in 2021, but did not find a majority for it.
Interior Minister Faeser now called the incident at the holiday camp “terrible”. It was “also very terrible that those who were attacked had to give way,” said Faeser on Tuesday when presenting the latest figures on politically motivated violence in Germany. She called for a thorough investigation – with the aim of preventing something like this from happening again. In the meantime, state security is investigating because of incitement to hatred and threats.
Talk about the experience
According to the Berlin Education Senate, the affected students and their parents were offered appointments for psychological support on Monday (May 8th). “It is important that all affected students and teachers have the opportunity to talk to people they trust and, if they wish, to psychologists and trained counselors about what they have experienced,” says Kleffner. “About the insecurity, the fear and the persistent feeling of vulnerability that can follow such an experience – especially for those affected with family migration or flight experiences.”
Reports of right-wing violence are reminiscent to some observers of the 1990s, when a wave of racially motivated attacks caused fear and terror. Then as now, according to statistics, the risk of becoming a victim of such an attack is higher in the eastern German states than in the west.
However, Heike Kleffner sees an important difference: “Ten, 20 or 30 years ago, the focus was not on the experiences of those who were attacked, the injured.” This is now different in the reporting about it. “And that is also urgently needed,” says Kleffner, “because those affected all too often experience that their perspective, their experiences are not believed or that they are doubted.” Victim counseling centers are often the only ones who believe those affected by right-wing violence.