Germany: Professors Fleeing Far-Right Intolerance

Located in picturesque Lusatia, northeast of Cottbus, Burg can be explored by bike or on the water in a canoe. But behind the tourist facade of this small German town, 4,200 inhabitants on the clock, the climate fed by the local far right pushed two teachers, harassed, to leave. It all started in April when Laura Nickel, 34, and Max Teske, 31, working at Mina Witkojc College, denounced the racist and homophobic ideology of some students, in an anonymous letter sent to the local press.

“Right-wing extremism was displayed without complex in the school: from Hitler salutes to swastikas drawn on dictionaries and on student lockers, through racist or homophobic words,” says Laura Nickel. “What was striking about Burg was that they were really the loudest of the students. They weren’t hiding, ”says this English and history teacher who grew up not far from this small town.

Neo-Nazis and hooligans comfortable in the region

“This region of southern Brandenburg, bordering Poland, is one of the worst in Germany for people of color and homosexuals,” observes Timo Reinfrank, of the Amadeu Antonio anti-racist foundation. “Between Burg and Cottbus, the large neighboring town, a mix of neo-Nazis, hooligans, organized crime and far-right businesses flourished,” he adds. According to him, “the police are intimidated and the justice system acts with leniency towards this group”.

After the publication of the letter from the two teachers, other schools in eastern Germany reported similar facts. The case caused a stir nationally. In the regions of the former communist GDR, the attachment to democracy is much less deep and rooted than in the west, a study by the University of Leipzig recently revealed. Many are turning to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is booming and is holding a congress this weekend.

Far-right downplays Hitler salutes, provocation by ‘teenagers going through puberty’

In Burg, “some colleagues supported us, others did not. The school management was passive,” says Laura Nickel. At the end of the school year, an anonymous letter on behalf of some parents of students addressed to the school management demanded the resignation of the two teachers. A hundred stickers, with the photo of the two teachers and the words “get out of Berlin”, are displayed all over Burg. A call to chase the two teachers is even launched on an Instagram account before being removed.

Laura Nickel and Max Teske then request their transfer. A decision applauded by the AfD: “They are not able to face the headwinds”, asserts Lena Kotré, deputy in the regional parliament of Brandenburg, who calls them “cowards”. She downplays the students’ Hitler salutes, backed up by photos. An offense yet punishable by three years in prison in Germany. “They did not want to glorify the Third Reich but to provoke, as teenagers do in full puberty,” she says.

In the third year, the class followed by the fifteen students concerned by these acts, National Socialism is nevertheless the main subject of the Brandenburg history program. Regional Education Minister Steffen Freiberg condemned the attacks.

And in Burg, the resistance against the extreme right is organized. The administrative director of the city, Tobias Hentschel, regretted that the school “loses two young committed teachers (…) who have put their finger where it hurts”. “In the gastronomy and hotel industry, there are hardly any companies that manage without workers of foreign origin”, underlines Jessica Zibert, responsible for this sector at Burg. In a five-minute video, visible on the city’s website, six residents, including the mayor, a canoe rental company, a young head of Sorbian activities, the school’s social worker Mina Witkojc, all take a stand “against all forms of extremism, racism and discrimination”.

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