Schools let in far Right

4th September 1998 at 01:00
GERMANY

Parents have reacted angrily to news that members of Germany's extreme right-wing parties are being allowed in to Berlin schools to take part in debates just weeks before the country's general election.

The Republican party and the German People's Union (DVU) have sent representatives to a number of schools. A large proprotion of the extreme Right's vote comes from disaffected youth and parents fear that the parties are being given the chance to influence impressionable youngsters who have little understanding of the country's Nazi past.

At least one school in west Berlin has reversed its decision to invite Republicans in the wake of protests from parents.

According to recent surveys, one-third of 18 to 25-year-olds in the eastern German states intend to vote for the far Right in the elections on September 27. Another third say they will not vote at all. In the eastern states far Right parties have targeted the school gates and football stadiums to distribute their pamphlets, with some success.

The average age of youths associating with neo-Nazi groups is falling, according to youth workers; the presence of 13 to 14-year-olds is no longer unusual. Far-Right pop bands are helping to give the groups credibility among youngsters. "Heil to the Fuehrer, heil to the people" are the words to one popular song by the group Disturbance.

However, this is the first time neo-Nazis have been allowed inside the school gates. A number of Berlin schools said they had invited the "Reps" and the DVU as part of "podium discussions" that included members of the mainstream parties.

Reinhard Haese, chairman of the Republicans' Berlin branch, said the party had sent out circulars to all schools advertising the availability of their members for debate. Previously the party has kept a low profile in schools.

The government says the presence of such groups is not harmful if teachers prepare the ground. Pupils would then be "able to deal with the arguments of these parties", said Almuth Draeger, spokesman for the education authority. A guideline issued by the authority advises teachers to avoid a "one-sided" discussion.

Eberhard Laube, chairman of the GEW, the teachers' union, said: "It makes no sense to make the right-wing parties taboo in schools." But he warned that far-Right parties "should not be allowed to use schools as a forum to disseminate propaganda".

But Elmar Kampman, head of the Martin Buber high school in Spandau, said Republicans would be allowed in to debate with other parties.

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