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Home World Federal Agency for Civic Education: Independence threatened

Federal Agency for Civic Education: Independence threatened

At the request of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the bpb changed a teaser in the left-wing extremism dossier. The taz now has the wording of this “request”.

Left-wing graffiti in Berlin-Neukölln Foto: Teutopress/imago

Until recently, the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) defined left-wing extremism with this sentence, among other things: “In contrast to right-wing extremism, socialist and communist movements share the liberal ideas of freedom, equality, fraternity – but reinterpret them in their own way.”

The sentence, part of a teaser for an online dossier on left-wing extremism, had been on the bpb website for over ten years. It comes from the political scientist Hans-Gerd Jaschke, professor emeritus at the Berlin School of Economics and Law. In mid-January, the bpb replaced the teaser with a definition of the “security authorities”.

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The bpb, headquartered in Bonn, was founded in 1952 to strengthen the political knowledge and participation of the citizens and to consolidate democratic awareness. Thomas Krüger, SPD politician and former GDR civil rights activist, heads the agency.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) oversees the bpb, which means that it is subordinate to the BMI. The bpb claims to be non-partisan and scientifically balanced, it invokes the Beutelsbach consensus formulated in 1976: Nobody should be indoctrinated, controversies in politics and science should be treated as such, addressees of political education should form their own opinion. The change to the aforementioned teaser now raises the question of whether the educational institution meets these principles – and how independently it works at all. Kai Gehring, member of the Greens Bundestag, says about this case that rights are deliberately trying to stir up distrust of democratic institutions and scientific knowledge. Is that correct?

Start of a shit storm

January 10, 2021, 3:26 p.m., “Jan”, whose Twitter bio reads “CDU & JU” and “Conservatism”, tweeted: “No Joke, more of a scandal: The bpb writes seriously about left-wing extremism: ‘In contrast to Right-wing extremism, socialist and communist movements share the liberal ideas of freedom, equality, fraternity. ”“ To date, 1,709 people, 345 retweets, 59 quoted tweets like this.

January 10, 4:37 p.m .: Hubertus Knabe, controversial former director of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, shares the tweet with the comment: “Crazy, what the @bpb_de spreads there. Anyone who still speaks of the idea of ​​freedom after dictatorship and terror and 100 million deaths is making one with the criminals. Where is the supervision of the donors? @BMI_Bund @SteffenBilger @MGrosseBroemer “. 972 likes this, 282 retweets, 16 quoted tweets.

January 10, 4:46 p.m .: Anna Schneider, editor in the Berlin office of NZZ, tweets a screenshot of the teaser, marks the sentence that “Jan” also tweeted and comments: “This is a serious publication by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, a state (educational funding) institution.” 3,057 likes this, 744 retweets, 186 quoted tweets.

The “better extremists”

January 11th: The right newspaper Young freedom publishes an article: “Demand for correction: criticism of left-wing extremism dossier of the Federal Agency for Civic Education”.

January 12th: The right magazine Tichy’s insight also publishes the line: “Liberal left-wing extremists? Outrage over the Federal Agency for Civic Education “.

January 12, 5.44 p.m.: Now it goes image so online: “’Playing down communism’: Are leftists the better extremists? Criticism of the representation of left-wing extremism by the Federal Agency for Civic Education “. She quotes Thorsten Frei, the deputy chairman of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group and chairman of the board of trustees of the bpb: “The statements of the Federal Agency for Civic Education on left-wing extremism are very dangerous and must be revised there immediately!” image also writes that the BMI asked the bpb to revise the teaser.

How exactly this “request” from the Federal Ministry of the Interior looks like can now be seen from a mail correspondence that the information portal “Ask the State” received through a request for the Freedom of Information Act (IFG) and which is also available to the taz.

January 12th, 3:42 pm: The responsible “Section G II 4 Political Education and Political Foundations” contacted the Federal Agency for Civic Education for the first time on the matter, quotes the above sentence from the teaser and writes: “Even if this formulation is from the Extremism research, it has led to numerous misinterpretations and misunderstandings in public. “

The Federal Ministry of the Interior asks that the introduction to the left-wing extremism dossier “be removed from the Internet in its current form as quickly as possible and that a new introductory text to be agreed with the technical supervisory authority by January 15, 2021 be provided.”

Still not satisfied

January 12th, 4:14 pm: The bpb, presumably the “Principle” department responsible for reporting to the BMI, replies that the bpb has already changed the teaser “due to public reactions” “in order to avoid further misunderstandings “. The amended version continues to contain the sentence quoted above, only that socialist and communist movements now “appeal” to the liberal ideas of freedom, equality and fraternity instead of “sharing” them. The sentence is supplemented by a quote from the sociologist and political scientist Armin Pfahl-Traughber, former head of the right-wing extremism department at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. He identifies ideal similarities and practical differences between the democratic and extremist left.

January 12, 4:33 p.m .: The Federal Ministry of the Interior is not satisfied with this because the new introduction “continues to contain the sentence at issue, albeit in a modified form”. It remains “with the mixing of communist movements with liberal ideas, which can be understood as the relativization and trivialization of communism.”

January 13th, 8:34 am: In a further proposal, the bpb deleted the “controversial sentence”, the teaser now consists almost exclusively of a quote from Pfahl-Traughber, according to which left-wing extremism is a “collective term for all political views and aspirations” in the name of a social order characterized by social equality, “fundamentally reject the norms and rules of a modern democratic constitutional state and consider them unreformable”.

January 14, 5:08 p.m .: The Federal Ministry of the Interior “asks” to post a completely different text as an introduction to the homepage, which has been coordinated with the “ÖS Department”. It is the one that is now the teaser above the dossier. “ÖS” stands for “Public Security”, so it is the department of the Federal Ministry of the Interior that is responsible for the Federal Criminal Police Office and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. This explains the rhetorical and content-related similarity between the new teaser and the left-wing extremism definition of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

January 18, 10.46 a.m .: The BMI department writes another email to the bpb and sets a deadline: They should put the new teaser online or position themselves by 1 p.m.

January 18, 1 p.m .: Just in time for the deadline, the bpb declares its agreement with the version of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and suggests naming the author of the new teaser, the “security authorities”.

Greater power of interpretation

January 18, 4:08 p.m .: The Federal Ministry of the Interior agrees and adds the following question for the catalog of questions at the end of the teaser: “Does this adequately describe the core of the term ‘left-wing extremism’?”

At the request of the taz, the Federal Ministry of the Interior justified the change by stating that “part of the text has currently led to misinterpretations and misunderstandings in public”. The “ÖS department” contributed to the new teaser because it was responsible for the “phenomenon of left-wing extremism” and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution was also involved. When asked whether the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has a greater power of interpretation in the field of political education than renowned scientists, the ministry replied with no. And when asked whether the interior minister or the responsible state secretary was personally involved in the decision, it was said: “The house management was not involved in this process.”

What is certain is that neither the scientific advisory board nor the board of trustees were involved. The bpb confirms this at the request of the taz. The Federal Ministry of the Interior does not go into detail on a request in this regard. The scientific advisory board consists of twelve scientists and is intended to support the work of the bpb. The Board of Trustees has 22 members of the Bundestag who, among other things, monitor the political balance. Green MP Gehring, who sits on the board of trustees, and his parliamentary group made a small request to the federal government to find out more about the background. He tells the taz: “The BMI buckled here in front of an orchestrated outrage by people from the conservative to the new right spectrum – with Young freedom, picture and NZZ as a media partner. “

Debate on independence

But is it in keeping with the times that the Federal Ministry of the Interior should have such an influence on the most important political education institution in Germany?

The technical supervision of the BMI should “supervise the work of the bpb and accompany them constructively and critically, but not act in an overly aggressive manner or even nod”, says Gehring. He adds: “I can only warn against wanting to lead the bpb on the lead, because otherwise a debate about a more independent form of organization will be necessary.”

After the teaser affair, however, a debate about the independence of bpb seems to be already underway.

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