Democracy education boost urged by German youth minister

Franziska Giffey unter Jugendlichen in Hessen (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler)

German Youth Minister Franziska Giffey, who in 2010 completed her doctorate on political education deficits in the EU, told the Die Welt newspaper Wednesday that it is the federal government’s “unmistakable” task to organize education on democracy for young people “at all levels.”

Resources for youth work in Saxony — where the state’s third largest city of Chemnitz was left in turmoil by a murder seized upon by the far right — had been culled over the years, “and the results we now see,” Giffey said.

Germany was experiencing a “burgeoning de-politicization,” Giffey said, adding that Chemnitz residents told her of their fears of deprivation and “not being listened to” by those who govern “up there.”

The study and discussion of politics was no longer a subject in “many” schools and local clubs in Saxony, she added.

Residents must be given space as emotions run high and hot to discuss arrivals of refugees in recent years “without being put in the [far] right corner,” said Giffey, whose is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and federal minister for family, the elderly, women and youth.

SPD democracy program

A jihadi attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 prompted the Social Democrats in April 2017 to draft a “democracy promotion” program, including a Democracy Advancement bill, putting an emphasis on prevention of radicalization and not just on tighter security laws.

The bill was reportedly blocked, however, from within the Federal Interior Ministry. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) led the Interior Ministry at the time and have handed over responsibility to their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Education normally Länder task

Education under Germany’s constitution is the prerogative of the country’s 16 states, but a study done for Giffey’s ministry said the federal government was constitutionally empowered to resist neo-Nazism by fostering a “robust” democracy.

“Education is a matter for the states, but the federal government can support it,” Giffey told Die WeltWednesday.

Last week, Giffey, who until early this year was SPD mayor of Berlin’s Neukölln district, launched an anti-mobbing campaign in German schools promoted by her ministry that was due to be discussed with Merkel at a teachers’ conference on Wednesday.

Nationwide, 168 social workers, provided by a federally funded prevention program, would be employed as “anti-mobbing” experts to work with pupils and respond to potential conflicts, Giffey said, adding that school directors needed civic backing.

Post-war, Germany has an extensive network of political education institutes, at federal and regional state levels, including the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB) based in Bonn.