Tag Archives: students

Refugees vs. Robocops

19 Feb


“Say it loud, say it clear: Refugees are welcome here!”

The refugee protest camp at Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg is usually a pretty tranquil place – just last week I did an interview on a park bench. But on Thursday afternoon, the square was packed with more than 2500 students who were on strike in support of the rights of refugees. Young people came from schools and universities across Berlin. There were fiery speeches and a hip hop concert – any interviews had to be shouted. In the days leading up to the strike, there had been assemblies at half a dozen schools featuring presentations about Germany’s asylum laws as well as speeches from refugee activists.

Originally the strike had been planned against the ultimatum by Interior Senator Frank Henkel (CDU) to evict the protest camp by January 18. The ultimatum was cancelled, but the alliance of left-wing youth organizations and independent students maintained the protests. Even without an eviction, there seems to be plenty to object to – refugees are forced to live in camps with no right to work or education. The last attempt to evict the O-Platz in November was thwarted by 600 supporters, but there’s still an ongoing threat. In fact, early on Saturday morning, the toilet truck used by the refugees was completely burned down – arson is suspected, but the perpetrators haven’t been identified.

The first pro-refugee school strike took place on December 12 in Hamburg – now there is talk of a national day of strike action in the coming months. School students have parents, and parents write angry letters to newspapers. So I would expect the police to let the young people, mostly aged between 12 and 18, demonstrate in peace, right?

Not so. Police surrounded the march with officers in black riot gear reminiscent of those Robocop posters all over Alexanderplatz. Also present was the Anti-Konflikt-Team in neon yellow vests and armed with (anti-conflict?) pistols. A total of seven students and refugees were arrested during the day – a spontaneous protest at the Berlinale in the afternoon saw further detentions. (I have to admit, with a bit of shame, that I was in a film screening at the time.)

Since they opened the camp at O-Platz, I’m not the only person who has learned about the refugees’ struggle. It used to be a niche topic that I would think about only a few times a year. But now everyone is talking about the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. More student strikes will keep the discussion going. The right-wing tabloid Bild has accused the students of Schwänzen (truancy) and attacked the teachers’ union for supporting the protest. But I can say I learned more in a day at O-Platz than I ever learned in a day in a classroom. The strike is an important part of a humanistic, anti-racist education and the students get my vote of support in their decision to participate.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/school-strike-for-refugees/

Photo: quilombofotos


Frat boys gone ‘right’

6 Feb

Law students at the Free University of Berlin were receiving their diplomas at a ceremony on October 26. Among the attendees were four young men in militaristic uniforms. With their orange caps and black jackets, they looked like cadets, but in fact they belonged to one of Germany’s old-fashioned, right-wing student associations, or Burschenschaften – leftover “men’s clubs” in today’s Berlin.

Their presence at the ceremony caused a scandal. A student protested into the microphone – he couldn’t accept people from an “association that still requires an Aryan certificate!” Later, the head of the university wrote that the society’s uniforms should not be tolerated anywhere on campus.

Neo-Nazi sects? Not exactly. But these German “fraternities”, started as liberal patriotic collectives in the early 19th century, are much more problematic than their American counterparts.

“Burschenschaften have always been nationalistic, anti-French and anti-Semitic,” says Timo Meier, the anti-fascist officer of the student government of the Free University. “They are elitist and sexist, and many of them are right-wing extremists.”

Meier has demanded the dissolution of all Burschenschaften. “About 300 people protested against the national meeting of the Burschenschaften in Eisenach this summer,” he explains. The student government published a free pamphlet attacking the right-wing associations.

There are only half a dozen Burschenschaften in Berlin – none of whom agreed to a visit from Exberliner – but their networks are influential. Besides the students who live at the house (called the “Aktivias”), there are also the former students (“Alt-Herren”) who pay for everything.

These “old men” include Bild editor Kai Diekmann, federal transportation minister Peter Ramsauer and Berlin’s Minister of Social Affairs, Michael Büge from the conservative party CDU. Büge is a member of “Gothia”, the same group that caused the scandal at the Free University, The social democratic youth have called on him to resign, and he is considering giving up his Burschenschaft membership.

At the moment, the national association Deutsche Burschenschaft (DB) is on the verge of splitting, with a more liberal wing objecting to the majority’s refusal to distance themselves from fascists. “In the last two years,
they have gotten back in the news” because many refuse to accept
 non-Germans as members, Meier
 explained, and “today they have less 
than 10,000 members”.

Besides their political positions, they 
are also kind of strange. Their uniforms 
include colourful sashes and sometimes
 sabers, and many require that their
 members practice fencing, including
 getting a scar called a “Mensur” on the 
cheek. If you are looking for a room in
 a fancy old house with cheap rent, most
 Berlin Burschenschaften advertise they accept applications. But if you’re not German, don’t get your hopes up. JR

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/articles/no-girls-allowed/page-2.html