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POLITICS

Berliners vote on religious education

Berliners voted Sunday in a referendum on religious education in schools that goes to the heart of how Germany's sizeable Muslim minority is integrated into modern society, reports AFP's Simon Sturdee.

Berliners vote on religious education
Photo: DPA

Germany’s biggest city, described by one sociologist as “the world capital of atheism,” got a wake-up call in 2005 with an “honour killing” of a woman from the country’s Turkish community by her brother.

Shocked by how such a crime could occur in the capital of a country that aspires to be a modern, multicultural success story, its left-wing city hall decided that schoolchildren needed a lesson in ethics.

The idea was to foster common values in schools in a city where over 40 percent of children come from immigrant families, most of them Muslims, and nip dangerous radicalism in the bud.

Germany, which opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but has around 3,700 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command, has managed to escape terror attacks by Islamic radicals but authorities say there is still a serious threat.

Following the honour killing of Hatun Surucu, the city introduced ethics classes in 2006-7 that all secondary school students – from whatever background – in Berlin have to attend.

But now, many people are angry and that rage led to 265,000 people signing a petition which forced Sunday’s referendum organised by a group called Pro Reli.

The group wants children to be able to opt out of ethics and take religion classes instead.

This is the case in most of the rest of Germany. Pro Reli – “Reli” being the nickname among German kids for religion classes – says that the whole idea behind the compulsory ethics classes is wrong-headed.

Learning more about Islam, not less – and openly, not behind closed doors – will help stop young Muslims turning into radicals, Pro Reli claims.

Leaders from other religious groups say children must be steeped in teachings from their own faith in order to understand the beliefs of others.

Supporters of the compulsory ethics classes counter that allowing children to choose between either ethics or religion lessons would split classes up and mean less integration, not more.

And they say that hot-button issues such as abortion, women’s rights and sexuality should be aired in a secular forum where all sides can be considered.

“Particularly when it comes to fostering values, children should not be separated on religious grounds and classes split,” according to a leaflet from the city’s ruling Social Democrats.

This “would be bad for integration in Berlin and bad for the education of our children,” it says.

The campaign has seen billboards plastered up all over Berlin – many of which have been vandalised – and it has drawn in celebrities from the worlds of politics, sport and entertainment on both sides of a lively and sometimes heated debate.

According to a recent survey, a wafer-thin majority – 51 percent – of people support a “yes” vote in Pro Reli’s favour, but high turnout is key for the result to carry.

Polls were due to close at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) with preliminary results expected around two hours later.

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POLITICS

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has sued the German parliament for removing some of his official post-retirement perks over his links to Russian energy giants, his lawyer said Friday.

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Schröder, 78, has come under heavy criticism for his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin and involvement with state-backed energy companies.

The decision to suspend Schröder’s taxpayer-funded office and staff in May was “contrary to the rule of law”, Michael Nagel, told public broadcaster NDR.

Schröder “heard of everything through the media”, Nagel said, noting that the Social Democrat had asked for a hearing before the budget committee responsible but was not given the chance to express himself.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over Russia ties

Schröder’s lawyers filed the complaint with an administrative Berlin court, a spokesman for the court confirmed.

In its decision to strip him of the perks, the committee concluded that Schröder, who served as chancellor from 1998 to 2005, “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office”.

Most of Schröder’s office staff had already quit before the final ruling was made.

Despite resigning from the board of Russian oil company Rosneft and turning down a post on the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in May, Schröder has maintained close ties with the Kremlin.

The former chancellor met Putin in July, after which he said Moscow was ready for a “negotiated solution” to the war in Ukraine — comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Last week, the Social Democrats concluded that Schröder would be allowed to remain a member after he was found not have breached party rules over his ties to the Russian President.

Schröder’s stance on the war and solo diplomacy has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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