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Elite student group 'could split over extremism'

The Local · 5 Jul 2012, 16:50

Published: 05 Jul 2012 16:50 GMT+02:00

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Two senior members of the Burschenschaft fraternity association faced each other in a court in Bonn on Wednesday. One was trying to get an injunction to stop the other saying he was probably a leading figure in an extremist right wing network he claims links the student group with the neo-Nazi NDP party and illegal neo-Nazi groups.

The Burschenschaft movement could split if it failed to clear itself of neo-Nazis, one former member told The Local. A significant group has emerged to openly fight political extremism within the fraternity organisation.

“Since reunification, certain strains of the Burschenschaft have become increasingly extremist,” the former member said, and although the association was founded on conservative values, “fascism has no place in the organisation.”

Yet approximately 1,500 of the 10,000 members are thought to align themselves with an unacceptable form of extremist nationalism.

Frustrated with the growing presence of extremism within their ranks, five Burschenschaft board members resigned in June in what was one of the biggest gestures of anti-fascist sentiment in Germany's traditional, almost exclusively male, student fraternity system.

Their decision fit with the anti-fascist grouping Burschenschafter gegen Neonazis, who want to stamp out extremism and turn the fraternity movement into something modern and more liberal.

Conflict over extremism

The conflict had been problematic for the former member who spoke to The Local. He had joined while a student, keen to spend time with other conservatives. Yet the increasingly obvious far-right sentiment in the organisation sickened him and, with a heavy heart, he left.

Departure was a bold move because Burschenschaft membership is considered a life-long commitment – and can be of professional advantage thanks to an extensive network of contacts and tradition of helping each other.

Yet he is no longer the alone in deserting the central group. He told The Local that whole branches were choosing to leave the umbrella organisation that runs most of the Burschenschaft fraternities in Germany, the Dachverband der Deutschen Burschenschaft (DB).

Sick of the group's increasingly unsavoury political reputation, an increasing number of branches are bowing out. Exit frees a fraternity from pressure applied by the ruling body to adopt, for example, a race-based entrance policy for new members.

Peer pressure and the overriding principle of loyal fraternity silence those who might want to speak out, the former member said.

Fraternal loyalty crucial

“Even if members do not agree with what one of their frat-mates is saying, they probably would not speak out against it because in a fraternity loyalty is so important,” he said.

The association could find itself struggling to recruit new members, if left with a dwindling network of important contacts and a reputation for harbouring racism and extremism. Traditions which have defined the Burschenschaft for centuries could start disappearing from Germany's academic and professional worlds.

Burschenschaft customs including wearing cadet-style uniforms, carrying fencing rapiers and taking part in torch-lit parades. Some groups also organise fencing competitions, which can leave participants with large but prized facial scars. Daily life is often focussed on a shared villa or house. Loyalty is crucial.

Yet the bonds of fraternity were broken on Wednesday when the anti-fascist group's founder Christian Becker faced reputed extremist Norbert Weidner in court. It was Weidner’s re-election to edit the fraternity association’s newspaper that prompted the five board members to resign in June.

Reputed extremist retains influence

Although Weidner’s political views offend many fraternity members, he manages to retain positions of influence within the association.

Becker had posted several blog entries saying Weidner was one of the driving forces of neo-Nazism in the association, claiming that he had hacked members' computers and was trying to form an extremist splinter group, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported. A petition emailed around frat-houses garnered more than 300 signatures of support from other members.

Weidner applied for an injunction to prevent Becker making allegations against him.

Divisions within the fraternity system appear to be widening. The annual meet-up – normally a grand event full of pomp and tradition – was shut down early following the mass-resignation. It has been rescheduled for the winter, but critics do not believe it will happen, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Story continues below…

While the court case continues, the judge offered some hope to fascist-fighter Becker, who has set his sights on “driving them [far-right extremists] crazy, then hauling all of them in front of a judge,” he told Spiegel Online recently.

The court’s press office said on Wednesday his blogging was likely to be considered protected under freedom of speech.

Jessica Ware



The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

17:22 July 5, 2012 by lucksi
Fraternities in Germany: No women, no foreigners, lotsa drinking and singing. (and to the outsider ridiculous traditions). And yes, they are leaning to the right.

But, hey, good connections.
17:23 July 5, 2012 by IchBinKönig
Isn't this the way it has always been in Germany? One side more 'Right' Nationalist, the other side more 'Left' Socialist? Seems the more the external pressures get ratcheted up, the more the extremes of either side become apparent. Between the two, they may come up with a 'third way'.
18:04 July 5, 2012 by Leo Strauss
The Burschenschaft tradition predates the Nazis and and has always had a nationalist component to it. These societies were key to awakening a national consciousness within the patchwork of lands that would later become Germany, at a time when much of German Europe was occupied by Old Boney. The new sense of German nationalism was a key factor in the campaign to throw the French out and to establish some kind of modern German state, so, from the German point of view, it was a positive force at that time.

One of these Burschenschaft from Jena(?) gave us the flag that we have today- the one that the Nazis can`t stand, by the way.
18:33 July 5, 2012 by JAMessersmith

In Germany, perhaps, but nationalism wasn't traditionally associated with right-wing politics throughout the rest of Europe. During the French Revolution, for example, nationalism was viewed as a left-wing ideology that ran counter to imperialism. Similarly, many of the separatist movements in Spain are actually nationalistic and left-wing, like those in Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia.

So, in any case, nationalism is not an exclusive right-wing prerogative.

Slobodan Milosevic was probably one of the more notorious left-wing nationalists in modern history, though, he was hardly alone in that.
19:06 July 5, 2012 by catjones
........and they have a penchant for storming Frankenstein castle.
08:52 July 6, 2012 by DoubleDTown
first, fencing without a mask is just plain stupid. not only might you lose an eye, but you could actually be killed. second, why would a scar be prized? Sounds like a sure-fire indicator the guy with the scar wasn't as good a fencer as his opponent.
14:20 July 6, 2012 by Leo Strauss

why would a scar be prized?

Cuz it`s Skorzeny style cool, D.
14:24 July 7, 2012 by hh-eilbek
to my knowledge a scar was / is prized because it was / is meant to proof courage, bravery and guts. Propably it was / is a kind of initiation rite comparable to tests of courage required by tribal societies to show that someone is worth to be recognized as an adult person.
19:11 July 7, 2012 by J.C.Jensen
nghai China (a long time ago!) as a child I had an operation to remove tonsils and adenoids.What I remember is the face of my German surgeon. He had a scar on his face starting above his upper lip all the way to his cheekbone. Very impressive to a 7 year old
14:04 July 12, 2012 by Carthago S. Delenda
After the 1992 firebombing in Molln that claimed the lives of 3, there was a Menschenkette (human chain) down the length of the Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg. The only representation (that I saw) of the student fraternities was Burschenschaft Allemania, who was there in strength, wearing full uniform & holding torches. This was hardly an expression of right-wing sentiment. I subsequently had the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with them (and yes there was drinking), and I never once heard anyone express any racist or xenophobic attitudes. In fact, neo-nazis were the butt of many jokes.
18:37 July 23, 2012 by wenddiver
Nothing says your kid is a serious academic, like him sneaking around with burning torches and swords. Silly, surprided a good school would allow it,
16:37 July 24, 2012 by Carthago S. Delenda
... "sneaking around with burning torches and swords"... Seriously?
06:39 July 25, 2012 by wenddiver
@Cathargo- The three up front dressed in black are all wearing swords and dressed pretty ridiculous. The rest of the mob are carrying burnibg torches, instead of flashlights. Who are they supposed to be????

I was in a Fraternity in College and it was more like the house scens in the movie Animal House. Lots of beer, parties, and road trips to New Orleans and Florida. We had a party every weekend and did something fun every day.
16:15 July 27, 2012 by couchtripper
berets and sashes, marching with flaming torches - are you sure it's not just the extreme wing of the anti-fashion police?
17:54 July 28, 2012 by Carthago S. Delenda
I'm making an assumption here, as dangerous as that may be, that the photo is depicting a ceremonial situation, not daily casual wear. I've never seen a Shriner pop down to the market for bread & milk on one of the tiny cars.
19:51 July 30, 2012 by friedenstempel
When I was a student we always used to denounce the Fraternities but in reality they are just harmless conservative associations. There is a lot of unfounded demagogy against the groups. We should be rather proud of their spirit and create more liberal branches if we desire.

Sie lügten, sie suchten

Nach Trug und Verrat,

Verleumdeten, verfluchten,

Die junge grüne Saat!

The anti-Burschenschaft tradition dates back to the Karlbad Conclusions. The public discrimination of Burschenschaft members reflects badly on the openness of German society. Their traditions are however very interesting.
09:44 July 31, 2012 by wenddiver
@Carthago S. Delenda- Funny hats and minature cars for charity work might show more class than swords and cutting on your face to raise your-self up personally. I don't aprove of the Masons either, but at least the things the Shriners do look like they would be fun and their charity work is impressive.
19:22 August 10, 2012 by Carthago S. Delenda
@Wendiver. The Shriners do look like they're having a fine time and they do good work. If the schlagenderverbindungen want to hack themselves up, it's their business. To each his/her own. Cheers.
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