Universities provide foil for thuggish neo-Nazis

Neo-Nazis are shifting from brawn to brain by recruiting from Germany’s traditionally conservative student duelling clubs.

“The aim seems to be to build up an intellectual elite,” says Lutz Irrgang, head of the police unit monitoring right-wing extremism in the state of Hesse, where universities have been targeted.

About 157,000 Germans belong to university student clubs and while some of these closed associations describe themselves as “liberal”, most are conservative and demand strict and humiliating initiation rites for aspiring members.

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Graduates, many of them deliberately scarred on the cheek after a ritual fencing duel, have gone on to become senior figures in politics, diplomacy and business.

Now the neo-Nazis, emboldened after winning representation in the Saxony parliament, want to swell their ranks with duelling graduates.

Herr Irrgang, head of Hesse’s Agency for the Protection of the Constitution, is particularly concerned with the Burschenschaft Dresdensia at the University of Giessen. “There are attempts to make this duelling club into something akin to a brains trust for the extreme Right,” he said. In the neo-Nazi “funeral march” on the 60th anniversary of the British bombing of Dresden ten days ago, student duellers, wearing sashes and pillbox hats, stood out from the skinheads.

They marched within hailing distance of the assembled leadership of the far-right National Party of Germany (NPD).

A key NPD politician in Saxony is Jurgen Gansel, who studied history at Giessen and who belonged to the Normannia Duelling Club. He first was registered in police files when he fired an air pistol at neighbours of the club to stop them complaining about the raucous shouts of “Heil Hitler” from the students’ residence. The charges were dropped later.

At least three other universities in Hesse, notably Marburg, are on the neo-Nazi recruitment list. These are providing a flow of graduates to the ranks of the NPD youth organisation and a shadowy group known as the Young East Prussia Association. Both organisations are under police observation.

Duelling associations began during the French Revolution, attracting the sons of the educated and overwhelmingly Protestant upper middle class in ancient universities such as Jena and Gottingen. The idea of a united Germany was partly hatched in these clubs and as early as 1882 the Teutonia Club in Marburg was barring Jews.

By 1921, long before the rise of the Nazis, most clubs were insisting on proof of German blood going back generations. The entry requirements, even now, include the word-perfect reciting of patriotic verse and songs — any deviation is punished by the forced sinking of a litre of beer — the swearing of numerous oaths and at least a year of menial work.

Alexandra Kurth, a political scientist at Giessen University, said: “This connection between the intellectual far Right and the bovver-boot Nazis is highly problematic because the booted Nazis are simply not capable of making politics by themselves.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Times Online, UK
Feb. 23, 2005
Roger Boyes in Berlin
www.timesonline.co.uk
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday February 23, 2005.
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