«Catholic position paper is a big shot in the arm»

Swastika graffiti at a school © Jochen Lubke

After the murder of Kassel government president Lubcke, Germany debates whether right-wing violence is underestimated. Expert Christian Staffa explains how important it is for churches to take a clear stance on this ie.

Interviewer: We now have the Lubcke case, before that we had the NSU case. The problem of right-wing violence is not new. The many small everyday attacks not even mentioned yet. Why does no one seem to care about this on the whole??

Christian Staffa (Director of Studies for Democratic Culture and Church at the Protestant Academy in Berlin): The problem goes back much further. If we think of the Oktoberfest attack of 1980, the largest terrorist attack in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, that has gone down, so to speak. With the NSU, everyone acted like it was brand new. And now it is again pretended that this continuity does not exist. But they do exist.

The thesis that no one seems to be interested is not entirely true. The Bundestag, for example, has set up a committee of inquiry into the NSU. There is just an incredible amount of continuity that is not being questioned. The reasons for this lie, among other things, at the level of the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. It's about the question of dealing with the past. It is indeed very successful in one way and in another way obviously not at all. It is always said that the authorities are blind in the right eye. I find the expression not quite right. Rather, it is that they are ignoring this problem.

Interviewer: The Catholics have just this week published a position paper on the subject. Actually, it should be clear what position on right-wing violence one should have as a Christian. What do you need a paper like this for?

Staffa: I was a member of that working group, by the way, which I thought was a very nice ecumenical gesture. But the position is just not that clear. It's also an illusion that we as a church think we've always been anti-right wing. The opposite is a bit the case: if we look at the history of National Socialism or also at the 19. Century: The church has not been a stronghold of democracy promotion at that time. In this respect, it is also no wonder that, for example, racism, anti-Semitism or even misogyny not only hibernate in certain regions of our church, but are also cultivated.

Interviewer: Apparently, there is an overlap with right-wing ideas in the Christian-conservative sphere. You can see this, for example, in the fact that the AfD likes to fish in the Christian milieu. Where does this come from and what exactly are these overlaps??

Staffa: Let's take the keywords homophobia and misogyny. Although it is not necessarily the case that traditional church role models are mixed with role models from the right-wing milieu. So you can't denounce all people who have conservative gender images as right-wing extremists. But of course it has a bridging function. It's attractive when someone says: The nuclear family is being destroyed by the left-wing greens. Then a Christian answers: Yes, that's right. There are overlap possibilities and attractiveness of right-wing populist positions.

But if we take, for example, the keyword "Christian Occident" peddled by Pegida and the AfD, we can see that a self-critical relationship to this tradition has not been much cultivated in our church either. What is the Christian West? Is it peace and democracy or is it also violence, colonialism and anti-Semitism?? If this term is not questioned critically and self-critically even in our country, then the potential for a bridging function is also inherent in this term, which in itself comes across as so harmless.

Interviewer: From the churches you also regularly hear calls for openness and against misanthropy. Is there actually a difference in the way the Protestant and Catholic Churches deal with the right??

Staffa: I would say in the last 20 years, the Protestants have been a little bit ahead. But at the same time, it must be said that this writing of the bishops' conference is really a big deal. The Protestant Church — inspired by the Federal Working Group Church and Right-Wing Extremism — took a position on the NSU very early on and said: It is not just a group of three. We have to understand this as a social problem. The Catholic Church has now caught up with us.

The interview was conducted by Julia Reck.

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