When the first committee of inquiry in the Bundestag into the series of right-wing terrorist murders by the "National Socialist Underground" presented its final recommendations, the deputies had drawn up cross-party demands. As early as 2013, a decision was made “emphatically” across party lines to work for a “reorganization of the promotion of civil society engagement against racism, anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism” that “ensures reliability and offers planning security”.
Long-term funding for programs designed to fight right-wing extremism or Islamism, for example, was also part of the agreements in the coalition agreements of the grand coalition after the federal elections of 2013 and 2017. But anyone who deals with the work of such initiatives knows: it’s about civil society A federal legal basis is required to permanently support commitment to democracy. Because without such a basis, constant financing and thus sufficient planning security for those involved is not possible.
Now the traffic light coalition wants to implement a democracy promotion law. The cabinet approved a corresponding draft in December. It is “not the task of the state to shape the heads of the citizens according to its façon,” said WELT author Anna Schneider. The Basic Law is much better suited to promoting the vitality of democracy. In doing so, my colleague is not only questioning the planned traffic light law, but also any state funding for projects to prevent extremism. She is wrong about that.
Of course, care must be taken to ensure that those clubs that receive state funding respect the goals and principles of the Basic Law. Clear guidelines should ensure this. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case so far. For example, the Claim Alliance against Islamophobia and Muslim hostility and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany have received hundreds of thousands of euros from federal funds in recent years, although both associations have important links to political Islam groups.
However, not every project that has ever been funded by the Ministry of Family Affairs or the Ministry of the Interior is to be consolidated by the Democracy Support Act, only those that have proven themselves. And fundamentally, it is an important concern to protect and strengthen civil society commitment.
A vibrant democracy needs such commitment. According to the case numbers of the Federal Criminal Police Office, there are more than ten politically motivated acts of violence every day in Germany. The political institutions and their representatives are exposed to anti-democratic attacks. Racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and homophobia are not marginal phenomena, but widespread in relevant parts of society. Awareness raising is required here. Initiatives that do this work depend on public funding.
It goes without saying that it is also the task of the state to combat extremist and inhuman views and intentions, to protect the constitutional order and to enable political education, the teaching of liberal values and protection against discrimination. The Basic Law even provides the basis for state financing of democracy promotion.
The constitutional lawyer Christoph Möllers argues, for example, that the competence of the federal government results from the need for “public welfare” under Article 74 of the Basic Law. According to a judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court in 1967, public welfare also includes “events for political education, which are intended to make it clear to young people in particular that in a democracy the individual cannot isolate himself from society, but can actively help shape it and its political form got to". A turning away from society goes hand in hand with a weakening of democracy.
Preventing such a departure is the aim of the Democracy Promotion Act. According to the draft law, it is about reliable support for corresponding projects and a “sustainable safeguarding of the funding measures”. The reality so far looks different. Initiatives are in constant cycles of temporary funding that lead to recurring applications. Many human resources cannot be used for the actual implementation of the projects. The consequences: precarious working conditions, a lack of further development of successful methods and a constant loss of specialist knowledge. It is good and important that something should change in the future.
With the terrorist attacks in Halle and Hanau, the murder of CDU politician Walter Lübcke and homicides by armed supporters of conspiracy ideologies, a total of 17 people in this country have lost their lives as a result of right-wing extremist violence since 2019 alone. Such violence is a permanent threat to the rule of law and especially to those whose right-wing extremist ideology denies their right to exist.
Many victims of attacks are dependent on permanent counseling structures due to lifelong injuries or the loss of their economic livelihood. Initiatives that support those affected by such acts of violence therefore need a long-term perspective. The same applies to projects that work to protect human and minority rights, as well as to advice centers that specialize in deradicalization or help those who want to leave extremist movements and, in order to prevent recidivism, ensure that such an exit does not have a negative impact on society isolation.
A vibrant democracy is not only endangered by acts of violence and extremism. Even those who experience discrimination often feel that their sense of belonging and security as well as their trust in the rule of law is impaired. If a democracy promotion law grants long-term support to projects against discrimination, this is also a signal to those affected that the state is showing solidarity.