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Definition Right-Wing Extremism
Right-Wing activities in Germany
Right-Wing activities among the German youth
Right-Wing activities in Norway
Right-Wing activities among the Norwegian youth
Right-Wing Extremism Prevention
“Action plan against Radicalization and Violent Extremism” in Norway
CVE-Education in Norwegian schools
Germany’s federal strategy to prevent Extremism and promote Democracy
CVE-Education in German Schools
Comparing Strategies in Norway and Germany
More than 75 years after the end of the second World War in Europe, many formerly Nazi-occupied countries have accomplished a full turnaround in their society. Both the bombed out and defeated Germany, as well as the long time foreign ruled Norway rank in the Top 10 of the Human Development Index today (United Nations, 2020).
With Central and Northern Europe at peace for many years, it is only rational that the fear of a new war on the continent should diminish in society. However, before the Covid-19-pandemic struck the world, a new fear had been developing in Europe: The fear of terror. In 2020, 35% of the German population feared future terror attacks in the country, 37% were afeared of political extremism (R+V-Insurance, 2020). This number has recently dropped from peaks of over 70% in the years 2016 and 2017 (ib.). In 2020, 64% of the Norwegian people said they were concerned or very concerned when being asked whether they feared terroristic attacks in Norway in the next five years (Statista, 2021).
Terror comes in different stages, forms and is carried out for different reasons and by different actors. Nevertheless, the fear of terrorism in Europe seems to be primarily the fear of Islamist terrorism. When searching in different languages for the words “terror” and either country, the first results usually cover Islamist terror. The fear seems to be rational when looking at past terror attacks in Europe (e.g. Paris 2015, Brussels 2016, Nice 2016) where most severe attacks have indeed been Islamist driven.
However, when looking at past terror attacks in Norway and Germany Islamist terror does not seem to be the biggest threat concerning public safety. Since 2011, after the crimes of the National-Socialist-Underground, a total of 25 people have been killed by right-wing terrorism (RWT) in Germany. All other deaths linked to terror attacks in that period only sum up to 17 in total (Bell Tower, 2020). In Norway, the numbers are even more severe with 78 people killed due to RWT since 2011. Terroristic activities or attacks driven by another narrative have not cost a single life in Norway during the looked-on time span (Counter Extremism Project, 2021).
Even though terrorism is highly overrepresented in media broadcasting when compared to occurrence and deaths (Our World in Data, 2019) the threat of especially RWT in both Germany and Norway is real.
The goal of this paper is to examine the different ways both countries are taking in their educational system to prevent RWE and radicalization amongst students and in society. The main question discussed in the following is: How do the education systems in Norway and Germany take an approach towards the prevention of right-wing extremism?
This is particularly interesting and important since extreme right views have found their way back into European parliaments through upstreaming right-wing populist (RWP) parties in the last years. Apart from Ireland and Iceland RWP-parties are currently part of every parliament in Europe (BpP, 2020). The open racism and misanthropy openly communicated by some of these parties also imposes certain risks of radicalization amongst young people or students. Therefore, strategies against RWE in schools are vital and an important issue to also be evaluated in modern day Europe.
Several steps must be included to answer this papers’ research question. First a working definition for RWE is needed. Afterwards the current situations concerning RWE and RWT in Norway and Germany are examined. This includes a look at the youth’s stand towards the far right. After that, the strategies and methods that each country currently uses in its educational system to prevent extremism are explained and compared. Finally, the results are being summed up, evaluated, and discussed to give suggestions about what either country can learn from the other and what major problems need to be targeted in the future.
There is not much work available on this topic when looking for comparisons between the northern countries, which happen to be the world’s most democratic countries, and Germany. Therefore, this paper provides new possible ideas for both countries on how to improve their RWE and radicalization education.
This research mostly draws up on the national strategic papers to prevent radicalization from the German Federal Government (2016) and the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security (2014). Moreover, the countries’ core curricula and course syllabi are being examined. For general and background information I heavily rely on the findings of Bjørgo (2018) and Wolf (2019).
Definition Right-Wing Extremism
When it comes to terms defining the right-wing spectrum there does not seem to be a clear definition of terms. Right-wing populism, -radicalism, and -extremism are often used synonymous. Scholars also do not agree on unitary definitions. Even though this paper seeks to deal with threats coming from right-winged mindsets in general, it is important do draw some lines between these terms.
Wolf (2019) compares different definitions of populism, extremism, and radicalism in the right spectrum. While the definition of what a right-wing opinion is varies from individual to individual, there are some things most scholars (e.g. Mudde, Stöss or Jupskås) can agree on. That is the mentioned terms having an inner ranking of severity. RWP often tries to explain the world in a simple way, blames the (political) elites and looks on itself as a movement rather than a party through using populist communication, often based on racist or xenophobic narratives. Nevertheless, RWP usually stick to the democratic values of a country (Wolf, 2019). RWR takes it a step further closing the ideology. It shows higher levels of xenophobic and nationalist views and is not critical towards the political elite but towards the basic democratic values (i.b.). Finally, RWE is described to have even higher levels of racism as well as a certain propensity towards the use of violence. RWE does not only criticize democracy and its values but actively tries to get rid of it, including values and institutions (i.b.). Furthermore, the narrative of a downplaying of the crimes of Nazi-Germany can often be observed along all, and especially the extreme, branches of the right wing.
These definitions are helpful to further distinguish right-wing views and to examine the main goal of movements, parties or people classified as one of the above. However, there seems to be a hierarchy within these terms that post a risk of people with right-wing views eventually radicalizing and becoming an issue for public safety. Thus, any form of extreme (in our case RW-) political mindset poses a potential risk. Avoiding these risks is explored in more detail through the course of this paper.
Right-Wing activities in Germany
Despite of its dark past, RWE still is a problem in Germany today. In 2020 alone 23.080 crimes and acts of violence have been reported to be caused by RWE (Thurm, 2021). The year before the number had been above 22.324 as well (i.b.). The number of RWE-crimes was therefore higher than 60 per day. Since the reunion of the two German states in 1990 the number of right-wing politically motivated homicides has been 213 (Bell Tower News, 2020). When looking for left-wing terrorism in the same period and therefore excluding the terror of the Red Army Fraction the number of deaths is four (BfV, 2021). Islamist terror has caused 15 to 29 deaths in Germany since 1990, depending on the classification of the crime and the different sources (Echtermann, 2020). The most recent raids driven by RWE motives were the attack of a synagogue in Halle (2019), as well as the mass shooting in Hanau (2020).
Still, the left-wing terror in the 1970s and 1980s as well as the recent Islamist terror around Europe seems to create bigger fears than the steady homicides committed by RWE. Even state institutions, like the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz), have been formerly having problems of recognizing the risks of RWE in Germany. Its former president Hans-Georg Maaßen has even had connections into the far-right milieu (Tagesspiegel, 2019). Also, the German government itself only confirms 83 of the 213 victims of RWE as officially caused by RWE (BfV, 2021).
Just recently the active fight in German politics against right-wing crimes has begun. After Maaßen’s release from office in 2018, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has started to take a closer look at structures in the right-wing milieu. The German federal government now holds regular meetings in order to discuss measures in the fight against RWE and racism (Federal Government, 2019).
However, RWE remains to be a threat in Germany. The BfV (2021) currently counts approximately 30.000 RWE-supporters within the country of which 15.000 are reportedly willingly violent and around 65 can be classified as potential terrorists. Adding to this, just recently several RWE networks within the German police and military have been discovered (Tagesschau, 2020). While most of the German people shows disapproval of right-wing activities there has also been a political change over the course of the last years.
Since the Euro-Crisis in 2013 the “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) (engl. Alternative for Germany) has been on the rise. The political party started out as an anti-European party with a strong focus on economical liberalism (Bieber et al., 2018). Over time the party has drifted further and further into the right-wing political spectrum. Currently holding roughly 12% of the seats in the German national parliament (Bundeswahlleiter, 2017) extreme trends within the party have become visible. Even high party officials draw the attention of the media and political opponents through openly racist or xenophobic statements. While the party is the second biggest parliamentary group in some state-parliaments, the BfV is currently investigating whether the entire party should be classified as a suspected case for the security of the country (Farken & Merkel, 2021). Several sections of the party at the local level had already been classified as such in previous years (ib.). As of spring 2021, there is a pending legal dispute on whether these investigations or the classification of the entire party as a suspicious RWE case, are legal.
While neither all members nor voters of the party can be described as RWE, the populist party has been drifting in a dangerous direction, which contained the playing down of the holocaust and misanthropic statements. Yet, this only had little influence on the voter’s support for the party (Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, 2021).
Right-Wing activities among the German youth
With a political right trend in Germany, it is important to also take a look on the youth’s stance towards right-wing narratives.
Data that provides a good insight regarding this is the German “Junior-Wahl” (engl. junior elections). These are held amongst German schools for most mayor elections as elections for national-, state- and European Parliament.
The RWP party AfD received 12,6% of the votes in the election of the national parliament in 2017 (Bundeswahlleiter, 2017). The Junior-Wahl’s result looked somewhat different. A little over 950.000 students were eligible to vote in the election, in which the AfD ended up getting only 6% of the votes (Kumulus, 2021). The results for the party in the elections for European Parliament in 2019 were 11% in the official election (Bundeswahlleiter, 2019) and 6,5% in the Junior-Wahl (Kumulus, 2021). These students’ numbers seem low compared to the overall outcome. Nevertheless, they both lie above the 5%, which a party must get in an election to become part of parliament. When, finally looking at the elections of the state parliament in Thuringia, a state in eastern Germany, where the AfD received more than 23% of the votes (Tagesschau, 2021), we also see a spike in the votes for the party in the Junior-Wahl. In this case, slightly more than 16% voted for the RWP party, which has particularly extreme members in the state of Thuringia (Kumulus, 2021).
Apart from the youth elections the “RadigZ”-project has investigated political extremism amongst students in Germany. They find that at some point of time approximately 14% of the analyzed group, had right-wing attitudes or had acted on right-wing motives at some point (Goede, Schröder & Lehmann., 2019). About half of these students reported that they visited websites with right-wing political content regularly or often (ib.). The group being at risk for RWE made up 2.8% of the sample (ib.). These students reportedly also had a far-right mindset and had acted based on their RW-view (ib.). Another study took a closer look at the attitudes, concerning right-wing narratives, of students in Germany’s most northern state Schleswig-Holstein. Here it was found that the percentage of extreme right-wing mindsets in schools were even higher. On average 8% of the students in each school district were considered being extreme right-wing (Bliesener & Maresch, 2016).
Bliesener & Maresch (2016) furthermore find some factors that might cause a higher risk of developing RWE views. The driving factors are contact with the right-wing milieu, experience of racism in school, missing interethnic encounters, propensity towards violence and missing empathy for others.
Right-Wing activities in Norway
Just as in Germany and the rest of Europe right-wing mindsets have also been part of Norway’s recent history.
Most shocking were the terror attacks by Anders Breivik in Oslo and on Utøya. The extreme right-wing terrorist was driven by strong racist and anti-Islamic motives when he killed 77 people on the 22nd of July 2011 and injured over 300 (Bjørgo, 2018). In contrast to right-wing terror in Germany, Breivik did not directly attack immigrants or people who did not fit his picture of Europe. Instead, he attacked the government and the summer camp of the youth organization, of the party in power to hurt the Norwegian society in its core. Through this he also sought to prevent a higher support for Muslims in Norway (ib.).
In 2019 another right terror attack took place in Norway when a young man attacked a mosque in Bærum but could be stopped before killing more than one person (Brekke, 2020). The perpetrator had previously radicalized himself on the internet and shared a similar mindset as Breivik (ib.).
Ravndal et al. (2020) find that, when looking at RWT all over the world, radicalization of vulnerable individuals is most likely when imposed to Nazi or xenophobic views online. Furthermore, they find a world-wide trend in RWT. This for example includes the attacks on Islamic centers in Christchurch, Halle or Bærum, where the perpetrators aimed to kill as many people as possible while partly being inspired by Breivik and his manifesto (ib.).
Looking at Norwegian politics the RWP party Fremskrittspartiet (FrP) has been present in the Norwegian national parliament far longer than other European RWP parties. Since 1973 it has almost constantly been a part of the Storting (Bjerkem, 2016). While the FrP is described as RWP among scholars (Allern, 2012) it is also seen as a more moderate right party than its fellow parties in Europe (Jupskås et al., 2016). Despite of the fact that the FrP cannot be labeled as RWE, it is the most right-wing party in the Norwegian national parliament and has drawn votes through xenophobic or racist narratives in the past (ib.). Also, Anders Breivik had been a long-time member of the party (Bangstad, 2019).
The leading politicians in Norway agreed on a strong “Never again”-narrative right after the terror attacks of the 22nd July (Bangstad, 2019). However, this did not stop the RWP FrP, which had previously promoted anti-Islam narratives, from entering a conservative government for the first time in 2013. Even though the party follows a moderate right-wing mindset, it does seem odd for a country that had been hit hard by a right-wing motivated terror attack two years prior to have a RWP party in power.
Right-Wing activities among the Norwegian youth
Just as the German Junior-Wahl, Norway also holds elections for students. The Skolevalg (engl. School elections) has been held every other year since 1989. In 2017 almost 190.000 students in Norway were eligible to vote in the Skolevalg (NSD, 2021).
In the 2017 elections, which caused the FrP to stay part of the government, the party got 15.2% of the people’s votes in Norway (Valgdirektoratet, 2021). This number declined to around 8% in the Norwegian county and district elections in 2019 (ib.). According to a PolitPro survey in May 2021 the FrP would currently get around 9.5% of the votes in a national election (2021).
The numbers in the Skolevalg show a similar trend. While in the 2017 Skolevalg 10.3% voted for the FrP, the number of FrP-voters shrunk to 8.1% in the last school election in 2019 (NSD, 2021). When looking at a larger time frame the decline of FrP supporters amongst students can be confirmed. While there was around a quarter of all eligible students voting for the FrP in the early 2000s the share has been shrinking steadily since 2009 (ib.). This might also correlate with the party’s leader change in 2006, which was the start of less aggressive communication and instead more serious politics (Jupskås, 2013). This trend can be seen in both, the Skolevalg and the public elections, where the share of FrP voters has been decreasing since 2009.
The high numbers in the 2000s point towards an RWE amongst young people during that time. In fact, caused by the skin-head movement, RWE, neofascism and music with a focus on the supremacy of white skinned people, became popular among the Norwegian youth in the 1990s (Bjørgo, 2018). Right-wing movements and groups such as the “Boot Boys” or “Vigrid” drew lots of attention and support from Norwegian teenagers until the 2000s. However, there is very little comparable activity among the Norwegian youth today, as Bjørgo (2018) states. The reason for this is a simple lack of ability by RWE organizations to reach out towards the youth through their narratives any longer. So, while RWE seems to be a problem within the Norwegian society, it has shifted away from the teenagers towards older population groups (i.b.).
RWE motives seem close to being non-existent among the Norwegian youth. However, Ibrahim (2019) states that certain levels of racism and skepticism towards people with dark skin or Muslim background, still post problems in Norwegian schools. In his qualitative research he finds that in general all people, irrespective of cultural background, benefit from the inclusive model of the Norwegian school system. Still, students, who do not look Norwegian, experience certain levels of distrust towards them, become the victims of a racist stereotypes or are excluded from group work (i.b.).
Right-Wing Extremism Prevention
As described, right-wing views can be a problem, which cannot and should not be ignored in either country. In Germany the threat of RWE furthermore seems to be even more severe for young people, than in Norway.
The prevention of RWE or the countering of violent extremism (CVE) can happen on many different levels, among different population-, social- or age groups. Both Germany and Norway have gained a very good reputation about their CVE programs in the past (see e.g. Hardy, 2019; Miller-Idriss, 2019).
The long history of CVE in both countries, caused by the crimes of the Third Reich, yet has another advantage. The deeply implemented methods and strategies to counter RWE in education and society made it possible to prevent extremism of all other kinds (e.g., far left or Islamist). By implementing core values in classrooms, this can even happen regardless of political trends or public opinion (Hardy, 2019).
The different programs tackling the problem of violence or crimes caused by extremism cover EXIT-programs for extremists, support for extremists’ family members and education models, just to name a few. Education preventing RWE reaches across different types of schools and grade levels, as well as into the realm of adult education and people's informal education. Especially in Germany the number of different CVE programs in schools is hardly comprehensible nor understandable with every single one of the 16 German states developing their very own school system and curriculum.
To examine the aims and mechanisms for CVE-Education in Norwegian and German schools, I majorly draw up on one paper from either federal government. The “Action plan against Radicalization and Violent Extremism” was published by the Norwegian Government in 2014 and contains the national governments goals and actions to prevent radicalization. The paper published by the German federal government in 2016 goes by the name of “Strategy to Prevent Extremism and Promote Democracy” and was the first strategic paper to approach these problems on a nationwide consensus (Davies & Limbada, 2019).
While both papers contain many different aspects of CVE, I mainly focus on the comparison of the measures taken in schools. Additionally, core curricula and subject syllabi in both countries are compared.
“Action plan against Radicalization and Violent Extremism” in Norway
In the plan against radicalization and violent extremism, which was published in 2014, the Norwegian Government lists its goals considering CVE as well as its actions to reach them. This is aimed at different sectors in society as well as professional areas and ought to be carried out across different ministries (Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security, 2014). The main goal of the strategic paper is to “make a broad effort to prevent radicalization and violent extremism” (Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security, 2014, 7).
The paper includes 30 measures in total, covering the areas of
- knowledge & expertise
- cooperation & coordination
- prevention of the growth of extremist groups & the promotion of reintegration
- prevention of radicalization and recruitment through the internet
- international cooperation (ib.).
Out of all 30 measures only three are directly aimed at schools. Namely these are: the draft of guidance material to support individuals with close contact to persons at risk, the development of digital teaching material to be used from lower secondary school onwards, and actions to prevent the use of hate speech (ib.).
While only one tenth of the measures relate directly to schools, this does not mean that the youth is forgotten about in the paper. An additional number of five measures is being carried out by the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social inclusion. Among other actions this includes support and help for parents and guardians of children falling for extremism, the support for NGOs and voluntary organizations tackling the targeted problems, and courses on the prevention of online discrimination or harassment (ib.).
The action plan finally presents a list, consisting of seven steps to take when there is a concern about radicalization of an individual. The plan starts with step one, being the entry into a dialogue with the person and leads all the way up to the report of the person to the Norwegian Police Security Service, in step 7 (ib., 27). Each step calls for actions of certain individuals or institutions, including the schools and teachers. In addition, the authors list several signs that are concerning when shown by an individual. These signs are divided up into different categories covering social life, interests, expressions or statements and activities (ib.).
In general, the action plan by the Norwegian government to tackle radicalization and violent extremism is a broad and comprehensive approach. The government targets the main problems, such as radicalization on the internet and awareness for persons at risk, through certain measures carried out by the different ministries. The protection of the younger population group is not forgotten about. Another fact worth highlighting is, that the government requires that all materials produced for teaching- or training purposes ought to be available online. This ensures that everybody in the country can easily access the material without being exposed to further costs or efforts. However, we need to examine further what these actions by the government lead to in Norwegian schools.
CVE-Education in Norwegian schools
The Norwegian core curriculum is valid for all primary and secondary schools, as well as job training. The core curriculum was passed in 2017 and is built up on six main values:
- Human dignity
- Identity and cultural diversity
- Critical thinking and ethical awareness
- The joy of creating, engagement, and the urge to explore
- Respect for nature and environmental awareness
- Democracy and participation (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2021).
Furthermore, the core curriculum names three main topics that shall be addressed in schools. These are people’s health and life’s challenges, democracy and citizenship, as well as sustainable development (ib.).
While the prevention of extremism is not explicitly stated, the core principles of human dignity, cultural diversity, ethical awareness, democracy and participation imply a fundamental basis leaving no room for extremism or racism. It is especially the first principle that, in its description, leaves no room for interpretation, as a “School shall ensure that human dignity and the values supporting this are the foundation for the education and training and all activities” (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2021). Moreover, the core curriculum in the section about democracy and participation states that “school shall promote democratic values and attitudes that can counteract prejudice and discrimination. Pupils shall learn in school to respect the fact that people are different and learn to solve conflicts peacefully.” (ib.)
These examples show that fundamental values of human dignity ought to be taught and represented in every Norwegian classroom without exceptions. This is even stated as the duty of school owners, headmasters and teachers in the entire country.
Sjøen & Mattsen (2019) find that this responsibility is also highly valued by teachers in Norway. Nevertheless, most teachers are found to not only stay on a professional basis when preventing extremism. This, combined with other factors such as overcautious acting or approaching the student aggressively, can lead to destruction of the student’s identity and autonomy. Of course, it is very important to recognize a student who is currently living through a radicalization process. On the contrary, the authors stress the importance of a good balance between the student’s individual development and the prevention of extremism (Sjøen & Mattsen, 2019).
Although the core curriculum states the principles on which the Norwegian primary and secondary education is based, it still seems a little too vague. The answer to what is taught in the classroom and what a student is expected to learn during his time in school, is presented in the læreplanene (course syllabi) for each subject in school. While the core principles we touched on earlier are represented in all subjects, it is the social science subject (Samfunnsfag or Samfunnskunnskap) that contains most of the contents that seem helpful to prevent extremism.
Some of the core elements being taught in “Samfunnsfag” from 1st to 10th grade are critical thinking, understanding part taking in democracy, the tension between identity and society and establishing a sustainable society/ democracy (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2021).
The syllabus (valid from 08/2021) further lists competences students should have after 10th grade. Some of them touch directly on what we are looking for. For example, are students supposed to have learned about the causes and consequences of terror and genocide. This is followed-up by students having knowledge on how to prevent extremism. Furthermore, they should know about minorities in Norway and how the mistreatment of them has shaped their present life. Also, different opinions, cultures, and lifestyles in a diverse society must be reflectively dealt with. Finally, the students ought to be able to reflect on the major rules and standards of a modern society and what could happen without them, as well as critically assessing the future problems of the Norwegian democracy and welfare state (ib.).
The syllabus and the key competences slightly change as the “Samfunnsfag” becomes the subject of “Sammfunnskunskap” in secondary school. However, its main principles stay the same while complexity increases. The core elements in secondary school are critical thinking, accompanied by looking at topics from different perspectives, citizenship and sustainable development and the process of how humans develop identities and opinions (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2021).
The key competences or skills students should have after secondary school are once again worth looking at when searching for CVE-education. Students shall be able to understand how different or extreme opinions can change arguments or the selection of sources. Also, there are many competences covering the diversity in the country and how to deal with it, as well as the key principles to being a (good) citizen. In addition, students should be able to examine how to prevent racism, discrimination and hate speech. This also includes evaluating the boundaries for the freedoms of speech and opinion (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2021).
Key skills for both age groups furthermore include the ability to use the Internet in a reflective manner. Both papers call for students being able to reflect on their own activity in the world wide web, be aware of dangers and the potential misuse of personal data (ib.).
Furthermore, the core curriculum stresses the importance of a good teacher to guarantee the core principles not being violated. Therefore, the curriculum calls for responsible and well-trained teachers who are willing to work professionally and keep developing and educating themselves (ib.).
When talking about the professional development of teachers in the field of CVE, “Democratic preparedness against racism and anti-Semitism” (Dembra) is a program worth mentioning. It was developed by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, the European Wergeland Centre and the Department of Teacher Education and School Research at the University of Oslo” (Dembra, 2021). It has the main goal of educating teachers in the field of CVE.
While the institution offers general materials and workshops for teachers, it also provides school “tailored” and individual solutions to already existing problems of RWE (ib.; RAN, 2019). So far Dembra has been used by over 50 schools in Norway and seeks to expand its work (Dembra, 2021).
Dembra is also just one out of many non-governmental institutions providing material and teacher education on the field of extremism prevention. Another player equipping schools and teachers with plenty of free materials is the “22. juli-senteret” (22nd of July center). The institution’s main goal is to teach about the terror attacks on the 22nd of July 2011. It also provides resources covering the reasons, motivations, and conspiracy theories behind the attacks, as well as the aftermath of it and Breivik’s conviction (22. juli-senteret, 2021).
Concluding, the prevention methods of RWE in Norwegian education are broad. Next to the government’s action plan against radicalization and violent extremism, the Norwegian school system also contributes to CVE through its core curriculum and course syllabi. Especially in social science the important topics of discrimination, racism, extremism and hate speech are being covered. This is generally not done through an indoctrinating approach but rather through the individual’s ability to reflect on and critically examine the challenges of a polarized world. The core curriculum, furthermore, lists very important core values of the Norwegian education system. These values build a solid basis to educate the youth towards being democratic, critical, reflected, and respectful individuals. The teachers play an important role when it comes to protecting and teaching these values to students. Therefore, they are also being supported by government organizations and non-governmental institutions like Dembra or “22. Juli-senteret”. These organizations provide teacher education and teaching resources covering the topics of CVE and RWE prevention. Finally, there is generally a high stress on resources and materials being available online, so everybody can teach on these important topics without being imposed to further costs.
Germany’s federal strategy to prevent Extremism and promote Democracy
Like Norway’s “action plan”, the German Federal Government also published a strategic paper which explains its plans on targeting extremism. The paper was published in 2016 and explicitly lists RWE as a growing problem in German society that needs to be treated. Thus, the government aims to tackle the problem of RWE and (violent) extremism in general through two mechanisms: Extremism-prevention and the promotion of democracy.
The actions preventing extremism contain different measures against anything that is unconstitutional. Based on the first articles of the German constitution this includes actions against human dignity, discrimination of all kinds or practices seeking to harm or overthrow the democratic state and its values (Federal Government, 2016). Extremism-prevention measures also include the general safety of the public, the strengthening of fundamental rights or help for former offenders to prevent the future repetition of crimes (ib.).
The government stresses the importance of the second group of actions even more. The promotion of democracy contains all activities to strengthen democratic thinking and actions within every citizen. The Federal Government (2016) names three groups of measures that are particularly important for this: discursive debates, support for proactive engagement in society and most importantly civic education.
The overall goals are described as followed:
- Promoting a safe and democratic society through prevention of violent extremism
- Protecting human dignity & social cohesion in a diverse society
- Support for those who engage in democratic actions, fear extremist violence, or want to leave extremist structures
- Strengthening democracy and its values through the promotion of civil engagement, braveness, civil courage, and the ability to deal with conflict. (Federal Government, 2016, 11)
The implementation of the measures to reach these goals is not thought to be done by the federal government alone. Instead of setting up actions and rules that everyone must execute, the German authority has chosen a different path. This is the measures being implemented through a close cooperation between federal-, state- and local governments as well as local actors such us police, schools, (sports) clubs, universities etc.
The federal government provides funding and basic structures. The programes “Demokratie leben! Aktiv gegen Rechtsextremismus, Gewalt und Menschenfeindlichkeit” (engl. Living Democracy! Active against RWE, violence and misanthropy) or „Zusammenhalt durch Teilhabe“ (engl. Cohesion through participation) are great examples for this.
“Demokratie leben!” is a federal program which supports local, regional or nationwide initiatives which are active in the fields of fighting racism, antisemitism, hate or misanthropy. Furthermore, the program supports projects providing CVE, (right-wing) extremism prevention and early prevention in preschool (Federal Government, 2016). The program has been running since 2015 and currently has an annual budget of around 150 million euros util at least 2024 (Bmf, 2021). Furthermore, the system is not solely based on the funding. Fourteen regional skill-centers were established nationwide to provide opportunities for interchange and development (ib.).
“Zusammenhalt durch Teilhabe” is a smaller program designed especially for economically underdeveloped regions (esp. in eastern Germany). These regions are especially prone to RWE and other violent forms of extremism. Since extremist structures often arise from local clubs or neighborhoods the program helps to apprentice “democracy counselors” in these regions. Democracy counselors have an education in recognizing extremist potential, dealing with extremist structures, and developing prevention strategies to protect the people of the area from extremist movements (Federal Government, 2021).
The third big program in the prevention of (right-wing) extremism and the promotion of democracy is the German “Federal Agency for Civic Education” (BpB). The BpB’s mission is the independent portrayal of controverse political subjects. Through the critical contemplation of societal topics, it aims to strengthen democratic understanding. Furthermore, its goal is to prevent extremist movements by providing people, who are potentially at risk for falling for the extremist’s narratives, with a broad base of facts and democratic values. These do not only help the people at risk, but also anyone who is opposed to political extremists and their narratives (ib.). The BpB has a large nationwide network with the ability to provide every citizen with resources touching on civic education. It furnishes a broad span of books and magazines, teaching material and videos as well as reliable online resources, such as articles, definitions, or discussions (ib.).
Next to these three big projects, other players like the ministries, churches, the military or the penal system play further roles in the government’s plan to CVE.
The strategic paper covers a total of six areas that it wants to work on:
- Civic education & intercultural learning
- Societal engagement
- Counseling, Monitoring, & Intervention
- Media and Internet
- International cooperation (ib., 19)
When it comes to the protection and education of the youth, the Federal Government especially stresses the areas of civic- and media education. It calls for civic-, historic-political and cultural education of the students in school. While actors as the BpB provide resources for a broad civic education, the government mentions the importance of CVE-education in a historic context to avoid the downplaying of periods, like the world wars or the GDR-regime, that are seemingly long over. A broad cultural education of all students shall furthermore lead to a self-reflective view on general concerns and problems in a modern world (ib.). The federal government, furthermore, stresses the importance of media skills among the youth in the modern world. Next to imparting media skills it also calls for a better protection of the youth on the internet to prevent extremist recruitment or radicalization online.
Following this nationwide strategy, the German federal government passed several measures fighting RWE and hate speech on the internet in 2019. However, it can only call for CVE-education in schools, as the design of the curricula is the duty of the 16 federal states.
CVE-Education in German Schools
As the federal system of Germany causes education to be a topic which every state can decide on individually, it is neither possible nor effective to look at the prevention of RWE and CVE-education across the entire people’s republic of Germany. As a case study, I therefore examine the school curriculum of Schleswig-Holstein (S-H), Germany’s most northern state.
The new core curriculum from 2014 in S-H is based on three main competences which the students shall develop during their education. These are self-competence, media-competence, and soft skills. Through the imparting of these skills students are being enabled to understand, structure, and evaluate the world in which they are living (Ministerium für Schule und Berufsbildung des Landes Schleswig-Holstein, 2019). These three key competences further are the foundation for life-long learning.
Next to the goal of imparting the key competences, all teaching in S-H is based on several core problems of social life linked to fundamental values. The core topics are:
- Basic values of human society
- Sustainability of ecological-, social-, and economic development
- Equality and Diversity
- Participation (ib.)
So, anti-extremist values are taught throughout the entire education career in Germany. However, it makes sense to examine this further by looking at individual subjects and their syllabi. In German primary schools (1st-4th grade) it is the subject of “(Heimat- und) Sachunterricht”, which translates to local and science teachings, that contains most of the contents concerning our topic. “Sachunterricht” combines all social- and natural sciences. For secondary schools it becomes a little more complicated as civic education is taught among at least two subjects. While history (due to Germany’s past) contains large parts of civic education, I instead decide to focus on the subject of Economics and Politics (Wirtschaft/ Politik). However, civic education does not have a fixed standing in the curriculum of S-H. It only states that all students shall have two years of civic education between 5th and 10th grade spread across subjects like economy and politics, history, geography, or social science (the last being an additional subject combining the first three in some schools in the state). For upper secondary school (11th to 13th grade) economy and politics is only mandatory in the first year, while history must be taken all the way until graduating (Land Schleswig-Holstein, 2021).
“Sachunterricht” in primary school is divided into 10 topics touching on all kinds of natural- and social science topics. The ones that are most important when trying to prevent RWE are social- and political matters as well as media and internet (Ministerium für Schule und Berufsbildung des Landes Schleswig-Holstein, 2019, 19)
The goal of teaching social- and political matters is to spark the children’s interest for democratic and social problems and questions. Some of the contents which are taught are living in a democratic society, duties and rights and polity. When graduating elementary school students should have for example learned how to reflect on their own or foreign opinions, know basic values, duties and rights in a modern society and be able to demand the observance of them, know about the duties of public representatives, or be aware of different family structures (ib.).
During the classes touching on media and internet, students learn about and with analog and digital forms of media. The main goal is to examine potential and dangers of the internet in order to make a safe usage possible for all children (ib.). Skills all students should have after fourth grade include the critical assessment of (online-) sources, reflective use of online media and knowledge about the safe use of the internet (ib.).
So, generally serious topics such as RWE or terrorism are not being dealt with in German primary schools. This, to protect the children, is a good idea since, a basic understanding of democracy and human rights is mediated anyhow.
In secondary school, the topics become more tangible. The overall goal of the subject economy and politics, as stated in the syllabus, is to enable students to become mature and responsible citizens (Ministerium für Schule und Berufsbildung des Landes Schleswig-Holstein, 2016).
No matter if a student decides to leave secondary school after 9, 10, 12 or 13 years there are four main skills which they should have developed to different extend by the time of graduation. These are interpretation ability, making value- and fact-based judgements and decision making and acting competence (ib.). While the extend of the first three competences varies along the different school qualifications, the decision making- and acting competence should be on the same level for any kind of secondary school diploma. Hence, students are enabled to articulate themselves, agree on compromise, or value the opinion and dignity of others no matter when they leave secondary school.
In lower secondary school (until 10th grade) there are four big topics that students learn about. While two of them focus mainly on economic topics, the other two touch on political and civic education.
In the topic area of “democracy affects us” and “the youth in a changing world” students study basic content of important topics in politics and society. Content concerning the prevention of RWE in the first topic area are for example partaking in a functional democracy, the role of media in society, rule of law, human rights, extremism as a threat for democracy or militant democracy (ib.). The field of “youth in a changing world” touches on some more content that can help to prevent radicalization and extremism. These are e.g., standards, values and regulations, the role of social media, migration, and integration as well as social change and inequality (ib.).
As mentioned, the extent to which the students develop the key skills becomes larger in upper secondary school (11th-13th grade). After the prior teaching of basic content about democracy and civic education, the topics increase in complexity in upper secondary school. However, the teachings heavily rely on the basis of civic education that has been built before. The subject remains to be split in economy and politics, but the contents overlap more and more.
Over the course of three years the subject touches on ten main topic areas. However, out of my own experience, some areas are often left out due to shortage of time. Yet, the topics and contents have a high potential to form responsible citizens and prevent RWE. Contents listed in the syllabus which has a high significance for the research question of this paper are the following: Challenges for democracy, extremist threats for democracy, boundaries to freedom of speech, the judicial branch and the ban of parties, perspectives on migration topics, law of nations, dangers of digitalization and social media or the influence of (social) media on politics, decision making and opinions (ib.).
Next to all the topics I mentioned in the subject of economics and politics, history and especially the teaching about the Germany’s Nazi-past plays a big role in RWE prevention-education.
Furthermore, the commissioner of civic education in S-H and the local government provide a high number of workshops, training opportunities or teaching resources, targeting the problem of (right-wing) extremism, for teachers, students and parents (Landesbeauftragter für politische Bildung, 2021). These structures and offers are also thought to be further extended in the future.
In contrast to public and former political opinion, there seems to be a higher awareness of RWE in Germany today. Since 2016 the federal government’s “Strategy to Prevent Extremism and Promote Democracy” is the key document to prevent RWE and other forms of extremism in Germany. The strategy is very intersectoral and heavily relies on the cooperation of federal-, local- and regional governments, as well as on the cooperation NGOs, volunteers, clubs, and schools. Thus, the strategy is driven by bottom-up, rather than top-down effects. Different projects combine the two factors of preventing extremism and promoting democracy. Due to their structure, most projects are designed and able to tackle individual or local problems.
CVE-education and the prevention of RWE in schools has been implemented in German schools for a long time. However, the new core curriculum supports anti-extremism even more through its basic values whose promotion is the goal of every action taken in schools.
Furthermore, it is especially the social sciences that play a big role in the prevention of extremist movements. Basic values of democracy and its functionality as well as human- and children’s rights are already taught in elementary school. In secondary school the subject economics and politics is responsible for most of the civic education of the students in S-H, other states may have different subjects with shifted responsibilities. The main goal of the subject’s contents is to enable all students to be responsible and mature citizens, being able to think critically, analyze sources, make decisions based on values and facts and carry out (political) actions. Secondary school’s civic education touches explicitly on topics like far-right extremism, threats forwards democracy and the duties of citizens.
Still, the standing of the subject itself is vague. The government of S-H does not urge the schools to teach the subject for a mandatory number of years. It only calls for all students in lower secondary school (grade 5-10) to being taught in civic education for at least two years. The realization of this recommendation is the duty of the individual schools. With history playing a great role in the educational system in S-H’s secondary school, other social sciences often fall short in the schedule making. While the curriculum of economics and politics in upper secondary schools has great potential to target the problem of growing RWE in Germany, students are able to drop the subject after 11th grade, just as they enter the age of being enfranchised for the election of local- and national parliaments.
Concluding, Germany is following a broad approach, relying on local- and regional actors to fight and prevent RWE. The strategy is also targeted at schools, clubs and society. The curricula for “Sachkunde” and economics and politics contain important topics and mediate crucial skills to protect the youth and society from extremism. However, at least in the state of S-H, the high responsibility of individual schools posts the risk of students leaving secondary school after nine years with only very basic civic and political knowledge.
Comparing Strategies in Norway and Germany
Both countries present a high number of similarities in their approaches to prevent RWE and to CVE. Still, there are some differences where one country seemingly does a better job.
Either country has presented a strategic paper to prevent extremism in recent years. When looking at these it becomes clear that neither government dictates certain measures. Rather they draft a national strategy which then is carried out by different actors of politics and society. Next to local- and regional governments, clubs, volunteers, and NGOs play a big role in standing up against extremist movements in both Norway and Germany.
Additionally, the two papers call for actions being taken in schools and education. They especially stress the importance of responsible and safe usage of (social) media, as well as a high-quality civic education, to protect the youth from falling for RWE.
Furthermore, both nations provide help for those trying to exit extremist networks, as well as for their families. While the list of main goals either country wants to reach and the core topics, they address are very similar, there is one major tactical difference.
On the one hand, the Norwegian government very clearly states 30 measures to fight radicalization and violent extremism and lists the ministries or actors which are responsible for the implementation. On the other hand, the German Federal Government calls out several problems which need to be targeted. They furthermore develop programs and institutions which can tackle these problems by nationwide connection and funding of smaller programs and institutions battling RWE. Also, the government recently passed legislative package seeking to tackle RWE. However, the Federal Government does not state specific measures to be taken like the Norwegian government does. While this has great potential to build sustainable and long-term structures to fight (right-wing) extremism effectively and individually, it also contains many risks. The fight against radicalization is being passed down towards other actors by the government, this makes it easy for them to stress their own will and actions, while the responsibility of implementing measures is elsewhere.
Big programs like “Demokratie leben!” bear a big risk of bureaucracy hindering the important work of local institutions. While the bottom-up systems of either country have earned a great reputation (see e.g. Miller-Idriss, 2019; Hardy, 2019), especially Germany might “overuse” the concept. The Norwegian strategy of “hard” actions carried out by ministries or local actors seems to be way more tangible way when dealing with an area as large as extremism. This than can be complemented by programs which aim to specifically target certain areas or support the work of local NGOs or clubs.
The prevention of RWE, racism and misanthropy is, furthermore, a core goal the educational systems in Norway and Germany (resp. Schleswig-Holstein) aim to reach. Both countries state a similar list of central values like human dignity, diversity, and democratic participation in their core curricula. These values are the basis for all teaching in either country. Germany even adds a list of three key skills (self-competence, media-competence, soft-skills) to the list of core values.
Comparing the social science subjects and their syllabi is difficult, since Norway uses one combined social science subject, while most academic high schools in Germany split the subject up into geography, economics and politics and history. The high flexibility of students to take or drop subjects in upper secondary school, as well as the different school systems would bias the comparison of the grades 11 to 13. I therefore solely focus on the comparison of the syllabi and curricula for the first ten years of scholar education in either country. This includes the seven, resp. four, year elementary schooling and lower secondary education in Norway and Germany.
Before comparing the different curricula, a look at the standing of social science in the 10-year education is worth taking. Both the Utdanningsdirektoratet (2021) and the Ministry of Education and Culture of Schleswig-Holstein (2019) provide numbers for how many hours a subject should be taught each year. For S-H they combine all social sciences and religious classes. Therefore, I add the available numbers for “Samfunnsfag” and “KRLE” in Norway. I also add up the numbers for “Barne- and Ungdomstrinnet” in Norway and elementary school and the first six years of the German Gymnasium (higher secondary school). After 10th grade Norwegian students usually have had 1.212 hours of social sciences and KRLE (580h) (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2021). In Germany students graduate lower secondary school with a total of 1.880 hours of classes in those subjects. This leaves the German youth with 600 more hours of classes in social and theological sciences (Minsterium für Bildung und Kultur S-H, 2019).
While I do not take history- and geography classes in Germany into account, the syllabi of “Samfunnsfag” and economics and politics share much of their content. The biggest is the subjects’ overall goal of enabling students to become democratic, responsible, and mature citizens. Furthermore, the syllabi in either country focus on the acquisition of skills, rather than just the mediation of knowledge. Many of the skills, that are crucial to prevent RWE, overlap in the two observed states. These include especially the ability of critical thinking and interpretation of sources, the knowledge about past extremist movements and the importance of democracy, self-reflectiveness, democratic participation, and responsible decision making. In either syllabus the reflection on the treatment of minorities in the countries past plays a big role. The syllabus in Germany stresses the ability of value- and fact-based decision making, as well as the ability to act, while the Norwegian syllabus stresses the importance of critical thinking repeatedly.
Both countries have given CVE-education a high standing in their curricula and both stress the development of further options in the future. This includes several opportunities of further training for teachers, project days or field trips. Additionally, the new syllabi and curricula stress the importance of learning with and about (social) media to prevent radicalization on the internet.
However, both countries have just recently implemented these new core curricula and syllabi. While both countries seem to have a good strategy for CVE-education, their results remain to be examined in the future. Furthermore, the low number of social science lessons in Norway could be counterproductive, as these subjects are the ones with the greatest potential of imparting the core values of the national curriculum. In Germany (resp. S-H) the high number of social science hours might overshadow the fact of the relatively low standing of civic education. Both, the governmental plan against extremism and the core curriculum call for civic education and participation as a key factor to fight extremism. Yet, the German education system heavily focuses on mathematics and natural science, giving schools in S-H the freedom of letting students graduate lower secondary school with just two years of civic education.
Right-wing extremism is one of the major public safety problems in Norway and Germany. The awareness of this has risen in either country with the occurrence of recent RW-motivated terror attacks. Yet, the consciousness about RWT potentially being a bigger threat to the two nations than Islamist terror, remains relatively low. In Germany recent terror attacks have made the potential outcomes of right-wing radicalization visible for everyone, while in Norway it is especially the terror attacks of the 22nd of July 2011, that have shifted the focus towards a need in RWE prevention.
While RWE among the Norwegian youth, in contrast to the 1990s, is very unpopular and almost non-existent, there seems to be a high radicalization potential among the German youth. Furthermore, the student elections held in both countries provide important information about trends in society also being mirrored among students to a small extend. The knowledge of this can help to effectively prevent RWE in certain areas or schools.
In recent years both states have released a national strategy to prevent radicalization and extremism. Relying on a bottom-up approach, either strategy builds up on high involvement and good cooperation of local- and regional players, such as NGOs, governments or clubs, and the federal government. In Norway’s case this strategy is combined within 30 actions to be carried out by different institutions. Germany focusses on the establishment of programs and funds, as well as information platforms. These are then meant to connect and support smaller local projects nationwide and target problems regionally. While Germany strategy seems to be more sustainable and even more driven from below, it also bears the risk of high bureaucracy and no tangible actions being taken on a nationwide basis. Next to the call for civic education the measures and programs the governments implement include such as exit programs, laws against online hate speech or support for individual families exposed to RWE.
The prevention of extremism and the shaping of a democratic and responsible citizen, furthermore, has a high standing in the educational systems of both countries. Each country’s recently released core curriculum names some very similar basic values of education and teaching. Moreover, they both call for the acquisition of key skills, especially concerning citizenship and media usage, rather than the bare mediation of knowledge. The adherence of this fundamental principles alone has the potential to prevent extremism and radicalization among the youth.
However, the greatest potential for a comprehensive understanding of democracy and its value lies in the social science subjects. The course syllabi in each country list important and similar key skills and contents. The prevention of (far-right) extremism is one key topic that, according to the syllabi, should explicitly be addressed in classrooms in either country. Yet, the amount of social science classes is relatively low in Norway when compared to Germany. Still, the German (resp. S-H’s) school system like Norway’s puts a higher emphasis on natural science and mathematics. With history having the supremacy among the social sciences, civic education, due to the high flexibility of individual schools, has the potential of falling short in Germany.
While basic values of society and democracy ought to be taught in all subjects, social sciences bear the greater potential of sustainably forming democratic, responsible, and non-extremist citizens. The importance of a comprehensive civic- and CVE-education should therefore not be underestimated when designing national curricula and assigning the numbers of hours for individual subjects.
Future research should examine the effectiveness of measures, projects and actions taken by authorities. The evaluation of the actions’ effects on preventing (right-wing) extremism is and will be key to further develop strategies preventing radicalization among the youth and in all of society.
The quote from Holocaust survivor Esther Bejarano sums up the responsibilities of science and politics concerning the prevention of RWE: “You are not guilty of what happened back then. But you are becoming guilty if you do not want to learn about these terrible crimes” (2017, paragraph 4. translation’s mine).
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- Quote paper
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