Germany's student duelling clubs face split over 'Aryan' ID cards

Germany has more than a hundred conservative and liberal-nationalist student duelling clubs

Berlin

The antiquated world of Germany's student duelling clubs faced disintegration after nearly half of their members threatened to quit their national umbrella organisation because of row about Nazi-style "Aryan" identity cards and a decision to label an opponent of Adolf Hitler a "traitor".

Germany has more than a hundred conservative and liberal-nationalist student duelling clubs or Burschenschaften. They claim an almost exclusively male following of about 10,000. Members wear 19th century uniforms, and take part in torch-lit processions, ritualised fencing and beer drinking competitions.

400 delegates from the student clubs' national umbrella group began an emergency meeting in Stuttgart in an attempt to resolve a dispute about a lurch to the far right by several leading clubs. Thirty of the umbrella group's 70 student clubs threatened to leave the organisation.

Their leader, Michael Schmidt of the liberal-nationalist "Future Initiative" said his breakaway movement was demanding that clubs which pursued extreme right or racist policies be banned from the national organisation.

However Mr Schmidt was facing opposition from the right wing "Student Club Community". The ultra-conservative alliance is comprised of 45 clubs and commands a majority in the umbrella organisation.

Serious divisions among German student clubs were highlighted last year when the Alte Breslauer club in Bonn demanded that a rival club be expelled from the umbrella organisation because it had allowed an Asian student to join. It also called for identity cards to prove that members were part of the "German family". Critics said the idea was reminiscent of the Aryan passes introduced by the Nazis.

The story of the Asian student provoked a massive outcry and the attempt to oust him from his student club was eventually dropped. However another row erupted only months later after the editor of the main student clubs' newspaper described the anti-Nazi resistance activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as a "traitor." Bonhoeffer, a Protestant churchman, was executed by the Nazis for opposing their ideology.

The editor, a former prominent right-wing extremist called Norbert Weidner argued that Bonhoeffer's execution was legally justifiable. A court in Bonn issued charges against him for insulting the memory of the dead, which Weidner will appeal against next year.

The liberal student clubs called for Weidner to be voted out of office. They have also demanded that any club found to be under intelligence service surveillance because of its far right ideology be banned from the umbrella group. However a spokesman for the right wing conservative "Student Club Community" said all the liberals' demands were "totally unacceptable". A split seemed likely over the weekend.

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