“There is no quiet hinterland” – Autonomous youth work in rural Bavaria

Bavaria is associated with much, but not with autonomous youth work. This makes it all the more important to have appropriate structures in place that can provide important places of refuge for young people. In an interview, a comrade who wants to remain anonymous talks about her experiences in autonomous youth work in Bavaria.

Education after Auschwitz must be anti-fascist

You are a left-wing radical, prospective pedagogue and active in autonomous youth work in an area of Bavaria that can be politely described as “structurally weak”. Are there any young, left-wing people there besides you?

The question is really justified, because in urban as well as in rural areas left-wing free spaces, thus also the autonomous youth work, are rather suppressed. Especially in rural areas it is difficult for young people to establish contacts outside school. This means that in their leisure time, young people tend to find themselves in the surrounding towns and cities, where there are at least still meeting places and leisure-time activities for them. In some rural areas there are many older people for this purpose, whom I would describe as middle-class to left-wing. With these people I have experienced a renewed flare-up of political commitment in recent years, which is also expressed in the support of young leftists like us. What is currently helping us as left-wingers in rural areas to find new points of contact with young people is the Friday for Future movement, which may not seem quite as active in the countryside as it does in the city, but it is nevertheless encouraging young people to come to grips with the current political situation. At the end of the day, we may not yet be the big masses in the countryside, but that’s exactly why it’s so important to continue to shape our free spaces and give young people an alternative to the CSU pub or the village disco.

The “quiet hinterland” symbolically describes a safe retreat for right-wing reactionary ideas. What does that mean in reality on the spot?

I would like to answer this question in two directions. On the one hand, it is apparent that the political situation in the countryside has worsened. This means that left-wing freedoms are increasingly having to fight for their existence and are under constant observation by reactionary local politicians. It becomes apparent that in the last years many “former” right-wing radicals have found their way into bourgeois politics, which makes our situation more difficult. On the other hand, connections of right-wingers in our surroundings existed and still exist today, which are internationally networked and also have good contacts to organizations like Combat 18 and the III. Way. In view of the right-wing, violent structures in our region, which exist and are in the process of forming, we are expecting increased attacks in the coming years, as has already happened elsewhere in Germany on autonomous and left-wing centres. Up to now it has mostly been hostilities and threats, but some of our friends have also been directly affected by physical violence by local neo-Nazis. I must say that this development frightens me, also with regard to the future. But the abandonment of one of the last shelters in the region is out of the question.

How do you create left free spaces between Trachtenverein and CSU-Stammtisch? How bitterly must they be defended?

We have often already fallen into a duty to justify our work. To nobody’s surprise, this happens whenever members of our institution, or the institution itself, express themselves politically. This is usually only a clear position against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, fascism and LGBTQ* hostility. What seems to be self-evident for us, is often attested to us by CSU regulars as left-wing extremism. By the way, I personally have nothing against traditional costume associations as long as their attitudes do not coincide with those of the CSU regulars.

What role does anti-fascist action play in youth work in rural areas?

I think that especially in the last time the youth is more politicized again. And to my joy I see from demonstration to demonstration again more young people with clear anti-fascist attitude. Since the right-wing reactionary activities in the region have been brought more and more into the public eye in the last years and months, the necessity arises for some young people to take initiative and to make anti-fascism again a task for all. In any case it is also visible that the anti-fascist youth is underrepresented in the country and often feels left alone with the large problems with right. In the villages and cities around, it is almost the rule that openly anti-fascist youth no longer dare to go out alone on the streets or avoid the train station, because they are threatened again and again by neo-Nazis. This is completely ignored by the city councils and politics. Especially therefore we think it is very important to organize a meeting point for young people, also to show: You are not alone. Together nothing can happen to us. This probably sounds a bit pessimistic, but it should be an appeal to the left in the cities around: Take care of each other, support the children, young people and antifascists in the countryside and don’t leave them alone with their problems! What happens in a village ten kilometers away from a city, concerns us all anyway!

Are there allies in rural society on whom one can rely?

Of course there are always individuals and organisations who are concerned about the continued existence of open spaces like ours. We have also had a good working relationship with them for years. Nevertheless, we need all the support we can get, because we do not believe that autonomous youth work has an easy path ahead of it in the coming years, especially in view of the rise of right-wing conservative parties throughout Germany.

The Radical Left has a historically difficult relationship with the province, especially in Bavaria. There are certainly a variety of historical, demographic and social reasons for this, but what exactly does the Radical Left itself do fundamentally wrong in its dealings with the “hinterland”?

The term “hinterland” probably contributes to this. The Radical Left seems to forget about the countryside, while in the cities it boasts of organizing reading circles or theory evenings that are far removed from real problems. Parts of the radical left seem to be caught up in academic debate, while right-wingers in all parts of the country can kill again and young people in antifa shirts have to fear for their lives when they stand alone at the train station at night. We cannot afford this individualization into city and country, academic left and proletarian left. Especially in the countryside, where there are so few of us, we need a strong cohesion, which the radical left sometimes cannot offer. This is one of the reasons why we find it so important what we can achieve with our work. Even though this can sometimes be difficult, we want to create a place where pluralism is not just a phrase.

How political should youth work be? Do you see a special responsibility in “education after Auschwitz”? And if so, how do you do justice to it without indoctrinating?

In my opinion, youth work is above all about giving young people basic values for a peaceful coexistence of all people. This includes educating them about topics such as anti-Semitism, racism or sexism. The best way to do this is to show young people that people of different religions, backgrounds, skin colour or sexual identity can live and learn together on an equal footing and in solidarity. My own political attitude towards the radical left is not really important here. If older young people ask me for my personal opinion, I answer honestly, because I think that one should not be ashamed of anti-fascism in a country with this past. I take time to listen to the views and attitudes of young people and try to talk to them on an open, accepting basis. One of my most important principles is the orientation towards facts and independent thinking. That is why I am always happy to see the many young people who go through the world critically and awake. In my profession, I unfortunately experience more and more often that children and young people want to personally settle the disputes of their nations with each other, or bring along a completely distorted image of women. Unfortunately, attitudes like nationalism or sexism are often passed on from parents to their children. I then find this really indoctrinating and above all – insanely dangerous.

You asked us to publish the interview without your name and face. Can you briefly explain why this is important to you?

As you said at the beginning, I call myself a left-wing radical and am a future pedagogue. In a federal state like Bavaria, I don’t want to ruin my professional future by giving repressive authorities unnecessarily much information. I love my profession and I would be happy to continue doing it for a long time. Of course I also don’t want to endanger the many other people and institutions that still do autonomous youth work. Because unfortunately these are often dependent on some conservative or right-wing politicians* and their “favour”. As one can see at the latest since the withdrawal of the non-profit status of the VVN-BdA, anti-fascist and anti-racist associations and organizations are currently increasingly exposed to state arbitrariness and right-wing persecution. Therefore self-protection definitely takes precedence.