The Evangelisches Studienwerk distances itself from the AfD-affiliated Desiderius Erasmus Foundation. Why only now, Friederike Fab?
Erika Steinbach and her lawyer demand federal funding for the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation Photo: M. Popow/imago
site: Ms. Fab, in a recent position paper, your Villigst Study Foundation announces that it does not want to cooperate with the AfD-affiliated Desiderius Erasmus Foundation (DES). Why?
Friederike Fab: Because it is incredibly important for us to cooperate with the other organizations that support gifted students. Of course, we don’t always agree with them on everything, but we have a common set of values based on the Basic Law. We’re not so sure about Studienwerk number 14, which is gradually taking shape.
How do you explain that?
The historical revisionism practiced by DES can already be seen on its website – also on the basis of its personal data. On the board of trustees sits Karlheinz Weibmann, who is closely associated with the Institute for State Policy (controversial think tank of the New Right, editor’s note).
Or Erika Steinbach, the foundation’s chairwoman. In her latest newsletter, she complains that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is doing the AfD an injustice. But she does not criticize the extremist tendencies of the Institute for State Policy. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution has declared it a suspect case and its managing director Erik Lehnert was on the DES board until recently.
Now the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation has been around since 2017, why did it take you three years to distance yourself from it?
Our grantees asked us back in 2017 why we weren’t doing anything there. But we perhaps didn’t take DES seriously enough at the beginning. Our committees – including myself – wanted to wait and see. We looked at the work of DES over a longer period of time, among other things also with the help of the mobile advice centers against right-wing extremism. It took a little longer, but now we have taken a very clear position: no cooperation with DES.
Is there a specific reason?
48, has headed the Villigst Protestant Student Union, based in Schwerte, since 2011. The graduate in educational science used to be a scholarship holder there herself. The institution is one of 13 currently supporting students with scholarships for gifted students. These include party-affiliated as well as confessional and trade union foundations.
Since the AfD became a member of the Bundestag, there has been a sharp increase in racially motivated violence in Germany. It doesn’t even take a single issue to distance oneself from this.
After all, the AfD is the largest opposition party in the Bundestag. Shouldn’t the associated foundation then be granted the same rights as everyone else?
That is precisely the advantage and disadvantage of a democracy. It needs polyphony. But for that to happen, all participants should stand on the basis of the Basic Law. But that is precisely what the AfD is not doing in all parts.
You write that the foundation denies scientific quality standards "where political positions of the AfD contradict this." Do you have an example of this?
We see this again and again in the debate on climate protection, as well as in the Corona crisis. Allegedly, it’s not the virus that’s the danger, but "those up there." They often refer to their own strange studies that have nothing to do with independent science. The foundation could perpetuate such work. In this context, Alice Weidel herself has spoken of an "AfD think tank.
So far, however, the foundation’s activities have been limited.
The foundation exists, but it is not yet entitled to federal funding. That would only be the case if the AfD were elected to the Bundestag for the second time in 2021 – which I hope will not happen. Currently, the DES is financed by donations. Where exactly these come from is not known. As far as I know, Ms. Steinbach has not given any information about this so far.
How should it work out in practice not to cooperate with another political foundation?
There are cooperation events from time to time, for example the joint summer academy of all 13 foundations for the gifted. Scholarship recipients from all 13 programs meet there. We need to talk to each other, get out of our bubble.
I don’t want to rule out the possibility of this happening with individuals who are close to the AfD. But I don’t want any AfD functionaries to be given a space to continue spreading their slogans. The alternative would be that at some point, beaming scholarship holders from us would be standing in a photo next to AfD functionaries. Neither I nor our fellows want that.
Have other organizations that support talented young people also set themselves apart from the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation?
There is a common basis of values, which says a lot. I think it goes without saying that the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk (Jewish scholarship program), for example, does not have to position itself again, but I cannot speak for the other programs. For us, too, such a statement is very unusual – there hasn’t been anything like it for a very long time.
What does it actually mean for your institution if DES is to receive funding from the federal government? Will your foundation receive less money then?
I don’t dare to predict that. Either the pot will be increased or redistributed. Until now, however, this has never been an issue. When the Muslim Student Union joined us in 2012, everyone was delighted. It was overdue. The funds provided by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research are distributed according to a key, depending on the size of the foundation. In 2019, that was a total of 266 million euros. Of this, one percent of students in Germany are to receive a scholarship.
How would you react if your own scholarship holders became involved in the AfD?
To be honest, I haven’t experienced that yet. Of course, there are also some people in the Evangelisches Studienwerk who have a much more conservative worldview than I do. But we have never kicked anyone out because of that. We would hopefully seek a conversation with the individual, try to listen and understand, and enter into a discussion.
So there’s no test of character?
We don’t have one. We don’t just accept Protestants, because we don’t have to stew in our own juices. However, I believe that most people who apply to us familiarize themselves in advance with the mission statement and the outlook of the ministry. That’s why it’s unlikely that anyone who doesn’t share our values would apply. That would not be a good fit for either side.