Celine LE PRIOUX Two teachers have been pressured out of their jobs in a small German town after denouncing the alleged right-wing extremism of their pupils, in a case that sparked a national outcry.
Laura Nickel and Max Teske were working in the high school in Burg, a picturesque town in the eastern state of Brandenburg popular with tourists, when they noticed worrying behaviour among some of their students.
"Right-wing extremism was on full display in the school," Nickel, 34, told AFP. "From Hitler salutes to swastikas drawn on dictionaries and students' lockers, not to mention racist and homophobic language."
"They were really the loudest pupils -- they did not hide," she added.
In April, the teachers sent an anonymous letter to the local press denouncing the behaviour they had witnessed.
The letter's publication led to other schools in eastern Germany reporting similar incidents and renewed soul-searching about the growing appeal of extremism.
The far-right AfD party has climbed to record highs in opinion polls in recent weeks, boosted by discontent with the ruling coalition. It is making most progress in the former communist east.
Many in the east -- known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during communist rule -- still feel they lost out when national reunification happened in 1990.
A study by the University of Leipzig has indicated that democracy is less deep-rooted than in the west, while some miss aspects of authoritarian rule from the GDR era.
After reporting the behaviour, Nickel said the teachers at the Mina Witkojc school found some of their colleagues supported them but others did not, and the school management "was passive".
At the end of the school year, an anonymous letter from some students' parents was sent to the management, demanding the resignation of the two teachers.
Then about 100 stickers with photos of the pair and the words "Piss off to Berlin" were put up all over Burg, and a call to hunt them down even appeared on an Instagram account, but was later taken down.
The pressure became too much for Nickel and Teske, 31, who requested to be transferred.
- 'Committed teachers' -The decision was applauded by the AfD, with Lena Kotre, a member of the Brandenburg regional parliament, telling AFP the teachers were "cowards" who were "unable to face up to headwinds".
She played down the pupils' Hitler salutes, despite the fact there are photos of them making the gesture, and it is an offence punishable by up to three years in jail in Germany.
"They did not want to glorify the Third Reich but to provoke, like teenagers do when they are going through puberty," she said.
Timo Reinfrank of the anti-racist Amadeu Antonio Foundation said the area around Burg is one of the worst in Germany when it comes to racism and homophobia.
"A mixture of neo-Nazis, hooligans, organised crime and far-right businesses has flourished," he said.
"The police are being intimidated and the courts are being lenient."
The teachers' cause has found some support, with regional education minister Steffen Freiberg condemning the attacks against them.
And efforts are under way to bolster resistance to the far right in Burg, with the town's council chief Tobias Hentschel lamenting the school had "lost two young, committed teachers... who put their finger where it hurts".
Tourism is a major source of income in the spa town, famous for its cucumbers and gherkins and home to a small Slavic-speaking minority, and local officials recognise the catering and hotel sectors rely heavily on foreign workers.
In a video posted on the town's website, six residents -- including the mayor, a man who rents out canoes and a school social worker -- speak out against "all forms of extremism, racism and discrimination".