Researchers on student fraternities: “Little will change”

Researchers on student fraternities: “Little will change”

German student fraternities are fundamentally conservative and have a problem with young people, says right-wing extremism researcher Bernhard Weidinger.

Fencing as a masculinity ritual: 22-year-old Niels is part of a student union in Bochum Photo: Photo: Joscha F. Westerkamp

taz: Mr. Weidinger, what functions do student associations fulfill today?

Bernhard Weidinger:The central function of connections today is self-support. We are talking about very little dynamic organizations, some of which have been struggling with recruitment problems for decades. The focus here is on maintaining tradition. In addition, of course, there is the social aspecti.e. the pubs, the festivals.

The 41-year-old is a political scientist and researcher on right-wing extremism. He works at the documentation archive of the Austrian resistance in Vienna.

For striking connections, fencing is also of great importance. Is that still up to date?

That can certainly be discussed. In my opinion, in the 21st century, the question of immorality student fencing rituals are discussed again. The BGH ruling that is still relevant today dates from the early 1950s. (According to the verdict, consenting to bodily harm in fencing fights is not immoral, ed.)

Fraternity students say that the mensur is now more harmless than a boxing match. Do you agree?

The comparison with boxing in itself is wrong because the mensur is not a sporting competition, but a masculinity ritual that draws its meaning from the risk of injury in the first place. How high the risk is depends on the applicable regulations. But slashed cheeks and open arteries are certainly not typical boxing injuries.

Are injuries like this still common?

Such a case from Erlangen recently showed once again that great efforts are made to keep such incidents secret. The injuries are treated directly at the house or, where this is no longer possible, agreement is reached with known clinic staff that nothing is reported to the police. In this respect, it can be assumed that there is a considerable number of unreported cases.

How much has fencing changed in the last 50 years?

In my opinion hardly anything. Where fencing creates identity, maintaining tradition and not changing the ritual also creates identity. If you think in terms of time, let’s say 100 years, you can see that there is far less fencing and probably fewer accidents.

And how capable of reform are student fraternities overall?

There are associations where there is a comparatively high willingness to adapt to changing times. And others, where exactly this is fundamentally rejected, where people are proud of sticking to the forms and ideas of the 19th century. The German fraternity would be an example of the latter.

It also stands out for its right-wing extremist attitudes. But are guys from other organizations as much less right-wing as they claim?

In Germany in particular there is a considerable spectrum, ranging from liberal to right-wing extremists. In any case, on average, the liaison students can be located to the right of the student center.

Most connections are organized as male associations. But there are also mixed connections. Are they the future?

In the case of mixed connections, no particular growth has been observed over the last few decades. Even if you look at the USA, where there is an even more lively connection system than here, you can see mixed connections, but they are still not the rule. It is evident that gender homogeneity is also a motive for many of the members to even enter into a relationship.

How might student fraternities develop in the future?

One development could be towards an American model in which partying is very much in the foreground. Overall, however, I expect that relatively little will change in the connection system. Structural conservatism is part of its DNA.

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