First of May 2014, a horrifying picture: A group of 35 bold-head men in their twenties, all in black, are walking down the street. Angry, aggressive and anti-semitic, having a clear mission: They want to make a stand for right-wing politics. Those Neo-Nazis, on the “national day of work” show that they are still present in society today, promoting fascism and nationalism.
Suddenly, from the other side of the street, you can hear the sound of music, coming closer. Out of nothing, a stork, followed by five dancing and singing people, appears and walks up straight to the angry men. The songs he is singing can be identified as traditional German music, leading to a peaceful and happy appearance of the stork and his followers. They represent the absolute opposite of the demonstrators, making them look boring and confused; people in the street are amazed, joining the group of happy fellas.
Now you ask yourself: what is happening here?
The group of singing ad dancing people is led by Stork Heinar. This stork is the mascot of a German initiative to combat right-wing extremism. He defines himself as a designer, musician, author and politician and targets especially young people seeking for a purpose or ideals in life. Thus the mission is clear: Stork Heinar wants to expose right-wing extremist groups to public amusement. By doing so, he points out the strategies neo-Nazi groups use to recruit members. He shows that these are basically consisting of unproven claims and aggressiveness, but no solutions to youngsters’ problems, which they normally use as main recruitment argument.
The project around Stork Heinar is a voluntary, privately funded project implemented by a group of democracy educators in Germany. They aim at providing information on right-wing extremism in the country and to raise democratic awareness, in combination with supporting political participation and promoting diversity among youngsters. At the World Forum for Democracy, I conducted an interview with one of its founders, Julian Barlen (picture: the guy to my left), and we talked about why he is actually doing what he does, and what all of this has to do with democracy promotion among young citizens.
For 15 years already, Mr. Barlen is working in the sector of democratic education, aiming to increase its presence in society. In 2005, the idea to start the initiative Stork Heinar appeared. Inspired by the Nazi-brand Thor Steiner, they decided to use a stork called Heinar as mascot. From that day on, education about right-wing extremism for pupils in combination with an impressive mascot is their way of raising awareness and strengthening democracy.
They think democracy means “to solve societal problems regarding diversity, participation and human dignity”. To achieve this, they use mainly humor. It serves as a tool or key to further get into the topic of Neo-Nazis’ presence in today’s society. Humor is stronger than fear or sadness. “When taking a look at anti-right-wing events, most people are sad. Why don’t we approach the topic from a different angle? We want to promote equality, happiness and tolerance. This is something good.”