All the key information about the project in which the Körber-Stiftung and the Association of German Cities, the German County Association and the German Association of Towns and Municipalities have teamed up.
What we want to achieve
In Germany, more than half of the mayors (57 percent) have at some time been insulted, threatened or physically attacked. The majority of those surveyed (68 percent) have even changed their behaviour out of concern about insults or attacks. More than a third (37 percent) largely refrain from using social media. The portal stark-im-amt.de is aimed at all local officials and elected representatives in Germany who assume political responsibility for their local authority – most of whom actually work on a voluntary basis.
Local politics forms the basis of our democracy. Hate and violence have no place here. Anyone who threatens or attacks those who work for our community is also attacking our free and democratic society. 'Stark im Amt' is the first central point of contact to provide information and guidance to elected representatives at the local authorities level. Whether someone is a mayor, the President of a County or a member of the town/county council, the portal acts as a guide and is intended to provide all members of this group with options for action and contacts to help them master the challenge of an attack and to hold those responsible accountable. It is also intended to show ways of prevention. At the same time, we want to raise public awareness of the situation of our local politicians and show how important it is to stand together in solidarity.
Who is behind the project
The 'Stark im Amt' portal is a cooperation project of the Körber-Stiftung and the Association of German Cities, the German District Authority Association and the German Association of Towns and Municipalities. The German Forum for Crime Prevention advised on the preparation of the case studies and supporter profiles. On 29 April 2021, Stark im Amt was released under the patronage of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. You can find a recording here, read the President's speech here and watch it here.
German Association of Towns and Municipalities
The German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB) represents the interests of German towns and municipalities. 11,000 large, medium-sized and smaller municipalities are organised and networked via the association through 17 member associations. The DStGB works as a municipal interest group, information network, coordination centre and representative body. It gives municipalities a strong voice at state, federal and EU level and takes up the issues that concern citizens locally. The DStGB works independently of political parties and without state subsidies. The membership of the bodies is based on the vote of the electorate in the local elections. The registered association is based in Berlin. More information: www.dstgb.de
Association of German Cities
The Association of German Cities is the voice of cities and the national local-authority association of cities which are not belonging to a county as well as of most cities and towns within counties. As a community of solidarity of cities it represents the idea of local self-government to Federal Government, Federal States (Bundesländer), European Union, governmental and non-governmental organisations. The work and services of the Association of German Cities are primarily geared to the needs and interests of the direct member cities and their citizens. More information: www.staedtetag.de
German County Association
The German County Association (Deutscher Landkreistag) is the leading association of the 294 German federal administrative districts (Landkreise). The Landkreis sector covers around 96 per cent of the surface area of the Federal Republic of Germany and represents three quarters of the local authorities, who in turn represent 55 million inhabitants or 68 per cent of the German population. The association understands itself as promoter of the rural areas in Germany. More Information: www.landkreistag.de
'Stark im Amt' is a site for all local politicians; the special situation of mayors and district councillors is addressed at numerous points.
We welcome your messages, feedback and suggestions for improvement. Feel free to write to us at stark-im-amt(at)koerber-stiftung(dot)de.
Support for local politicians: We use case studies in the areas of prevention, personal threats and online agitation to show them how to inform and prepare themselves – and what options for action are available to them in challenging situations. You can find an overview of all case studies in German here.
A network of local authorities, foundations and institutions is committed to helping local politicians throughout Germany. These public and private contact points have set themselves the task of offering support in the form of information, advice and training. You can find an overview of the network in German here.
How should the increasing threats and attacks against local politicians be assessed? Marcus Kober from the German Forum for Crime Prevention on the uncertain data situation – and how civil society and citizens can get involved.
The fact that local politicians are threatened has been a public issue since the murder of Walter Lübcke in 2019, but the problem is older. How would you assess the development over time?
Local politicians experienced a first wave of threats in the years 2015 to 2017, i.e. with the first intake of large numbers of refugees in Germany. However, aggression and violence against local government employees were also recorded in the years prior to this. It is difficult to say whether the figures are an expression of a worsening general climate in society or whether threats and attacks are perceived more frequently due to heightened attention. Unfortunately, there is a lack of reliable comparative data over a longer period of time for such an assessment. One thing is certain, however: there is a problem and we have to face up to it.
Local politicians are a particularly exposed group due to their proximity to citizens, but they are by no means the only ones who increasingly encounter hate and violence.
That is true. Hate and violence targeting local politicians have become a focus of public attention in recent years, but in the last decade, numerous studies have been conducted on experiences of violence in other groups. These include public officials such as police officers, emergency service workers and firefighters, public administration employees, school teaching staff, employees of the judiciary, doctors and public transport staff.
The spectrum ranges from insults, rude and disrespectful communication, threats and aggressive behaviour to the use of psychological and physical violence. Even if an increase in violence cannot be proven statistically beyond doubt, these findings signify an increase in acts of violence in a definitionally broad sense.
These studies also clearly indicate that aggression and violence are perceived as a great burden by those affected and that they often feel abandoned and not sufficiently supported.
According to the latest figures of the federal government, the attacks on officials and elected representatives are spread across all parties, and the motives cannot always be clearly identified. How do you interpret the situation?
First of all, it is important to know that we do not have any long-term data on this either. Crimes against public officials and elected representatives have been reported in the statistics on "politically motivated crime" since 2018. The extent of these crimes has increased significantly in recent years. Of the 1,674 registered crimes against office and mandate holders in 2019, 89 cases were violent crimes, which was a sharp increase compared to the previous year with 1,256 crimes and 43 violent crimes. According to the federal government's response to a minor interpellation by the parliamentary group Die Linke, preliminary case figures for 2020 again indicate an increase: both in the number of offences against office and mandate holders as a whole and in the number of violent offences in particular.
Accordingly, politicians representing the AfD were most affected by politically motivated crimes overall as well as by violent crimes, followed at some distance by the SPD, CDU, Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen, Die Linke, FDP and CSU. Interestingly, and contradictory to the gut feeling that many people have: With regard to hate postings, which have also been reported in the politically motivated crime statistics since 2017, there has been no continuous increase in registered crimes in recent years. However, all figures have to take the following into consideration: Due to a large number of insults, coercions and threats committed anonymously on the internet and in social media, many offences cannot be clearly attributed in political terms. And basically, it must be assumed that the dark area of unreported crimes in the areas mentioned is large. The statistics of the law enforcement agencies therefore only provide a blurred picture of the overall phenomenon. We must bear this in mind during all debates on this topic.
Hate and violence cannot be contained by laws and regulations alone; civil society must also become active. Where do you see promising approaches and where is there still a need for action?
As this 'Stark im Amt' (Strength in Office) portal in particular shows, over the last few years offerings have emerged that organise counter-speech, inform and support local politicians affected by hate and violence, or advocate for more respectful communication on the internet. These are important and correct steps to counteract hate and violence. These good examples should set a precedent and become more widespread. However, it also requires the civil courage of a majority of society to show visible and clear solidarity with those affected. In many areas of life, it is essential that we counteract latent aggression and increasing brutalisation in society.
What roles can foundations like the German Forum for Crime Prevention play in helping to improve the situation?
Foundations and other non-profit organisations can contribute to increasing the visibility of existing problems as well as offers of help and support. In many cases, other actors lack the resources to carry out the necessary research and to present the issues in a wide-ranging way. In addition, foundations can connect those involved and bring them into conversation with one another. The German Forum for Crime Prevention also sees this as its core task: pooling experience and expertise, in our case primarily from academia, the security authorities, the judiciary and of course from civil society. Just as the challenges in the field of internal security as a whole are changing dynamically, the cooperation between these actors must also be adapted continually. This means that we and the foundations in general will not be short of work in this field.
Interview: Martin Meister