Rightwing extremists are trying to gain influence in German universities by infiltrating traditional student fraternities, Bavarian interior minister Guenther Beckstein has warned.
He said investigations by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, showed rightwingers were gaining a foothold in many of the archaic, men-only fraternities, which have a reputation for fencing, hard drinking and strong networking.
Mr Beckstein singled out the Danubia fraternity in Munich for offering a platform to people with extreme and anti-constitutional views, including a far-right theoretician and two former terrorists. Danubia's summer semester programme includes a lecture by neo-Nazi Alexander von Webenau called "Life and Death of a German Hero", about Albert Leo Schlageter who was honoured by the Nazis.
Mr Beckstein also named the Prager Teutonia fraternity in Regensburg, where he said the right-wing extremist author Juergen Schwab disparaged Germany as a vassal of the victors of the second world war. And he pointed to the many fraternity homepages that offer links to extremist organisations.
"I appeal to student organisations not to open the door to neonazis and other proponents of rightwing extremism and to take proceedings against anti-democratic efforts," Mr Beckstein said. "Rightwing extremist intellectuals who try to modernise anti-democratic thinking are just as much a threat to free democracy as the old kind of rightwing extremists," he said.
The Danubia fraternity replied in an open letter to Mr Beckstein accusing him for "repeating anti-fascist platitudes" and claiming universities should be open to people of "all political colours".
Regensburg University recently banned Teutonia from distributing brochures on the campus, saying the fraternity was disturbing the peace.
But Mr Beckstein warned against a wholesale condemnation of student fraternities, which have boomed in eastern German universities since re-unification. Conservatism and national pride, which characterise the views of many fraternity members, are not features of rightwing extremism, he said.
In the late 1990s, eight of the country's 100 fraternities split to form a new association in protest against the increasingly right-wing stance of some of their sword-brandishing compatriots. The Neue Deutsche Burschenschaft, now with 21 member-fraternities, is also open to foreign students and Germans who opted out of military service.