The Burschenschaften are secretive, mostly-male German student groups whose members wear 19th-century outfits, hold beer-drinking and sword-fighting contests, and prove their manhood via facial scars. This week they've been making headlines because of some leaked documents that shed light on the racist views held by many of their leaders.
Apparently, this week the main "umbrella" organization of the Burschenschaften—whose ranks number around 1,300 active members—wanted to expel a chapter based in the city of Mannheim, all because it had offered membership to a man with Chinese parents. The man, Kai Ming Au, is a German citizen who even served in the army, but his credentials did not impress the "more conservative elements" (i.e. the racists) in Bavaria, reports the BBC:
There was a feeling from the more conservative elements in Bavaria that, according to internal documents, members with "non-European facial and bodily characteristics" did not qualify as Germans and so could not join what the objectors see as a bastion of true German identity, our correspondent says.
"Especially in times of rising immigration, it is not acceptable that people who are not from the German family tree should be admitted to the Burschenschaften," as one document puts it.
At a general meeting held this week, Burschenschaft members were asked to vote on expelling the Mannheim club. But on Thursday, that item—plus another requiring prospective members to prove their ethnic Germanhood—was taken off the table after some of the group's liberal members complained. Still, a spokesman for the main group predicts that discussions about membership criteria will continue.
A scholar who studies the Burschenschaft says that the groups are basically asking people to "prove that you have German blood in your veins, which is difficult." Indeed! Especially when science has all but shown that blood cells are nation-neutral. The group's emphasis on ethnic purity has led some to call the proposed guidelines a "Nazi-style race code" (which is slightly ironic, as the Nazis forced the organization to disband in 1935).
The heartening news in this otherwise foul situation is that many Burschenschaften members disagree with the motions under consideration this week. The Mannheim club at the center of the controversy is pushing for reform, says Kai Ming Au, who serves as chapter spokesman. The bad news, says scholars, is that some of the right-wing crazies will "end up in influential positions in society." Isn't that always the way.