Foundation and development 1952-1961
November 25, 1952 marked the official launch of the Federal Republic of Germany's civic education activities. On this day, by decree of the Federal Minister of the Interior Robert Lehr, a Christian Democrat, the Federal Agency for Homeland Services (renamed the Federal Agency for Civic Education in 1963) was established as a federal institution subordinated to the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
These were times of great uncertainty. After the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic were established in 1949, the Allied coalition had finally disintegrated. Both parts of Germany suffered greatly under the economic, social and psychological legacy of the Nazi regime. Millions of displaced persons had to be reintegrated into society. There was a severe lack of housing owing to the devastation of the war. After twelve years of dictatorship, war and the Holocaust, Germany was in urgent need of a new beginning in intellectual terms, too. Far away from Europe, Korea unwittingly became the scene of the first of many proxy wars that would characterise the east-west conflict. In light of this situation, the Federal Agency for Homeland Services was charged with "strengthening and popularising the democratic and European ideals among the German people", as the decree read.
Responsibilities of the Agency
In the autumn of 1951 Federal Minister Lehr had delivered a lecture at the Overseas Club in Hamburg in which he described the new Agency as the successor to the Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst (Reich Agency for Homeland Services), which had existed in the Weimar Republic in order to educate the German people about their new responsibilities as citizens in a democratic system.
The founding fathers of the Federal Agency for Homeland Services – who, besides Minister Lehr, notably included Hans Ritter von Lex, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior – called for a "positive form of protection of the Constitution", which reflected the significance they attached to a government civic education programme. In their opinion, such a programme should educate the public about their civic responsibilities and in turn, establish the democratic ideal within the population. Modern civic education should familiarise Germany's citizens with parliamentary government, its institutions, and the political rules of play in a democracy. Totalitarian movements of any kind, particularly Communism, would be resisted. All democratic forces had to be encouraged to participate in the political process. Last but certainly not least, reconciliation was to be achieved across Europe.
The first Director of the Federal Agency for Homeland Services was Dr Paul Franken. Born in 1903, Dr Franken, a historian, had been part of the resistance movement and was one of Konrad Adenauer's closest allies. By early 1953, as many as 26 members of staff were working for the Agency, which grew rapidly. In 1956 the Agency had grown to 14 departments, including a department of TV and radio and a department of psychology. The latter was responsible for developing special "promotional material" that would help to reach out to citizens who had no interest in politics. To deal with the problem of infighting between the two religious denominations when it came to supporting independent civic education organisations, the department for educational institutions and associations was split into two units, one headed by a Catholic, the other by a Protestant. The Agency's budget continued to grow, too. Between 1952 and 1960 it multiplied fourfold to around 8.5 million German marks.
One of the structural elements that was carried over from the Weimar Republic was that of a Board of Trustees which, according to the decree establishing the Federal Agency for Homeland Services, was charged with monitoring "the political impartiality and political effectiveness of the activities of the Agency". The Board of Trustees initially consisted of 15 members of parliament drawn from the Christian Democrats (CDU), the Christian Socialists (CSU), the Social Democrats (SPD), the Liberal Democrats (FDP), the German Party (Deutsche Partei), and the Federalist Union parliamentary party (Fraktion Föderalistische Union). The Board held its inaugural meeting in December 1952. The decree also mentioned the setup of a scientific advisory council, a plan that was not followed through until much later.
Activities of the Agency
The work of the Federal Agency for Homeland Services in the early years was naturally determined by the political circumstances at the time. Its primary aim was to inform the population about the new democratic state and its values and institutions, as well as to address the legacy of the National Socialist regime. Strong emphasis was laid on the resistance against the Nazi regime, specifically on the events of July 20, 1944, the date of the failed attempt on Hitler's life. As the Cold War neared freezing point from the mid 1950s onwards, the Agency's focus gradually shifted to the fight against Communism and to the Federal Republic's efforts to disassociate itself from the German Democratic Republic which, in brutally suppressing the uprising of June 17, 1953, had revealed its authoritarian character. It was during this period that the “Ostkolleg”, a conference centre belonging to the Agency, was established in November 1957. It was initially located in Cologne and was the venue for "study meetings with an intellectual and political international anti-Communist agenda”, as a decree dated November 28, 1957 stated. Training would be offered here to officials who had to negotiate face to face with their counterparts in the Eastern Bloc, as well as to multipliers who would acquire the detailed background knowledge they needed to argue against Communism. Three courses took place before the end of that year, and the number of seminars and conferences continued to grow in the years that followed. Academic responsibility for planning the Ostkolleg's schedule of events lay with an Executive Committee of twelve renowned scholars in Eastern European studies and international relations experts. The conference centre, which also offered accommodation and catering for participants, was managed by a director who had to be a Committee member and was appointed for a one-year term by the Federal Minister of the Interior. The director was assisted by a full-time permanent deputy who took care of the day-to-day running of the centre.
Publications and events by the Federal Agency for Homeland Services
One of the earliest publications issued by the Federal Agency for Homeland Services was the weekly journal Das Parlament, which first appeared in 1952 and whose circulation had risen to approximately 80,000 by the end of its first decade. Das Parlament reported on all major debates in Germany's Bundestag (Lower House), Bundesrat (Upper House), the European Parliament, and the Council of Europe. It served as a medium of communication between the electorate and mandate-holders, and provided citizens with an insight into the inner workings of the government's legislative and executive bodies. 1952 was also the year the Agency published its first edition of Informationen zur politischen Bildung, a series of periodicals for teacher training purposes. It was a high-circulation publication and was frequently reviewed.
At the end of 1952 the Agency organised its first Großes Weihnachtspreisausschreiben, or "big Christmas competition", an event specially for pupils aged 14 to 16 that would continue for almost two decades. The competition involved working through a set of problems and quizzes on civic issues that were published as a supplement to the regular civic education curriculum and encouraged the entire class to work together on them during lessons. In 1957 the Agency began to publish a wall calender (named Unsere Gegenwart, or Our Present, from 1958 onwards) for use in the classroom. In cooperation with the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, towards the end of the 1950s the Agency held its first expert conferences on educational issues.
In 1953 the range of Agency publications was extended to include the first volumes in the series Schriftenreihe as well as a supplement to its own weekly publication Das Parlament that was entitled Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte. Both series are still published today.
In 1954 the Agency published its first wall display under the title Europa im Werden (Europe as it develops), which was to be hung in schools, company offices and public institutions to promote European awareness. 1958 marked the year of the first edition of Germany's Basic Law, whose dissemination was and would remain one of the primary concerns of the Federal Agency for Homeland Services. In the decades that followed, the volume was updated repeatedly and reprinted millions of times over.
Other activities that were launched during that first decade of government civic education included support for publications from other publishing houses on political issues as well as financial support for conferences and training seminars organised by independent educational institutions. By 1959, as many as 80 institutions were receiving financial assistance to the tune of over one million German marks. The Agency was also quick to recognise the value of audiovisual media for civic education and began to produce and fund "educational and instructional films", feature films with a political theme and items for the weekly newsreels. This constituted the beginning of the Agency's educational film activities, which exist to this day. The Agency purchases non-commercial usage rights to films in this thematic area and makes them available to schools and other institutions for the purpose of civic education.
The psychology department, which was tasked with producing special promotional material, developed a board game entitled Wir spielen Regierung (Let's play government), produced bicycle pennants in the colours of the German flag, and designed postmarks with political slogans urging members of the population to meet their responsibilities as citizens of the state and in turn, identify with democracy as a form of government. To reach a mass audience the Agency also produced high-circulation supplements that were inserted in popular weekly magazines and informed readers about e.g., basic democratic principles, European cooperation or the history of the Jewish people.
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