How to protect local politicians has been discussed for years. However, measures taken so far have remained ineffective. Crimes continue to increase, especially in election years. The corona pandemic contributed to this, as did the shift in discourse. Contentious disputes became increasingly tougher, the boundaries of what could be said were pushed until words, actions and slogans of “We will hunt them down” became reality. If you want to tackle this problem effectively, you have to admit:

The SPD politician Steffen Krach, 44, has been President of the Hanover region since 2021; he was previously State Secretary for Science in the Berlin Senate. At the end of April, cards calling for the murder of Krach were found in front of the town hall in Lehrte. According to the “Braunschweiger Zeitung”, the background could be a dispute over the planned closure of the clinic in Lehrte.

Far too many (local) politicians are attacked – on the Internet, in direct conversations with people, verbally and physically. This is a danger for those affected and has an impact on our society. Who wants to get involved in the community, especially on a local level and on a voluntary basis, and run for elections when hate crime is a constant companion?

The current debate is pointless. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, symptoms are combated. Example: harsher penalties, as demanded by numerous justice and interior ministers. Anyone who thinks so radically that they are prepared to insult someone in the worst way, threaten them with death or even physically attack them because of a political dispute is so convinced that harsher punishments are no longer a deterrent. Or as Konstantin Kuhle put it: “The criminal justice system cannot be the repair shop for general social brutalization.”

We have to prevent people from becoming radicalized and seeing violence as a legitimate means – otherwise democracy has already lost. Almost no one is talking about how we approach this. That’s why the debate so far is an indictment of our “defensive” democracy.

Despite the participation of numerous actors, the Alliance for the Protection of Local Officials and Elected Representatives has made disappointing proposals. The point “appreciation of local politics” is exemplary. Those who become radicalized and fight democratic structures are not interested in the importance of local politics. The “municipal monitoring of hatred, agitation and violence against public officials” should be continued – within the scope of financial possibilities. If this isn’t worth the money to the state, it doesn’t have to talk about valuing local politics. And: The danger of this development will be “addressed” in the federal government’s democracy strategy. Why hasn’t this been the case before?

It is true that political education needs to be expanded. But let’s be honest: are these measures reaching the people we need to reach? No, otherwise we would not be in the current situation. Portals like “Strong in Office” are no longer sufficient. Local politicians do not need a recommendation to double lock the front door. If the perpetrators are in front of the house, the state has failed.

Being close is the essence of local politics. Direct contact with mayors and council and district council members in the supermarket, at the sports club or street festival is what defines local politics. If we shield local politicians here, democracy will lose. If we do not want to take away these opportunities for direct exchange, we can hardly protect local politicians in everyday life and during spontaneous encounters.

If we want to stop this development, we have to take immediate, consistent and massive countermeasures. Our democracy is in danger like it should never be again, it is being fought tooth and nail by anti-democratic forces, and what we have done to protect democracy is not in the least enough.

The following measures must now be debated and implemented:

We have to fight the extreme anti-democratic structures and reach people before they become radicalized. The federal, state and local governments must invest massive amounts of money in political education and structure it completely differently. The question is: How do we reach people, and especially young people, who are becoming or have become radicalized? It’s about combating extremism – and the federal government has not taken it seriously so far.

We don’t know whether and how parents talk about our democracy or the Nazi past. But we should not trust that this will happen as it needs to. As a state, we must not give up this task. We have to start talking seriously about democracy and getting children excited about it from grade 1, otherwise in some cases it will be too late by grade 8. Children are confronted with topics like war and terror anyway, we shouldn’t leave education about them to TikTok.

Private addresses in population registers must finally be comprehensively protected! A few weeks ago, the federal government announced improvements to protect data in population registers, which must now be implemented quickly; this was already agreed in the coalition agreement in 2021.

In Thuringia and Saxony there are contacts in security authorities who provide comprehensive and ongoing advice. In Thuringia there is also an emergency number for local politicians. This must be offered across the board.

If necessary and the threat situation requires it, the offices and home must be checked and security deficiencies corrected. The state must bear the full costs for this.

Personal protection is the last resort, but local politicians must not have the feeling that they are alone in the face of a serious threat. Thuringia is also making progress here.