February 29, 2024

“The Hentschke-Bau lawsuit is a strange phenomenon.”

From MDR Saxony

January 19, 2024, 5:00 AM

The Else Frenkel Brunswik Institute (EFBI) at the University of Leipzig dealt with the entrepreneurial commitment to the far right in the eastern state of Saxony. Now the businessman mentioned in the post is filing a lawsuit – on the one hand against the research group and on the other hand against the university. Is this an attack on academic freedom? MDR SACHSEN spoke with Professor Klaus Gardetz from the University of Bonn, who specializes in scientific law.

Mr. Gardetz, a businessman in Saxony, is suing a scientific publication. How often does something like this happen?

It is very rare for scientific publications to be sued. The only case I know of also occurred in Saxony. It was in 2016, when the NDP filed a lawsuit against political scientist Steven Kalitzer, who at the time was also serving as an expert on the NDP ban proceedings, before the Federal Constitutional Court. This included statements that the NDP was planning organized state crimes. The NDP initially succeeded in the expedited procedure before the single judge in the regional court chamber, Jens Mayer.

This judge and former member of the AfD party in the Bundestag was classified as a right-wing extremist by the Saxon Office for the Protection of the Constitution in 2020 due to his statements. He has since been relieved of duty. …

Because extremism researcher Steven Kelitz commented on his scientific findings in Die Zeit, the National Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against him in 2016.
Image credit: MDR/Benjamin Jacob

Was it also about publishing at the time?

Steffen Kelitz, a researcher on political extremism, presented a summary in “Zeit” in the form of an interview based on his scientific publications. The scientific context was not at issue here because Mr. Kaelitz simply summarized the results of his research in “Zeit.” He had previously presented this as an expert in procedures before the Federal Constitutional Court.

Does analyzing an EFBI policy paper fall within academic freedom?

First of all, the mere fact that researchers at a scientific institution say something is not enough to say that academic freedom can be affected here. For a paper to become a scientific paper, it must be integrated into a method-based, knowledge-oriented project: for example, in a research project dealing with political extremism in the state of Saxony or the involvement of local companies. Then this will be science.

But it can't be read from the paper?

no. The result is presented briefly and recommendations for action are drawn. It's kind of like political activism in that you're uncovering machinations and researching them. This is deserved and certainly protected by fundamental rights, whether through freedom of the press, freedom of information or freedom of political expression.

The EFBI policy paper “Interconnected and Proven: Entrepreneurial Commitment to the Far Right in East Saxony” examines corporate political power in Upper Lusatia.

The company is now also criticizing the political orientation of the Else Frenkel Brunswik Institute. Is this a problem for research?

To what extent can a policy paper be legally challenged?

The way the policy paper looks here, to me it's more like journalistic research in a very specific environment. But this is not crucial to the process. Regardless of whether I express myself as a scholar, journalist, or active citizen, it will be important in court that this statement be truthful. You will not be able to seek injunctive relief if a fact becomes public. Ultimately, the validity of research findings is crucial. On the basis of what has been presented, being classified as right-wing or far-right would be a value judgment that the entrepreneur would have to make.

Interview conducted by Madeleine Arendt.

More on the topic of academic freedom

This topic in the program:MDR SACHSEN – Radio Sachsen | News | January 19, 2024 | 10:00 AM