»Any scholarship would be initially suspicious«

An Interview with Sociologist Rainer Rilling on the Arrest of the Berlin Urban Sociologist Andrej H. by Peter Nowak

Protests against the arrest of Berlin urban sociologist Andrej. H. and of three further individuals do not stop. Besides organizations and publications concerned with tenants’, social and welfare issues, such as the MieterEcho and the Social Forum Berlin, it has been especially academic and research organizations that have voiced public criticism, including the fellows council of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the scientific advisory board of attac. Professor Rainer Rilling teaches sociology at the University of Marburg. He is also a research associate and member of the scientific advisory board of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Peter Nowak: Why did the scientific advisory board of attac release a press statement condemning the arrest of the Berlin social scientist Andrej H.?

Rainer Rilling: The outrage in the academic community has to do mostly with the justifications of the Federal Prosecutor, with which he alleges Andrej H. to be a member of the militant group.

What justification are you referring to?

I am not a lawyer, therefore I cannot comment on the complete indictment. Furthermore, it is not clear yet which allegations are made against whom of the four arrested. I refer specifically to passages in the text of the warrants against Andrej H. and the other indicted persons, which list as one of the main suspicious facts a scholarly piece published in 1998. This text is said to contain particular terms and phrases that allegedly have also appeared in writings of the »militant group«. The warrant also claims that one of the indicted is intellectually capable of authoring the rather sophisticated texts of the militant groups, since he has a PhD in political science. This person is also said to be suspicious because »he works in a research institution and thus has access to libraries, which he can use inconspicuously for doing the research needed to produce the texts of the militant group«.

What are your main concerns, in case the public prosecution will succeed with these kinds of allegations?

In that case, all scholarship would come under initial suspicion of doing preliminary work for militant activities. Researchers would then think twice about using specific terms such as gentrification, for example, when analyzing the restructuring of urban neighborhoods. Using this concept, which originated from the term gentry, i.e. the low British aristocracy, and which has become part of the international academic vocabulary, referring to the upgrading of urban areas, would then become an incriminating act.

Some members of the scientific advisory board of attac found the allegations so absurd that they suggested not even to take them seriously. But the majority on the board agreed that we need to be very concerned.

Haven't we experienced similar incidents in the past, when critical scholars had to face criminal investigations for dealing with topics considered by public prosecutors as relevant to left-wing militant attacks? I am thinking, for example, of the investigations in 1987 against a group of women, who worked on demographic policies and were accused of thereby supporting the militant feminist group »Rote Zora«.

There certainly have been criminal investigations against critical scholars before. The arrest of Ingrid Strobl was only one of the well known cases. But at that time the investigations were justified with the use of a left-wing and marxist-materialistic jargon by the indicted. In the case of Andrej H. though, the authorities incriminate the use of widespread academic language. Thus, a behavior that is completely normal in scholarly circles is linked with terrorism. This leads to our concern that any scholarly activity could be affected by criminal investigations.

What other protests are planned in academic communities?

First of all we need to spread information about the case more widely. Within Germany, a number of organizations, including varrious academic associations, have expressed protest against the arrest of Andrej H. Certainly, more will follow. Mailing lists are distributing information about the arrests and their justifications internationally. The case has attracted lots of attention particurlarly amongst social scientists, sociologists and critical geographers.

Isn't there a danger that concentrating on the academic community the other indicted persons, who are not scholars, are forgotten?

Firstly it is understandable that organizations such as the attac scientific advisory board would focus their criticism on the accusations which pertain to scholarship. But the reactions to the arrests so far reveal that there is no such division in the solidarity movement. During the summer academy of attac in Fulda, for example, a demonstration was organized to protest against the construct as a whole and to demand the abolition of §129a [the section in the German Criminal Code prohibiting »the founding of, membership in or support of a terrorist organization«]. More pressure for this demand needs to be built. Towards that end, a broad coalition would be desirable that should thematize the rapid development towards an aggressive security state. This development is currently also affecting journalists who have just become targets of criminal investigations because they cited [secret] reports from a fact-finding commission of the German parliament [relating to activities of the Federal Intelligence Service].

I also would like to add a personal remark: I have known Andrej H. from working with him in an information network on the politics of privatization, in related web projects, and several international research projects. In a seminar which I organized and which will take place next week, he was scheduled to speak on a variety of issues in urban sociology and spatial theory. His political and academic publications, most of which I am familiar with, neither call for damage to property – even though most critical urban sociologist might have a hard time suppressing such desires – nor for violent assaults on persons, let alone for terrorist attacks. He also never tried to justify them. The whole affair stinks to high heaven.

[Translated from german source]