In my latest blog I started a series of posts to revisit the prior European project “Learning about politics” in which I worked as the ITB partner in 2010 and 2011. In the first post I discussed the project experience as a whole and presented some thoughts on the key activities in Germany and on the Politics Spring School 2011. In this second post I will have a look at some ‘hot issues’ in the German (and international) politics in 2011 and what kind of developments we have seen since then. From this perspective I will have a look at the themes that we discussed in 2011 due to their centrality for German and international politics. Below I try to group some of the themes together.
Protest movements (on nuclear power and Stuttgart 2010) and elections of regional parliaments
During the Autumn and Winter months Germany experienced a series of protest movements with strong ecological message. Most prominently the German environmental activists were protesting against transports of nuclear waste to interim deposits that were not sufficiently secure. At the same time there was a strong ecologically motivated local movement to stop the project to replace the functioning overground railway station in Stuttgart with a new underground station. This rebuilding would require major construction work in the central park area (Schlosspark) of the city of Stuttgart. These protests were of importance because in 2011 Germany had several elections of regional parliaments – and it was not clear, what the outcome would be.
Concerning the project Stuttgart 2010, the conservative-led regional government of Baden-Württemberg tried to settle the conflict with a Round Table process led by an independent mediator (former conservative politician Heiner Geissler). The process was a special experience of democratic dialogue between decision-makers, the railway company DB and different representatives of citizens, including protest groups. Once the arguments had been collected, the conclusion was that the project has to be continued but the regional government and DB had to modify their plans to take into account certain ecological factors and safety issues. In addition, the Green party and the Social democrats agreed to arrange a referendum on this result.
Concerning the protests on nuclear power, they received a great echo due to the tsunami and meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant Fukushima. This triggered a sudden political consensus to call for a moratorium in the operation of nuclear plants (until additional security checks are carried out) and to a gradual exit from nuclear power within a given time frame.
As a result, the conservative party (CDU) made losses in several elections but remained relatively strong. The majority in the state of Baden-Württemberg (around Stuttgart) shifted to the green-red coalition (Greens as major partner) whilst in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz the red-green coalition got the majority. Thus, there had been a clear movement in the political climate due to the protest movements. Five years after, the Green popularity in Baden-Württemberg had sustained but the Social democrats had heavy losses. Now, the new regional government was based on a green-black coalition.
Debates on multi-cultural society and the consequences of the ‘Arab Spring’
At the same time the German media was busy with debates on the sustainability of a multi-cultural society in Germany. The former civil servant and social democratic politician Thilo Sarrazin had published a book in with he stated that the Germans will become minority in their own country. He also claimed that ethnic minorities with Muslim religion are establishing isolated parallel societies with their own language, culture and justice (independently of the surrounding society and its laws). This ‘doomsday scenario’ was heavily debated in the press and in the TV talkshows. There was also much speculation, whether Sarrazin wants to create a new political party around these themes.
Shortly after the peak point of these debates a series of revolutions or revolutionary movements broke out in several Arab countries – old regimes collapsed in Tunisia and Egypt, whilst the tensions in Libya and Syria transformed into civil wars. In 2011 there was more optimism in the air but the post-revolutionary developments in these countries turned out to be harder than expected. In particular the civil war in Syria and the post-war chaos in Libya gave rise to instability and to the movement of greater masses of refugees to Europe.
In the year 2015 this movement (via Turkey and across the Mediterranean) reached such dimension that the coastal countries and the neighbouring countries gave up and let the masses proceed further North to their desired countries of destination – in particular to Germany. Whilst the first newcomers were often received by voluntary helpers who welcomed them, practical problems (in accommodating them) and cultural prejudices became soon apparent. And this situation gave rise to new political movements (Pegida, AFD) that were characterised by xenophoby and attempts to keep the refugees out. In this way the ‘domestic’ and international issues had come together and given new dimensions to debates on multi-cultural societies, integration of migrants and intercultural understanding.
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I guess this is enough of these themes. It appears that many previously separate issues and processes have got woven together – in particular the previously ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ issues in the recent political climate. Thus, the task ‘to learn about politics’ has become more complicated. (This can also be demonstrated with the themes raised by the German vocational school teachers that I will discuss in my next post.)
More blogs to come …