The end of the Obama era – the great Obama moments

January 14th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I wrote from a personal point of view on the coming of a new era. But, of course from a global point of view I have a stronger reason to use the expression ‘change of era’ when referring to the end of the Obama presidency in the USA. It is not my habit to comment the politics of other countries on my blog. Therefore, I will not make comments on Obama’s successor and what to expect of his presidency. What I want to do at this point is to celebrate the outgoing statesman and the special Obama moments during his years of service as the president. Much of this has been written and will be written elsewhere. So I limit my remarks to personal experiences and to observations on recent events.

Barack Obama gets elected and re-elected

Strangely enough, I find it difficult to retrieve my memories from the time when Obama was elected for the first time in 2008. Somehow there were too many things going on that I didn’t quite pick the momentum. Of course, Obama had impressed me with the “Yes we can” but yet I was waiting for him and his popular movement to show where this enthusiasm brings him and his administration. Yet, I do remember the politically correct gesture of the good loser, senator McCain when he announced that he had had the honour to congratulate Obama as the next president. (And already at that time the republicans showed that they are poor losers by greeting McCain with angry boo-shouts.)

Far more strongly I experienced the re-election of Obama in 2012. I was on other duties in Berlin and then continuing from there to Barcelona to attend the Learning Layers kick-off meeting. The elections in the USA took place on the very night that I spent in a hotel in Berlin before my morning flight to Barcelona. At this time there was much at stake and the result of the elections was not clear before the critical day. So, I just couldn’t get sleep and turned the TV on to follow the program of the German TV-channel ZDF. So the night passed, there were moments that I was nodding away and then getting wake. The race was tight and at the end there were the famous ‘swing states’ of which one was never so sure which side takes the votes.

And then – in between – came the announcement of the moderator Christian Sievers: “And the next president of the USA is – Barack Obama!” Indeed, Obama had won in Ohio and that already ensured the result. Then, with similar results from the remaining states the victory of Obama was clear. And I felt so relieved. At the airport I met some older American tourists who were heading to Barcelona. They were very disappointed and made it clear. I didn’t feel a temptation to enter a debate with them – after all, it was up to the US citizens to elect their president.

The farewell speech of Barack Obama – spelling out his legacy

Then time passed – and I had my attention mainly on the project work with the Learning Layers – and before long there was the time for the next US elections. And now it was about the successor of Barack Obama. Well, the results was what it was – the citizens had spoken (popular vote) and the election system had spoken (the result in terms of electors). One may speculate just as much one can – but the result remains. The Obama presidency will come to an end with a hand-over to a completely different presidency.

At this moment I prefer to focus on the farewell speech of President Barack Obama and how he has explained his legacy to his voters and supporters . To my great pleasure I found that the report of the leading German TV channel ARD on this event provides a link to Obama’s speech in full length (and not dubbed into German). So, let us give our full attention to Barack Obama making clear what has been achieved during his presidency and how to face the challenges of the American democracy in the coming times:

Other kinds of Obama moments to be remembered

But when speaking of Obama moments to be remembered, it is not only about Barack Obama as the president that we are thinking. Clearly, Michelle Obama has made something special of here role as the First Lady – by staying with the ordinary people and keeping her feet on the ground. And that has been appreciated – she has given the people their own Obama moments. When a popular TV show invited people to express their thanks to the outgoing First Lady, there were many volunteers with deep thoughts and deep feelings. And the TV-program and Michelle Obama had their special way to return the compliments to them. Let us enjoy these Obama moments as well:

Michelle Obama Surprises People Recording Goodbye Messages to Her.

I think this is enough of the Obama moments to be kept in memory. I will not continue with comments on American politics on my blog. But I am pleased to express my thankfulness and respect to the Obama couple now that they take the most important office in a democracy – that of a citizen.

More blogs to come … 

Revisiting “Learning about politics” project – Part Three: Themes raised by the teachers

July 31st, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two latest blogs 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 the second post I look at some ‘hot issues’ in the German (and international) politics in 2011 and what kind of developments we have seen since then. In this third post I will have a look at the the themes raised by German vocational school teachers with whom I worked in the project.

WikiLeaks, Netzpolitik and the NSA-affair

One of the vocational school teachers raised the issue ‘WikiLeaks’ as a new phenomenon in the international politices of those years. Although he couldn’t participate very intensively in the continuation of the project, he had drawn our attention to the new role of social media and new kinds of social networks in national and international politics. We firstly paid attention to the WikiLeaks network and its revelations. Then, we took note of the new role of social media and new kinds of protest movements in the revolutionary developments during the Arabic Spring. Finally, parallel to these developments, we took note of the new kinds of Netzpolitik networks that revealed plagiarism in the academic dissertations of some leading German polticians. At that time the abrupt fall of the popular conservative politician Guttenberg (then minister of defence) was the most striking case in which a politician had to resign because of plagiarism in dissertation.

Whilst these themes firstly seemed to refer to relatively separate phenomena, during the subsequent years they appeared to be more closer to each other and to concerns of ordinary citizens. Whilst the revelations on plagiarism had put the credibility of several politicians into question, a further episode around the WikiLeaks network had a major impact on the atmosphere of trust vs. mistrust on government policies. The whistleblower Edward Snowden (former agent of the NSA) had revealed to what extent NSA had got access to major servers and thus to private data. The most striking news was that of listening of the private phone of chancellor Angela Merkel by the NSA. All this raised the public interest in data privacy and concerns about data protection by national governments and major internet and telephone service providers.

Juniorvoting and participation of young people in elections

Another vocational school teacher was interested in the phenomenon ‘juniorvoting’ (Juniorenwahlen)  – an initiative to organise simulated elections in schools among youngsters who didn’t have the right to vote. Such events had been organised successfully before national elections in Germany during the recent years. In 2011 there was an increased interest to organise such preliminary voting arrangements for youngsters also before the regional parliaments. However, before the elections of the regional parliament in Bremen there was less interest to organise such simulated voting, because the voting age had already been brought to 16 years. Thus, the youngsters had become real voters. Therefore, the schools were less willing to arrange juniorvoting events. Nevertheless, the teacher had collected lot of information on the implementation of such events and their role as preliminary elections and presented this as input to Politics Spring School. Also, we could use this material for the German platform of the Politics project. Sadly enough, the lowering of voting age appeared to have little impact on the participation of young voters in the regional elections in Bremen 2011 and 2015.

Climate change as challenge for policy makers and individual citizens

The third vocational school teacher had engaged himself intensively with the theme ‘climate change’ and managed to make use of this theme in his teaching. Therefore, we could use primarily his material as a basis for the respective ‘learning pathway’ of the German platform. This material had awareness-raising exercises (with YouTube videos), basic information on international policy processes to control/prevent climate change (Kyoto protocol and Copenhagen conference) and tasks that brought climate change close to the vocational area of his apprentices and to their individual behaviour as consumers. The grande finale was the competition for the apprentices to calculate the CO2 footprint of their designed holiday trips. Based on this material the teacher also prepared an input for the Politics Spring School and to work with several other participants on this theme.

Looking back, the theme ‘climate change’ gained weight in the German politics and at the international level. In particular the fact that the Copenhagen conference couldn’t reach major results, gave pressure to the next international climate summit – in Paris 2015. This time the conference managed to reach an result – a binding document that replaced the Kyoto protocol. Now the international community had made commitments to keep the climate change in limits. And the ecologically oriented NGOs had points of reference for monitoring, whether the policy-makers keep their promises.

– – –

I think this is enough of the themes that were raised by the teachers and how we worked with them – and what kind of actuality these themes have had afterwards. As we felt it at that time, our German team worked separately from the other national teams with clearly different contents. However, during the Politics Spring School we could all bring some of our themes forward in the group work – young people’s participation, climate change and integration of migrants/intercultural understanding. (I will have a closer look at the last mentioned theme and how it was taken up in the Spring School and in the follow-up.) And it it is worthwhile to mention that the the two German teachers who participated in the Spring School have worked together to develop their teaching in the subject politics.

More blogs to come … 

 

Revisiting “Learning about politics” project – Part Two: Hot issues in 2011 and now

July 29th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

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.

– – –

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 …

 

 

 

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