Save the bees and democracy!

In Baden-Wuerttemberg the “Referendum wildlife conservation – ‘Save the bees’” heats up people’s minds

by Dr Matthias Burchardt

cc. In Baden Wuerttemberg, signatures for the “Volksbegehren Artenschutz - ‘Rettet die Bienen’” (petition for a referendum on the wildlife conservation – ‘Save the bees’) have been collected in the last weeks. Various agricultural associations have reacted constructively and critically. In the opinion of those affected and other experts, the contents of the petition for a referendum are questionable (see box below). Therefore, since 18 October, signatures for a petition of  the people have also been collected in Baden-Wuerttemberg (see article on page 12). In Baden-Wuerttemberg, the procedure and significance of a petition for a referendum is somewhat different from that of a popular petition. However, the collection of signatures on the popular petition that has now begun should also offer a real alternative in terms of content to the so-called, most probably also problematic “alternative proposal” to the petition for a referendum, which has now been announced by the green-black state government.
The following text by the philosopher and pedagogue Dr Matthias Burchardt, who teaches at the University of Cologne, deals with the original petition for a referendum and classifies it in principle. He particularly appreciates the possibilities of direct democracy as an educational occasion.

At the “referendum wildlife conservation – save the bees” in Baden-Wuerttemberg, it can be shown that referendums as instruments of direct democracy represent outstanding educational occasions. It is worthwhile not simply to sign it as if one were clicking on the Facebook like-button, but to really examine arguments and programmes. In addition, this petition for a referendum offers an opportunity to bring together the actors from agriculture, environmental protection and globalisation criticism for a discussion. Here too, it is important that we should not allow ourselves to be divided.
My father and grandfather were beekeepers. Already in my earliest childhood I got to know the industrious diligence of the bees, the unbelievable effort with which they carry the many nectar drops from the calyxes into the roaring hive. And when the apple trees brought a rich harvest in the autumn, I knew that it was thanks to the bees who had pollinated the flowers in the spring.
It seemed strange to me, however, when my grandfather repeatedly used the bee colony as a parable for the state. I replied, “But we do not have a queen!” At the time I did not know the concept of democracy. As smoothly and honeycomb-shaped as the community of bees may be built, it is not suitable as a model for our state.
We human beings are political beings and beings of freedom. We give ourselves a constitution, laws and governments and publicly discuss questions concerning the community. In democracy, the people are considered sovereign. However, this form of government is presuppositional and vulnerable. A democratic state can only flourish if its citizens have public spirit, democratic virtues and political judgement. A good education system guarantees and defends these prerequisites. Uneducated citizens are easy prey to propaganda and ideology.
One could certainly attribute the current situation in the Merkel Republic to the miserable state of our schools and universities. As a result of the neoliberal Pisa and Bologna reforms, suggested by foundations and the OECD, they are hardly able to fulfil their constitutional mandate. In her gloomy, cynical novel “GRM-Brainfuck”, the author Sibylle Berg demonstrates that the elites, as the last coup against the poor, give the shattered community direct democracy, because it is much easier to control the uneducated masses than their occasionally idiosyncratic “representatives”.
I do not share this gloomy position, on the contrary, I would like to argue that referendums as instruments of direct democracy represent outstanding educational occasions, as can be seen currently at the “referendum wildlife conservation – save the bees” in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
As a beekeeper’s son, I was immediately enthusiastic about this initiative. But I soon had my doubts: From my own experience I had to learn painfully that noble political goals often conceal small print, that the chosen means do not lead to the promised goal, that the programmes of the political actors will have foreseeable side effects or often follow a hidden agenda (examples: peace missions, anti-terror laws, education, Hartz or health reforms).
In this respect, it is also worthwhile not simply to sign this referendum as if one were clicking on facebook like-buttons, but to examine arguments and programmes in detail. Fortunately, the procedure does not take place on the Internet, because then you can get to the bottom of the matter by talking to other people.
Why should we not support this referendum? Why do the beekeepers’ association1 and the organic farmers’ association Bioland2 oppose it? These actors, of course, do not want to condemn the bees to death or are even against biodiversity. Rather, they fear that the well-intentioned application will not help bees or traditional or organic agriculture due to technical mistakes, rigid and ill-considered regulations.
NABU’s3 monitoring of wild bees, for example, is an example of how fruitfully the cooperation between nature conservation and traditional agriculture on Lake Constance can already function. In a desperate open letter, fruit farmer Antonia Kitt expresses the situation:
“We fruit farmers from Lake Constance can justifiably say: We have already saved the (wild) bees in our orchards! And yes, of course, we farmers bear the responsibility for the protection of nature and species! But instead of continuing to support farmers in their work for nature and their living creatures and to offer further positive incentives, the draft law of the petition for a referendum brings bans, restrictions and planned economic specifications and constraints that threaten the existence of many farms.
The adoption of the draft law will force even more farms to give up, because they will no longer be able to produce economically with these radically demanded conditions. This applies to organic farms as well as to integrated and conventional production. This consequence might be clear to very few supporters of ‘Save the Bees’”.4
For many people in the cities, agriculture is a blind spot. The farmer appears as a media joke (“farmer seeks woman”) or proverbially simple-minded lucky man (“the most stupid farmer harvest the biggest potatoes” – german saying equivalent to “Fortune favors fools”). At the children’s birthday party in the farm shop or petting zoo, he is idealised as a romantic animal and plant caretaker, and if he does not correspond to this cliché, he is placed under the general suspicion of animal cruelty or environmental contamination.
Black sheep and good shepherds can be found in every profession, even in journalism. But we easily forget that for a few weeks we could manage without the “quality press” (what a tempting idea!), but not without agriculture, to which we owe our daily bread. We must, therefore, acknowledge that neoliberalism has had devastating effects even in this environment.
Many farmers lose their existence or capitulate5, because they are crushed between ideologically inappropriate conditions, monopolistic food companies and the enormous market pressure under the conditions of globalised free trade. The consequences concern special crops (fruit, wine, hops, vegetables, ...), agriculture and livestock farming: small farms have to shut down, and production is converted into large industrial farms or migrates abroad, where there are fewer or no social or ecological requirements.
Whether the import of fruits, vegetables and meat from other parts of the world makes ecological sense can rightly be doubted. The abandoned lands either lie fallow or are even bought up by investors who want to put their money into a crisis-proof investment before the next financial bubble bursts.6
On the occasion of the petition for a referendum, an opportunity finally arises to bring together the actors from agriculture, environmental protection and globalisation criticism for an objective discussion. It seems important to me, however, that we should allow ourselves not to be devided. Antonia Kitt emphasises the common concern:
“Therefore, dear bee lovers and conservationists, if you really want to do something for the preservation of biodiversity, show solidarity with us local farmers! We have the same goal.”7
To let the immature petition for a referendum fail could be the birth of a new social cohesion that creates good living conditions for man and nature without eco-populism and division.    •

7    a.a.O.

Source: First publication in from 26 September
Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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