Contemplating Germany

Contemplating Germany

Listening and talking to each other

by Karl Müller

“Dear students, that must alert you: There are nuclear powers facing each other capable of destroying the world within a short time. And they are no longer talking to each other. Instead, the arms spiral has been set in motion. We are talking about a new Cold War. And many say that the situation is much tenser than in the first Cold War – in which mankind only happened (!) to avoid a nuclear war by luck.”

The following text is attempting to reflect on three topics which are important for Germany and the German debates. The idea is to encourage discussion about these topics and to listen to each other:

  • The pupil’s demonstrations for a new climate politics,
  • The “fight against the right”,
  • The enemy image Russia.

Under the motto “Fridays for Future”, thousands of children and young people in many countries of Europe and the world, particularly in Germany, have been demonstrating regularly since the end of last year on Friday mornings during school hours for an immediate and radical change in climate policy.
The media and political response1 to these demonstrations is interesting: most of them are positive to euphoric. Many of those who are severely criticised by the young people consider their drive outstanding.
One motto of the demonstrators is (in slight variations): “Why learn for a future that will soon no longer exist?” Do such slogans really originate from the minds of the young people? And why isn’t the motto different? For example: “We want to learn today for a future for which we will be responsible tomorrow”.

Talk to the students

Experience shows that it is easily possible for adults to discuss well with the demonstrating students. These are young people who do not want to allow themselves to be used by someone else. Many slogans of the demonstrations may sound as if they were directed against adults. But these students are different from those of 1968. The students like to talk to adults as long as they are serious. Why don’t adults take advantage of this opportunity much more? One could also talk about other dangers that threaten man and nature. The greatest danger is war! How about discussing the social question and its consequences – at home, but even more in Africa, Asia and Latin America? Or how about discussing the question of democracy – another very important topic for Germany.
Perhaps also to discuss what it means to attend school and to be able to learn.
And that it would be best to collaborate with all people of good will in order to solve the problems existing in the world – but starting with those in one’s own country. That perhaps it does not at all serve one’s own cause if suddenly all sorts of politicians want to stand with the climate demonstrators in front of cameras and microphones, or that Greta Thunberg is passed around the world and proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize, or that she is awarded the “Goldene Kamera” by ZDF and interviewed by [the German TV stations] ZDF and ARD. Is this really about the future of our planet?
And what should we think if the German Green Party acts like the greatest administrator of student concerns?2

The “fight against right-wing extremism”

Also the German “fight against right-wing extremism” often instrumentalizes the youth, not only in the Antifa. What exactly is meant by “right” often remains unclear. Many slogan bearers shy away from concrete discussion about the contents of law, about unconstitutionality and protection of the constitution. Instead, the debate is far-fetched. At this year’s Book Fair in Leipzig, cartoons were on display that had been drawn and painted for the German Cartoon Prize on the subject of “Caution, homeland!3” A book by various authors entitled “Eure Heimat ist unser Alb-traum” [Your homeland is our nightmare] was published in early 2019 by the Ullstein Verlag. The announcement4 reads: “This book is a manifesto against homeland, an ethnically transfigured concept. 14 German-speaking foreigners are opposing the normalisation of this idea. For the first anniversary of the so-called ‘Ministry of Homeland’, Fatma Aydemir and Hengameh Yaghoobifarah collect unsparing perspectives on a racist and anti-Semitic society.” Spiegel online published a pre-print.5 Many German leading media have discussed the book – mostly very positively. But what are all those fellow human beings who want Germany as their homeland, as a state of the Grundgesetz – including its social and cultural preconditions – and who are by no means racist or anti-Semitic, supposed to do with such massive criticism? Should they shoot back in the same style? And what prompted the 14 authors to engage in such harsh criticism?
Have the book authors and people understanding homeland as something completely different ever spoken to each other – not in a staged talk show, but honestly and equally – and listened to each other? Or is that no longer possible in today’s Germany?

Do not accept the enemy image Russia

Just like NATO has labelled Russia as enemy. Once again looking at the Leipzig Book Fair: how is it possible that a book entitled “The Future Is History. How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia” won the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding”?6 A book describing the Yeltsin years, a decade of Russian decline and Western influencing, as a time of “freedom” and the nearly two decades since Vladimir Putin’s first presidency, when the people in Russia were substantially better off, as a loss of freedom. What does this have to do with European understanding? Or should everyone in Europe this side of the Russian border (Russia is a European country, too) “agree” to share the enemy image of Russia? They say that, in the institutions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – comprised of all European states, the Central Asian states formerly belonging to the Soviet Union, the USA and Canada – should play a central role in securing peace in Europe, they already share the enemy image: the representatives of the NATO states and Russia are no longer talking to each other, only positions are being proclaimed and accusations made. Where is this leading?
Dear students, that must alert you: There are nuclear powers facing each other capable of destroying the world within a short time. And they are no longer talking to each other. Instead, the arms spiral has been set in motion. We are talking about a new Cold War. And many say that the situation is much tenser than in the first Cold War – in which mankind only happened (!) to avoid a nuclear war by luck.

The responsibility of adults

But our students are not responsible for this condition, we adults are. We adults can start listening and talking to each other – even if the others think differently. But even more, we have to demand it from those who decide about war and peace and the future of our country.    •

1    The German website of “Fridays for Future” has compiled a press review (only the titles and links) for the period from 25 February to 24 March (https://fridaysforfuture.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Pressespiegel-24.03.2019.pdf). It comprises 46 pages. Also the German Chancellor Angela Merkel positively appreciated the pupils’ demonstrations. (https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute/-fridays-for-future--merkel-lobt-klimademos-der-schueler-100.html) During a discussion with pupils in Berlin in early April she said it was right “that you put us under pressure [...]. That there is a signal that there is concern is good for us”.
2     The website “Philosophia Perennis” (https://philosophia-perennis.com/2019/04/02/greta-thunberg-die-buechse-der-pandora-ist-geoeffnet/) has an interesting article on this question.
3     cf. www.deutscherkarikaturenpreis.de/ausstellung/vorsicht-heimat/
4    cf. www.ullstein-buchverlage.de/nc/buch/details/eure-heimat-ist-unser-albtraum-9783961010363.html
5    cf. www.spiegel.de/kultur/literatur/eure-heimat-ist-unser-alptraum-vorabdruck-das-ende-des-german-dream-a-1253290.html
6    cf. www.leipziger-buchmesse.de/International/Leipziger-Buchpreis/

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