Will the country be more peaceful and free now?

Germany after 29 August in Berlin

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

The – understandable – hope that in German politics something would change for the better due to the 29 August demonstrations and rallies in Berlin is most likely mistaken. It rather seems like the public appearances in Berlin are just the flip side of a political coin where both sides are lacking factuality, seriousness and orientation towards the common good.

Big words were chosen in the announcements of the events planned for 29 August 2020. “Millions of Democrats expected in Berlin. On 29 August, the democracy movement is again inviting people to Berlin to fend off the most comprehensive attack on civil society in human history. The festival of love, peace, freedom and equality of all people marks the climax of the ‘Summer of Democracy’ and the beginning of a long overdue revolution,” one of the many calls said. In another, it read: “Saturday, 29 August, 2020: On this historic day, Berlin will celebrate the festival of freedom – the organisers of Querdenken 711, who have already skilfully staged the mega-demo on 1 August, are expecting several millions of participants! This will be the most important day in German history since 1945! This event may force the government to resign!”

Berlin, 29 August 2020

Here now a short overview of what really happened:

  • An association from Stuttgart – it calls itself Querdenken 711 and would like to be a coalition movement of all those who see the state measures against the Corona pandemic as the abolition of basic rights and the road to a dictatorship – had again registered several events in Berlin, four weeks after a first major appearance in Germany’s capital. In the run-up, the organisers said that several million people from far and near were expected – “Berlin invites Europe – Festival for Freedom and Peace”. Even the presidents Trump and Putin had received an invitation. In an interview, a protagonist in the secondary field had mentioned that only these two could save Germany from a dictatorship.
  • The red-red-green government of the State of Berlin, the Senate, had wanted to ban the planned events a few days before 29 August. The state’s Senator of the Interior, a member of the SPD, said: “I am not willing to accept for a second time that Berlin is misused as a stage for Corona deniers, ‘Reichsbürger’ (Reich Citizens’ Movement) and right-wing extremists.” This wording did not do justice to the majority of the demonstration and rally participants.
  • Not only the organisers, but also many others, for example the “Bild-Zeitung”, widely read in Germany, the CDU politician Carsten Linnemann and in Switzerland even the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” criticised the ban – adding in a commentary on 1 September: “Democracy can bear a few muddleheads”.
  • In two court instances, the organisers contended successfully for the ban to be lifted. Nevertheless, the day before the planned meetings, there were claims on the “net” that (German?) tanks were on their way to Berlin – and that an unusual number of soldiers had been seen in trains heading for Berlin. Days before, the editor-in-chief of a magazine supporting the events in Berlin had already painted the scenario of rolling tanks. After all, it was all about the “Strasse des 17. Juni”1 – which, according to the organisers, would later be renamed “Strasse des 29. August”.
  • At noon on 29 August, it was announced that the demonstration was to be broken up by the police despite the court’s decision: because of a lack of compliance with the rules of social distancing. Prematurely, Spiegel online reported that this had already been implemented. The police commissioner of Berlin had previously warned of the danger of violent clashes, should the events take place. Before and during the event, the organisers had and have repeatedly declared their commitment to non-violence.
  • While at the rally around the “Berlin Victory Column”, which finally did take place, “peace” and “freedom” were repeatedly chanted and calls were made for observance of the distancing rules, a group of more than 100 people from a different rally in front of the Reichstag ran up the barely secured stairs in front of the Reichstag entrance – among others with black, white and red flags2. Three policemen guarding the Reichstag entrance stood against them until a few minutes later a group of hundred policemen approached. Later the three police officers were received and honoured by the Federal President. The headlines and political speeches after 29 August were mainly limited to what happened in front of the Reichstag.
  • A planned two-week “protest camp” of Querdenken 711 on the “Strasse des 17. Juni” was evacuated by the police during the night of 29 to 30 August because of non-compliance with the distancing rules. The German supreme court, the Federal Constitutional Court, confirmed the ban. The organisers’ plan had been to have the “protest camp” draft a new German constitution.

Contributions for the rally: from Hare Krishna to the Revolution

Since it had not been possible on 1 August, this time all those who should/wanted to sing or talk had their say. The contributions ranged from Hare Krishna songs to schmaltzy “love” songs and questionable children’s and parents’ performances to calls for a “revolution”. One speaker, who is also co-editor of the “alternative” popular paper Demokratischer Widerstand, was wearing a dark suit and declared that he only put on his suit for weddings or for the revolution. On that day, he said, “Long live the revolution!” His goal is a new state in Germany, the “Free Federal Republic of Germany”. There was no shortage of big words: “Love”, “Freedom”, “Peace” – just like on 1 August. The time was “ripe for a new system”. Several speakers repeatedly tried to get the participants of the rally going with loudly chanted sayings.

Most likely not worth remembering

Is it worth to remember anything that was said and sung on stage on 29 August? I don’t think so. No sentence was formulated that will go down in history. But one should think about the performance as such. One speaker said that the event in Berlin would also reach the “souls” of people. What emotions might he have had in mind? Should this post-modern potpourri of dissatisfaction, lamentations, esotericism and loud attacks be ground-breaking? Too much noise prevents thinking. There was a lot of noise around 29 August. Can this be a sensible alternative to a policy that is indeed questionable in many respects?
   And what would it really take instead to prevent the chasm between those in power, a large majority of citizens who are still on the side of those in power today and a sizeable minority who cheer for events like those in Berlin, from widening even further?

Three questions

Jan Gerber, head of the political research department at the Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture in Leipzig, has formulated ideas worth considering in an article entitled “The populists are prototypes of a new party system”3. Unlike many others, he did not turn the term “populism” into a political struggle term, but analysed it with interesting thoughts. Among other things, one can read: “Populism is less a political programme than a political style. Whereas the established parties argue with practical constraints, he relies on emotions and affects. Mood-dependent ad hoc decisions take the place of lengthy negotiation processes, missing programmes are replaced by improvisation”. And at the end of the text it says: “Sooner or later, however, the party landscape is likely to change along the lines of populism. [...] Perhaps the party landscape of the future will emerge from the populist organisations of the present.” Indeed, one can get the impression that we have already covered a long way along this path in our countries.
   But we can also ask ourselves whether we citizens want this to happen and whether there are not better alternatives: alternatives for the common good that do not rely on emotions and affects, ad hoc decisions depending on mood and improvisation, but rather again on objectivity, seriousness, programmatic approach and lengthy negotiation processes.


“Isn’t the time far too serious to indulge in mass events like the one in Berlin? What kind of ‘community’-experience is it when there is nothing on offer apart from a lot of noise and many empty words? Who really believes that the 29 August was ‘the most important day in German history since 1945’ or the ‘beginning of a long overdue upheaval’?”

   The following questions may help to stimulate further thinking:

  1. The German philosopher and Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant already wrote in 1784, that is five years before the French Revolution, in his famous essay “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?”: “A revolution is perhaps probably a waste of personal despotism or of avaricious or tyrannical oppression (herrschsüchtiger Bedrückung); but never a true reform in ways of thinking can come about; but rather, are new prejudices, just as well serve as the old ones to harness the great unthinking mass (gedankenlosen großen Haufens)”. The course of the French Revolution and many other revolutions proved him right. Also the balance of the so-called “peaceful revolutions” according to the specifications of Gene Sharp (see box) and US intelligence services rather raises many questions. Where are we today, mentally and emotionally, while also politically?
  2. The same German philosopher also dealt with the question of freedom in great detail. “Freedom” was one of the core themes of the Enlightenment philosophers of his time. Who remembers how much effort, care and knowledge it took to form the filigree ideas of a free and democratic order into constitutions and then – for all their imperfection – to try to live such constitutions? Who really believes that the slogans of 29 August can become historically powerful in terms of progress in Germany for the common good?
  3. Isn’t the time far too serious to indulge in mass events like the one in Berlin? What kind of “community”-experience is it when there is nothing on offer apart from a lot of noise and many empty words? Who really believes that the 29 August was “the most important day in German history since 1945” or the “beginning of a long overdue upheaval”? It could, however, become an important day if it encourages a real pause for thought and reflection.    •

1  On 17 June 1953 a revolt in the GDR was defeated by Soviet tanks. The Federal Republic of Germany subsequently declared 17 June a national holiday.
2  The flag with three horizontal stripes of equal with in the colours black-white-red was the flag for warships and merchant ships of the North German Confederation from 1867 to 1871, the flag of the German Reich from 1871 to 1919 and, from 1933 to 1935, also the flag of the “Third Reich” for a transitional period before the swastika flag was introduced as the sole national flag. The colour scheme was also black-white-red.
3  Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 29 August 2020, page 36

Gene Sharp and the «non-violent action»

km. Through Wikipedia, the reader learns that Gene Sharp who died in 2018, was a US political scientist, founder of the Albert Einstein Institute which focused on studies on non-violent and the spread of non-violent action. His most famous book, “The Politics of Non-violent Action” (1973) delivers a negotiation-oriented way for non-violent action. Sharp classified his methods in the following subgroups: non-violent protest and persuasion, social non-cooperation, economic boycott actions, strike actions, political non-cooperation and non-violent intervention. Petra Kelly smuggled “The Politics of Non-violent Action” to the GDR and gave it to the civil rights activist, Gerd Poppe. Volume II was adopted by the Democratic Initiative in Leipzig in early 1989. Sharp tried to exert concrete influence in Myanmar, where his instructions for action for liberation movements “From Dictatorship to Democracy” were distributed in 1992, which have since been translated into over 30 languages. The 4th edition was published in 2012. Sharps theories influenced many liberation movements in Eastern Europe: Otpor in Serbia, Kmara in Georgia, Pora! in the Ukraine, KelKel in Kyrgyzstan and Subr in Belarus. His liaison in these movements was the US Colonel Robert Helvey (retd.). In addition, he was referred to by the initiators of the revolution in Egypt in 2011, which led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. One of the Alternative Nobel Prize awards, each worth 50,000 euros, went to Sharp in 2012. The reason given was that his studies on non-violent resistance had been applied in the jungles of Burma as well as in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. He has also advised governments on how to organise non-violent resistance to a military invasion.
   It must be added that in reality the „non-violent actions“ were often associated with violence.

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