Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, born 1949, is a German historian with a doctorate, freelance journalist, publicist and audio book speaker. She was the ARD’s Moscow correspondent from 1987 to 1991 and then anchored the ARD’s Kulturweltspiegel (cultural world view) until 1997. Since 2011, she has been a professor of TV and journalism at the University in Iserlohn.
Gabriele Krone-Schmalz’s new book is a valuable contribution to counter the polarisation in our society. Based on various debates that are being held in our country, it shows that an either-or-thinking cannot contribute to solutions that are developed jointly. Rather, there is a need for an “as well as”, which requires a respectful approach to dissenters. Only the turning away from two extreme poles towards a compromise promotes democracy and public spirit. This can only be achieved by listening to the dissenters, by accepting their arguments mentally in the first place, in order to possibly recognise a spark of truth in them.
Division of the world into the “good” and the “bad”
Many terms commonly used today, such as “Putin-understander”, “right-wing populists”, “racists”, “angry citizens”, “corona denialists”, to name but a few, counteract what has been described above. Dividing the world into “climate denialists” and “climate saviours”, into “the good” and “the bad”, by no means contributes to democracy, but rather excludes certain groups of people from the start. Thus, Ms Krone-Schmalz warns of a Germany as a country of hysterics when, for example, according to PEGIDA and large parts of the AfD, Germany is on the verge of a “Umvolkung” and will soon be dominated by Muslims. In another corner, people fear that Nazis will soon rise to power. Democracy “still” exists.
She counters other statements from the left, namely that poverty in Germany is becoming more and more dramatic, by saying that the concept of poverty in this country is measured by the wrong criteria. Namely, one is poor if he or she has less than 60 % of the average net median income at his or her disposal, which in Germany is about 1,136 euros per month for a single person. This is indeed little, but there is no question of existential hardship, because sufficient food and shelter can be provided from it. In comparison, this statistical value in our neighbouring country Luxembourg is 1,716 euros. According to the World Bank, the threshold for absolute poverty is 58 US dollars per month. Poverty is therefore very relative.
Instead of talking about poverty here, she thinks the word social inequality is more appropriate for the situation here. However, she does not overlook the fact that it is worthwhile to work for more social justice, it is just that the repetitive descriptions and a rather ritual indignation do not help the socially weak in our society at all.
Another topic where the polarisation is evident is the refugee crisis that began in 2015, where Gabriele Krone-Schmalz warns against exaggeration on either side: On the one hand, she sees an exuberant “welcome culture”. On the other hand, she also considers a statement by Alexander Gauland (AfD) as exaggerated, who said in 2018 that “he feels reminded of the last days of the GDR in view of the Merkel regime”.
In another passage, Gabriele Krone-Schmalz criticises the good and evil scheme in our society. This scheme designates parts of the world as good states, but others as evil states. According to this, we and our Western allies belong to the side of the good states. On the other side were or are the so-called bad, including countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Russia and their political leaders, who have to be shown what is “right”. If necessary, this can also be done by military force in order to bring about regime change and “liberate” the peoples of such countries from the “evil”. The fact that this goes hand in hand with the violation of international law then finds its supposed justification in the “Responsibility to Protect”.
As a further example of this good-evil division, the author takes up the topic of climate protection, in which there are climate angels and climate devils, which are then also found, among other things, in evil and good mobility.
The author is interested in bringing the shades, the nuances between these extremes into focus, because humans, as beings endowed with reason by nature, are certainly capable of more differentiation.
Preserving the dignity of the dissident in a pluralistic society
The dignity of the dissident in a pluralistic society is very close to her heart. The freedom of the individual finds its limits where it violates the other person. This would require rules supported and lived by the responsible citizen for the protection of others. Without these rules (laws) we would live in anarchy. Part of this, she says, is decent arguing. The other person must be treated with respect, on an equal footing, and the substance of his or her opinion must be taken into account. One has to concentrate on the facts instead of looking for a label that devalues the statement of the dissenter. As examples of defamatory labels, she mentions terms such as populist, racist, anti-Semite, right wing or left wing, neo-Nazi, conspirator, etc.
Furthermore, she warns against the division of young and old, in the sense of “we have to plod for the old”, or the old leave us an earth that will soon no longer be worth living on account of global warming. How this is reflected in everyday life is illustrated by a satirical video by the WDR, in which a verse of a children’s song – “Meine Oma ist ’ne ganz patente Frau” (“My grandma is a very practical woman”) – was rewritten in “unsere Oma ist ’ne alte Umweltsau” (“My grandma is an old environmental pig”).
According to Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, an important role in this context is played by the “fourth power” in the state, thus the media, which are primarily concerned with quotas and circulation in order to ensure economic success as an advertising medium, so to speak.
For reasons of cost, thorough research and objectivity in order to establish the truth fell by the wayside, because sensational headlines, underpinned with corresponding pictures, served the commercial purpose to a much greater extent.
The last chapter is dedicated to peace, which she describes as a process of hard work. In this context, she mentions exemplarily the history of German foreign policy at the beginning of the 1970s, when rapprochement in the relationship between West and East was based on personal relations and trust. On 12 August 1970, the German Chancellor Willy Brandt on the one side and the Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kossygin on the other signed the Moscow Treaty on the mutual renunciation of the use of force. “Change through rapprochement” was the credo of Egon Bahr, then State Secretary in the Federal Chancellery.
The ability to engage in a dialogue includes talking to each other, listening to each other and not shutting up after the first half-sentence because you know what’s coming next anyway.
To do this even if one does not like one’s collocutor at all. Only a personal dialogue with the other person can contribute to compromise and reconciliation of interests and thus to peace at all levels.
A book that stimulates deeper reflection, especially in today’s times, also marked by the pandemic. •
(Translation Current Concerns)
“Compromise is the lubricant of democracy. [...] Only those who assume that there can also be a grain of truth in the opposing position are capable of compromise. Those who consider it ‘evil’, on the other hand, construct images of the enemy that usually have little to do with reality.” (pp. 33 and 58)
“I believe that people around the world long for a combination of free-market freedom (without necessarily calling it that) and state security. To be able to develop oneself, to take responsibility for what one does or does not do, and to be sure that one will be picked up by the community in which one lives if one needs help. Utopia? [...] Is that Christian or communist? Why does there always have to be a stamp on it? So that one knows whether to be for or against?” (p. 41)
“How much freedom does a society need to be able to call itself pluralistic? How many rules can a society tolerate in order to still be allowed to call itself pluralistic? In order to decide this question, not only formal democratic processes are needed, but also a number of virtues that the much-cited responsible citizen - on whom a functioning democracy depends [...] should possess: Willingness to engage in dialogue and the ability to engage in dialogue, in short, a culture of argument that knows how to distinguish between factual argumentation and insult.” (p. 87)
“Democracy must ensure that its citizens are as well-educated and informed as possible. That is the uncomfortable thing about democracy if it is to be taken seriously and not allowed to degenerate into an empty shell.” (p. 99)
“The first step should be to take note of the substance of a dissident’s thoughts, to concentrate only on the facts and not to look for a label that devalues or devalues the dissident’s statement and with which this statement is then banished to a drawer that all the like-minded people don’t even want to open because they don’t want to have anything to do with what is written on it anyway. [...] There are a number of methods to exclude or defame dissidents in this way and thus banish them from public discourse. Very popular and, so to speak, ‘small cutlery’ is the accusation of populism.” (p. 99)
“The most convenient and safest way to get rid of someone and not have to deal with them substantively is to find the most vile corner possible to put them in. By far the most odious is the one labelled anti-Semitism.” (p. 101)
“Talking to each other, listening to each other, not shutting up after the first half-sentence because you supposedly know what’s coming anyway, according to the motto: What else can be expected from him? Take the other person seriously, even if you don’t like them. Putting what the other person says and means in the foreground, and not what you think you know. Actually, not that difficult, at least in theory.” (p. 170)
“Personal contact between people worldwide is the be-all and end-all, imparts one’s own powers of judgement and makes one immune to stupid, inflammatory talk. For me, commitment to youth exchange at the most diverse levels is active peace policy in the most convincing form. Only in this way are there at least chances that future generations will be able to turn crises into wars.” (p. 173)
“Dispute in the sense of dispute culture is something thoroughly constructive and has nothing to do with exclusion or even annihilation. Arguing respectfully – that’s what it would be.” (p. 174)
Source: Respekt geht anders: Betrachtungen über unser zerstrittenes Land (in German), Band 6399 von C.H. Beck Paperback,
Author Gabriele Krone-Schmalz
Verlag Beck C.H., 2020; ISBN 978-3-4067-5486-9
(Translation Current Concerns)
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