AND CIVIL DISOBENDIENCE IN GERMANY
Popular Discontent is widespread
in Europe these days, no matter whether we look to Greece where the new
"anti-terrorist" law targets strikers, or to Spain, Italy and France
where syndicalist and republican traditions are very much alive and where
the right to protest has always been regarded as a republican and democratic
right. Right now, millions are actively participating in a general
strike in France. Workers blocade refineries; as soon as the police dissolves
the blocades, new blocades are set up. Seventy per cent of the population
support the general strike and those actively involved.
Germany has always been more conservative.
The authoritarian socio-cultural heritage has been significantly weakened
in the wake of "1968" (in fact, in the wake of the critique of the Nazi
past by the younger generation that culminated in the events of 1968):
but the trade unions have been tamed by legal provisions and most middle-class
citizens were never prone to take to the streets, at least not in post-war
West Germany. In East Germany, the party organized mass demonstrations
and this also has subsequently dampened the enthusiasm for demonstrations.
It seems that only when the kettle
has been boiling too long that citizens in this country take to the streets.
It is all the more astounding that recently, a large part of the population
in what most commentators thought was an especially conservative part of
Germany, the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in the South-Western part of the
country, discovered the possibility - and necessity - of civil disobedience.
And this without reading Thoreau!
The following is an attempt to place
the events in Stuttgart in a larger context and give an overview regarding
the various fields of conflict and the social movements in Germany during
the last few decades. Perhaps this brief list is useful in two respects:
It lets us recognize that the present
protests in Stuttgart are not the only protests
that take place and that have taken
place in the country.
Often such protests have been undertaken
by, or have led to single-issue movements. The relative (but not abolute)
failure to link these movements is a weakness, when we see such protests
in the context of a quest for a more democratic society where people have
a real say, especially with regard to essential questions that affect their
In Stuttgart, at least in the beginning,
the protests seemed to be concerned very much with a single issue, rejection
of the project known as “Stuttgart 21”. It implied a number of questions,
of course: The horrendous cost, the inappropriateness of such investment
in high speed trains when the branch lines and of course commuters were
neglected, the ecological aspect, the aspect of preserving the historical
patrimony, the fury because citizens were not heard; obbiously the “participatory”
exercises undertaken by the authorities (so-called Buergerbeteiligung)
appeared to many citizens as a farce.
IN TALKING ABOUT STUTTGART, IT IS
IMPORTANT TO SEE HOW MUCH THE LOCAL AND REGIONAL SPECIFICITIES MATTER THAT
ARE INSCRIBED IN THE ISSUE, AS IT WAS PERCEIVED BY PROTESTING CITIZENS
(AND THIS, OBVIOUSLY; BY ACCENTUATING DIFFERENT COMPONENTS OF THE ISSUE
IN DIFFERENT WAYS).
IN OTHER WORDS, PROTEST AGAINST
“STUTTGART 21” DID NOT ONLY LEAD TO THE FORMATION OF A SINGLE
ISSUE MOVEMENT, IT WAS AND STILL IS ALSO A MOVEMENT WITH A STRONG, VERY
SPECIFIC REGIONAL CHARACTER.
AND AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE IMMENSELY
SUCCESSFUL WAY THE PROTEST MOVEMENT IS ANCHORED IN THE LOCAL AND REGIONAL
POPULATION FORBIDS IN FACT ANY MINGLING BY OUTSIDERS. THEY COULD
DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD.
Does that mean that the protests
have only a local and regional as well as a temporary significance and
will simply wane when a solution, perhaps a compromise concerning the “Stuttgart
21” issue has been found?
A few months ago, that might have
In the meantime, however, there
is a learning process that the citizens participating in the protests –
and many who do not participate but sympathize with the protesters –
have been undergoing.
This has much to do with the way
politicians that people in Stuttgart once trusted have acted and have talked
It has also a lot to do with the
violence that non-provocative, peaceful protesters were subjected to by
the “forces of order” that were apparently told by the authorities to be
Commenting on the events of Sept.
30, 2010 in Stuttgart, Prof. Thomas Ebert focused on the immediate effect
of the violent action by the police, during an interview or conversation
with a radio journalist, broadcast on WDR5 radio, Oct. 20, 2010 at 7:15
He said, “Der Einsatz der Polizei,
der sehr aggressiv war, der provoziert reaktive Gewalt – in diesem Moment.“
(The way the police proceeded, which was very aggressive, provokes reactive
violence [among attacked demonstrators] – in this very moment.“ – This
analysis of the likely reaction of peaceful protesters to an unprovoked
attack by the police can help to explain feelings of anger verbally vented
by an old lady who was among the demonstrators, or the helpless act of
a young man who tossed a chair into the air without hitting anybody. Generally,
the demonstrators remained peaceful, even when attacked. No, THE REACTION
WAS GENERALLY SPEAKING NOT AN IMMEDIATE EXPLOSION OF REACTIVE VIOLENCE
ON THE PART OF THE PROTESTING POPULATION – IT WAS AND STILL IS A
REFLECTIVE ACT THAT PRODUCES AN ENORMOUS DISTANCE BETWEEN THEM
AND “THE ELECTED SERVANTS OF THE PEOPLE” WHO ACTED AND STILL ACT LIKE FEUDAL
The subconsciously present irritation,
frustration, disillusionment and anger that has built up over the years
has come out into the open, and now there is clarity. And now it is no
longer a single issue movement, because no matter how it is resolved (AND
THE PROTESTERS ARE CONVINCED THAT THEY WILL WIN, in the end), the readiness
to act like children, to be quiet and gullible, and to let manipulative
politicians have their way IS GONE: they DEMAND democracy; REAL DEMOCRACY.
THEY ARE FED UP WITH BEING LIED TO. THEY ARE APPEARING IN FRONT OF PARLIAMENT,
TOSSING SHOES AGAINST ITS WALLS, SHOUTING “LIARS, LIARS!!!”
WHAT IS EVEN MORE REMARKABLE, IS
THIS: THE ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT SENTIMENT IS “CATCHING”, PEOPLE IN THE REST
OF THE COUNTRY ARE TAKING NOTE. They have seen the images of elderly people
bleeding, of children attacked by the police. They have heard the voices
of the politicians who said that people who cry foul when they are subjected
to the jet of water of water canons are simply “pampered” OR who falsely
blamed the fact that almost 400 people were wounded in Stuttgart on Sept.
30, on demonstrators engaging in violence (to which, it was insinuated,
the police ‘REACTED’).
IT WAS ALL SO SHABBY, such a patent
lie, such arrogance – and people elsewhere in the country remember now
HOW THEY ARE TREATED AND HAVE BEEN TREATED ARROGANTLY, HOW THEY ARE LIED
TO AND HAVE BEEN LIED TO. AND RATHER THAN RE-ENFORCING ABSTENTIONISM, it
kindles a desire to be heard, to become active, to make the country fairer,
les anti-social, more democratic.
IT IS AN UNFORESEEN EFFECT OF THE
STUTTGART PROTEST MOVEMENT THAT NOBODY FORESAW.
The promised list is given now.
It is merely an attempt to give an initial overview. The list can be expanded
EXCLUDED YOUNGSTERS, LEGITIMATE
The scandalous levels of unemployment
observable in much of the world and certainly all over Europe are a problem
in Germany, too. The problem is acerbated by a perverse educational system
that in effect defends the “privilege of better education” reserved for
the better-off at the expense of kids from low-income immigrant families
and generally, working class kids: It is an antiquated, slyly class-conscious
education system that for long reproduced and today increasingly sharpens
the inequalities of Germany’s class society and that the advocates of a
“more modern capitalism” question in their own way because, in their view,
it is tantamount to “quandering human resources”.
But many wide awake young people
neither desire to be condemned to extreme poverty and starving diets nor
to be exploited more effectively thanks to a “modernized, flexible” education
that takes into account the changing needs of capital in a more effective
There is a thirst for freedom in
A revolt against hopelessness.
THE WOMAN’S LIB MOVEMENT
It started in the 1960, it was
active and it was wonderful in the 70s, it became pragmatic and registered
some gains which was good. But to the extent that young and more importantly,
middle-aged middle-class and upper-class women profited from it, it also
can be said to have ignored working class and poor immigrant women. It
is very much in need of rejuvenation in this country. And like all single-issue
movements, it is in need of coalitions, of friends. Equal pay for equal
work has not been achieved. AMONG THOSE SUFFERING MOST FROM WELFARE REFORM,
WE MUST COUNT ONE AND A HALF MILLION SINGLE MOTHERS AND TWO TO THREE MILLION
CHILDREN. Those who grant them a starving diet today, are CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC
FEMALE CABINET MEMBERS WHO BUILT THEIR CAREERS THANKS TO THE FACT THAT
THE WOMAN’S LIB MOVEMENT OPENED CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEM: FORMAL
OR DE-FACTO QUOTAS FOR WOMEN IN THE CDU, JUST AS IN OTHER MAJOR PARTIES,
WERE AN IMPORTANT FACTOR THAT MADE THEIR CAREER POSSIBLE.
THE PEACE MOVEMENT
As in other countries, the peace
movement in Germany was a reaction to the Cold War.
A considerable number of Germans,
even though a minority at the time, reacted in the 1950s against a German
rearmament. The fact that Nazi Germany had started a war that took the
lives of about 60 million human beings was a good reason never to take
up arms again.
In the 1970s and 80s the peace
movement grew significantly. When the so-called Socialist camp collapsed
in Eastern and Central Europe, the peace movement waned.
It is only in reaction to the externally
fanned Yugoslav civil war, the NATO intervention in the Kosovo conflict,
the two wars against Iraq and the war against the population of Afghanistan
and parts of Pakistan, that the peace movement has gathered some strength
Too many former supporters still
think that peace is secure since 1989. Too many are forgetful of
the fact that nuclear arsenals of the big nuclear powers still exist and
that these enormously destructive nuclear weapon stockpiles are being modernized,
instead of being abolished.
But the movement slowly grows again.
THE ANTI-NUCLEAR MOVEMENT
Regional resistance against nuclear
power plants (notably Wyhl in South West Germany ! Brokdorf, and
Krümmel in the Hamburg area !) and against sites selected to
store radioactive ‘nuclear waste’ permanently (Wackersdorf ! – more recently,
Asse, Ahaus are also getting attention) gave rise to an anti-nuclear movement
that was no longer exclusively focused on nuclear weapons. The anti-nuclear
movement as well as ecologist concerns were at the root of the Green Party
when it was founded as an anti-establishment party, close to the grass-roots.
These ties between GREENS and the
grass roots movements started to be questioned at the grass roots level
when the party turned “pragmatic” and opportunistic, as a junior partner
in a coalitionnwith the Social Democrats that veered to the right under
Chancellor Gerhard SCHROEDER.
The agreement (so-called consensus;
“Atomkonsenses”) that the Schroeder administration reached with nuclear
industry when the Green Party was a coalition partner of the Social Democrats
included an obligation of industry to shut down old power plants after
a determined number of years. This obligation incurred by nuclear industry
at the time has been questioned by it more recently, but it is also rejected
by banks and industry in general ever since the Schroeder administration
was replaced by the Merkel administration.
Obviously, not to shut down old,
unsafe plants immediately was a mistake and the so-called consensus was
just a tactical game that the Social Democratic leaders were all too ready
to play; the subequent government has practically thrown “the consensus”
that had been “reached” into the wastepaper basket.
The effect is that a public which
is skeptical and increasingly aware of the risks of nuclear power feels
cheated. The distrust is increasing. There is a sense of being conned by
politicians allied with big industry and the banks while breaking every
promise they make during election periods.
This year, about
100,000 people demonstrated in Berlin against nuclear power plants.
There never was such a big demonstration before in Berlin, by supporters
of this cause. Likewise, we saw a 50,000 anti-nuclear protesters
in Munich, an expensive city with a liberal Social Democratic mayor which
was never in the headlines because of big demonstrations in the last few
THE “MONDAY DEMONSTRATIONS” IN
Welfare reform, inspired by CLINTONITE
RECIPES, has meant starving diets for 6 to 9 million people in Germany.
A refusal to introduce an over the board minimum wage in thi country has
made wage-subsidies to the working poor a necessity, and even when working,
these people exist on a level of income so low that it is a real scandal.
Something like this was never was witnessed before the SCHROEDER administration
introduced the so-called HARTZ IV REFORMS.
Especially in the EASTERN PART
OF GERMANY, the former GDR that was de-industrialized after its annexation
by the West German government, levels of unemployment are very high and
extreme poverty is now widespread. Those without a job are far worse off
than they ever were in the old GDR.
As a consequence, MASS
DEMONSTRATIONS took place for some time every Monday in the city of
Leipzig, a city which also saw the demonstrations which toppled the ossified
Today, it is the classe politique
formed in WEST GERMANY that appears as ossified to an increasing
part of the population
What is regrettable is, that DEMONSTRATIONS
AGAINST WELFARE REFORM – EVEN THOUGH SPREADING TO THE RUHR DISTRICT AND
TO BERLIN- RECEIBED NO SUPPORT FROM OTHER SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION AT
THE TIME. Isolated, they withered away, even though the discontent is still
very much alive.
STUTTGART: THE PETERLOO
OF UNCHECKED RULE BY THE “ELITES”?
This fall, it is the scope and
the rapid expansion of protest in STUTTGART that rocks the country. PEOPLE
ALL OVER GERMANY TAKE NOTE. It is as if they share the feelings and also
quite a few of the key grievances of the South-West German protesters.
ABOVE ALL, THE FEELING OF BEING LIED TO AND BEING CHEATED BY THE CLASSE
POLITIQUE. THE FEELING THAT EVEN THOUGH WE CAN VOTE, WE THE PEOPLE EXERCISE
NO CONTROL OVER OUR OWN AFFAIRS: THE RES PUBLICA THAT WE SHOULD DEBATE
& DECIDE FREELY AND CONSCIOUSLY, HAS BEEN “PRIVATIZED” AND IT IS NOW
A MATTER OF WHEELING-DEALING BETWEEN BIG MONEY, BIG INDUSTRY AND THE BIG
SHOTS INSIDE THE POLITICAL CASTE.
IT IS MORE AND MORE APPARENT THAT
THE BUNKER MENTALITY OF THE “CLASSE POLITIQUE” IS FANNING POPULAR DISCONTENT
PEOPLE WHO ARE DEMOCRATS DEEP DOWN
IN THEIR HEART STRT TO QUESTION “REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY” AS IT IS:
SOMETHING SEEMS TO BE AWFULLY WRONG WHEN M.P.s LISTEN TO BIG BUSINESS MORE
THAN TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS. SO MORE AND MORE PEOPLE TELL THEMSELVES:
“WHO ‘REPRESENTS’ THE COMMON PEOPLE IF NOT THEY THEMSELVES?”
THE QUESTION THAT IS “IN THE AIR”
WILL WE NEED MORE GRASS-ROOTS DEMOCRACY?
Agence France Press on Stuttgart
HOW A SIT-IN BY
PUPILS WAS DISSOLVED
AND CENTERS OF
Rote Flora, HH
on CLARA ZETKIN [please check
on FEMINISM [please check back-up
civil resistance in Luechow-Dannenberg
waste disposal site
ANTI ATOM BAYERN
copy on Munich demo
BR-online on Munich demo
on BERLIN demo
The protests in
in Sept./Oct. 2010