Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.
Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.
Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism. Since the beginning of last year, the number of refugees coming into Germany, even for a temporary stay has risen above 2 million. And with that come attempts of accomodating them and demonstrations for and against the refugees. Those against the refugees, including many forms of PEGIDA, have attacked refugees and the places where they were supposed to stay, enchanting “Wir sind das Volk” and using tactics from the playbook of the Third Reich, which you can see here. On the flip side, there are just as many people opposed to PEGIDA and have been more than open to refugees, granting them places to live and work as well as integrating them into the culture. Unlike the PEGIDA, which like the Alternative for Germany, has called for a ban on Islam in Germany, the opponents to the two groups are more aware of the social and cultural background (partly because of German history but also because of their multicultural mentality) and see the immigration of refugees as a motor for economic growth in Germany, producing jobs in many fields and learning the bright sides of religion and culture. 🙂
But when looking at German demonstrations by itself, I was asked by a German student colleague during the last protest whether or not the Germans are crazy and insane about demonstrating. When looking at the pics below and speaking from personal experience participating in a half dozen protests since coming here in 1999, the answer to that question is a resounding “Jein!” (Yes and no in German). There are two really strong arguments favoring the no portion of “Jein!” The first argument is because Germans are trained to be informed and confront controversial issues, even if means taking to the streets and express their disdain towards politicians. This has to do with the Beutelsbach Consensus of 1976, where pupils in all German educational institutions are taught how to be address all controversial topics in the classroom and express their personal opinion, without having the teacher of social studies influence their opinions. The consensus features three key points, which are:
1. Prohibition against Overwhelming the Pupil
2. Treating Controversial Subjects as Controversial
3. Giving Weight to the Personal Interests of Pupils
Learning the lessons from the past, educators and political scientists pushed the importance of pure democracy into the classrooms with the goal of addressing the themes from individual standpoints, both inside the classroom as well as in the public. This is something that has not been introduced in American classrooms but should, in order to learn how to deal with confrontations and conflicts. As of right now, the consensus is the trend where politicians make decisions behind closed doors and take haste action before the public is able to be informed about it and assemble a protest. An act of cowardice and one that goes against the ideas of American democracy.
The second argument for demonstrations is they can bring out the colorful and best of people from different backgrounds, bringing them together and encouraging time together. Be it mini-concerts, mini-tournaments or even sit-ins with beer and friends, having peaceful demonstrations show solidarity and support, encouraging others to join, even if it is for a few minutes.
The yes argument, apart from fancy outfits and some DJ-ing, the craziest is when counter-demonstrators arrive to make trouble, only to be pelted with stones, bottles and other items. This happens often when protests dealing with right-wing extremists and PEGIDA members are in the vicinity, as they are against the ideals of a modern, multi-cultural Germany. While the police try to protect both sides, they end up being sandwiched by both sides, resulting in the question of whether the German Constitution should be reformed to ban violence and certain groups deeming a threat to German society. Up until now, the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe have not touched their fingers on this topic. With the violence increasing every year, perhaps they should…..
With more hot topics coming to the table and the politicians trying to address them, there will be more protests and demonstrations by the public expressing their concerns about them. Not all demonstrations are bad, as many people support measures that are beneficial to a multicultural Germany. However, some are deemed necessary to make the point clear: The public knows the history; the public wants a say in this; and the public wants the politicians to listen. Call it crazy, but thanks to Beutelsbach, combined with the awareness of the importance of keeping the country clean of potential dictators, the demonstrations have worked a great deal, because to all involved, listening and acting in the benefit of the majority does matter.
Perhaps the Americans should make note of this, especially those who engage in closed door deals without informing and listening to the public. We are not stupid, you know….
Check out the photo gallery of the recent protest that occurred in Jena on 20 April, 2016 (click on the photo for a larger view). The demonstrations involved 200 Thugida (Thuringia version of PEGIDA) and NPD people celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday while more than three thousand condemned these demonstrations with that of their own. According to the newspaper OTZ, six cars were destroyed, 15 people were injured and over two dozen were taken into custody. While the protest was smaller than expected, local officials spoke of a new generation of violent protests. This leads to the following questions:
- How can society find a way to disable and eliminate such radical groups?
- How can society educate people about the dangers of being an extremist?
- What can be done to eliminate problems that spawn such protests?
- How can history teach society to learn and understand both sides of the story involving key events and their actors?
- In connection with question 4., how can the youth be taught not to be extremists?