Dresden - battlefield

„I’m sorry, could you tell me, how can I get to Neustadt, when the whole street is blocked and most of bridges are closed?” I asked on my way home from the European law class, after I hit an endless line of police cars.

“I don’t know where Neustadt is” the riot policeman, wearing a helmet, answers from behind a shield.
“What? How you can not know where Neustadt is?”
“I’m sorry, It’s my first time in Dresden, I came from Frankfurt” the policeman tries to drown the crowds.

Dresden was changing every week looking more and more like a battlefield. I won’t analyse why thousands, later tens of thousands, protesters filled the streets every Monday. German media discussed this question the whole winter already. I think it’s more interesting to reflect, how the communication in the society and between the political representatives and the protesters works in such cases.

In the case of supporters of PEGIDA the communication was even more challenging than usually. It was not a demonstration against a particular policy neither a strike with a list of demands. The people walked through the capital of Saxony behind a poster warning against the islamization of the Western world. There are only few Muslim immigrants in Dresden and the poster does probably not tell the main reason for their protest. Definitely it offered no suggestions for any solution. Moreover the PEGIDA supporters put with the word “Lügenpresse” (lie-media in English) into question everything, what the German TV and newspapers communicated to the public. At the end of January, after months of protests, the PEGIDA speaker took part in the talk show of Günter Jauch. Till than they refused to give any official statement to the media. How to communicate with such movement? How to reach its supporters? How to overcome the atmosphere of distrust?

In international relations the states know and expect, that the communication won’t be easy. Therefor many organisations and communication fora of different sizes and thematic focus were founded since the end of WWII. If I greatly simplify it, it’s possible to say, that all the organisations, starting with the UN (associating almost all countries worldwide) and ending with Visegrad Group (associating only four countries), are founded on the same idea saying: cooperation is better than war and openness more preferable than protectionism. On the international level it seems natural, that such organisations and fora are needed. Meanwhile we forgot, that even reconciliation within the state isn’t a matter of course. We are not aware that the “social contract” is again and again facing revisions and endurance tests.

In the beginning German politicians, including Angela Merkel, condemned the whole movement as far right. In Germany this is comparable with an UN embargo – with such a movement you shouldn’t deal, talk and definitely not walk in one march. Such very clear demarcation should draw back many politically independent protesters, who expressed just their disappointment with the politics. Condemning the group and distancing from it did not help at all. The numbers of protesters were growing. The rhetoric had to change. Already in the Christmas speech of president Gauck it was much softer. The words „Weltoffenheit“ and „Menschenwürde“ („openness to the world” and “human dignity”) expressing the basic society values became the slogans against the xenophobic PEGIDA demonstrations.

The offensive against the movement revealed, which institutions actively and publicly stand behind these slogans and are able to mobilise people, when they feel these values are in danger. Moreover, it showed which institutions provide the arena in which the social consensus can be renewed, if the political process fails to deliver it. I call them the intuitions of social cohesion. The educational institutions, churches, cultural and political institutions and foundations were the most active in Dresden. Secondly public and some of the private companies get involved.

The university was one the main organizers of the contra-demonstrations. It furthermore offered space for debates about the cause of the protests and delivered a study of the supporters’ profile. Religious organizations got distinctly involved by hanging out posters on the churches and other buildings, by co-organization of the contra-demonstrations. A reflection on social cohesion was not missing in any sermon. The Saxon Gallery of old masters, where Rafael’s, van Eyck’s and Canaletto’s paintings are exhibited, hanged my favourite poster on the building:  „Ein großes Haus voller Ausländer! Der Stolz des Freistaats” (A big house full of foreigners! The pride of Saxony) The Semper quoted on its flags the first article of the German Constitution: „Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar“ (The human dignity is inviolable). The Dresden public transport company showed videos telling, that they are transporting everyone, wherever he comes from. There is an endless list of examples.

(viz: https://twitter.com/joschueck/status/560532796461318144)

The essential role in the communication played the educational institutions. Of course the University, but more important, the State centre of political education became a forum where the citizens could articulate their worries and fears. For the politicians it offered the possibility to show, that they are interested in their issues and take notice of them. Both the interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, and vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel attended the public discussions with citizens organized by Frank Richter, the director of the State centre of political education. There is no such institution of this importance in Czech Republic, even though the citizen’s involvement in the political process is the only long-term and sustainable solution. It’s of secondary importance if the movements dynamic will be absorbed by an existing party will absorb or if a new party will emerge. The crucial thing is that the citizens get involved in politics. Some German politicians think, that if the people just stop protesting it isn’t a step towards a consensus, and I agree with them. The fact that the citizens are not in the streets anymore doesn’t change their feeling of not being represented.

Germany has shown the capability of reflecting the surge of anger and incorporation movements in the political process during the student protests of the “extra-parliamentary opposition” in the sixties and during the formation of the ecological movement in the seventies. Is PEGIDA such surge? It’s demands and goals are sill very unclear and its scope rather local. Without communication and political participation its supporters won’t ever be able to formulate it’s program. The society and its political representation must be aware, which institutions are the organizing forces when the basic values seem to be in danger. Nevertheless, it is most important to actively educate and integrate the citizens. Then thousands wouldn’t have the feeling that they are not heard and wouldn’t have choose the way of protests and radicalization.

The cohesion of the society is very fragile. If it starts to crumble in one place it can have unexpected consequences, as me being unable to get home from my university class.

Drážďany - bojové pole

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