Who are we really and in what form to we want to live together?
On New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne a mob of violent young North African men molested women, beat up other men and robbed them afterwards. Until today only 6 men have been convicted out of over 1200 criminal charges that were filed.
On New Year’s Eve 2016 in Cologne 1700 police officers, 800 federal agents and 600 private security guards were stationed, because the police had information about North African groups arriving that day. The city of Cologne responded with an efficient show of force and allegedly ethically questionable methods to keep law and order. Only 7 criminal charges were filed that night. These North Africans are quite different from regular immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. They are partly undocumented criminals, brutalized and radicalized uprooted people. But a huge number of people shifted the public opinion to generally blame all migrants and politicians.
This is one example of violence that leads to strong reactions. In 2016 we observed extreme reactions along the issues of economy, immigration, religion, education, race, health care and many more that lead to new strong reactions. In some countries, even to violent behavior. Populists give a simple answer to solve today’s complex problems and they are being elected for that, like Trump (USA), Modi (India), Szydło (Poland) and Orban (Hungary). Le Pen (France), Grillo (Italy) and the AFD (Germany) have serious chances to win elections or to become a governing force. Their answers to our problems are harsh, defamatory, and overly dramatic. Their success is further boosted by social media and news networks. Facebook is not doing enough to stop fake news. That means, besides other things, to censor hate speech and hate groups who radicalize easily influenceable people. Media networks stopped working holistically, but prioritize the quantity of headlines over quality investigative reports.
An increasingly less educated population gets bits and pieces of information and elections are less based on a complex, civil debate but on who is the most popular candidate, or least unpopular based on given simple answers. University social sciences, once well- funded, are under increased pressure to work economy oriented, severely limiting their success for an impactful civic engagement process.
Populism, Nationalism and Authoritarianism are on the rise worldwide. That development can be a useful measurement to help to showcase neglected issues. But in a rising number of countries populists, nationalists and authoritarians become a serious problem and endanger well balanced political systems. Above all others, Democracies and Republics. There are observable conflicts between democratic and republican institutions and the opinion of a growing part of citizens in respective countries. Those who call themselves rebuilders, or the ones who want to take control back are threatening human rights, tolerance, liberty, the rule of law, the independence of journalism and a liberal free society.
We orientate our society based on these beliefs, nonetheless on freedom of religion and the freedom of movement, goods and services. So we have to measure our leaders if they themselves share the core principles that made Western style democracies the greatest places to live on the planet. Prejudices, lack of common knowledge- and -sense have to be called out and fake news have to be fought back. People have to learn to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of competing opinions and interests. Even if it is scary to talk to people who are distancing themselves from education, we still have to tell them that they need to check scientific facts.
Civic engagement needs to become a daily chore for those of us lucky enough to have had the money to become educated. Democracy allows and needs a diversity of views to function and we need to insist on keeping the debate in a civil form. People have to abandon their personal bubble to talk with people who have different believes. We need to call out bullies who make a civil debate a poisoned and futile attempt to come to an agreement.