#70: "Peaceful" May Day, German pacifism, Modi visit, Getir workers
Plus a campaign to give Ausländer the right to vote
How things change. It seems like yesterday most of the world agreed with British journalist John Kampfner when he wrote his book Why the Germans Do It Better - notes from a grown-up country. Since February, when Germany pathetically announced it was sending 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, the world has seen another Germany: an immature giant at the heart of Europe trying to hide from the full reality of a brutal war a few hundred kilometres from its borders.
Despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s bold declaration that Germany was entering a “new era” of assuming more responsibility for European defence days after the Russian invasion began, his statements on military support for Ukraine have been confused and contradictory. One day he’ll say shipments of heavy weapons would be seen as an escalation and even provoke a Russian nuclear strike. The next he’ll announce the delivery of anti-aircraft tanks (heavy weapons!) to Ukraine. But then it turns out they’re 40 years old and lack ammunition (there’s some in Brazil, apparently). The depleted German military, it seems, has virtually nothing left to give.
German pacifism — which was recently seen internationally as mature and reasonable — is now considered by many western nations to be toxic and irresponsible. And it won’t go away. On Friday, 28 German prominent artists and intellectuals caused a stir with an open letter to Scholz opposing arms shipments in the feminist magazine Emma. The letter received a lot of support but was also blasted in much of the media as navel-gazing, Russia-appeasing and arrogantly dismissive of Ukrainians’ right to self-determination.
I wouldn’t want to be in Scholz’s shoes. The coming weeks and months will be hugely challenging for Germany, still uncomfortable with its own size, still unwilling to grow up and assume responsibility. I expect the government’s approach will continue to be ultra-cautious. Outsiders will condemn it as too slow and too little. For the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, Scholz’ plodding, deliberative approach is wise and prudent in the face of a potential nuclear escalation. I hope he’s right.
Read the Berlin news below.
The Berlin corona stats for Tuesday, May 3
Received booster: 60.6% (60.4% Friday)
New cases in one day: 2,938 (3,506 Friday)
Total deaths: 4,489 (+9 over Friday)
🔴 7-day Covid-19 incidence (cases per 100,000): 458.4 (518.9 Friday)
🔴 7-day hospitalization incidence (also per 100,000): 10.2 (8.7 Friday)
🟡 Covid-19 ICU patient occupancy: 5.7% (6.2% Friday)
Source: Berlin’s corona page
Indian PM in Berlin
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Berlin on Monday as part of a three-day European tour. He met Chancellor Olaf Scholz and held an event for members of Germany’s Indian community at a Potsdamer Platz theatre — where fans chanted “2024: Modi once more”. On the street outside, protesters drew attention to Modi’s record of human rights abuses in India.
May Day score card
The annual May 1 “revolutionary” demonstration (2022 slogan: “No war but class war”) in Kreuzberg feels more like a sporting event than anything else at this point. Journalists are interested mostly in the level of violence and how the cops responded. This year’s demo on Sunday was the “most peaceful May in decades” according to the Berlin police. “Only” 74 people were arrested. “Only” 23 police officers were injured. And a mere 18 cars burned. Last year, 93 cops were injured, and that number was often in the hundreds in previous years.
Covid testing in schools extended
Berlin government — the Senat — will extend corona testing of pupils at least through June 8, public broadcaster RBB reported Monday, but the frequency will be reduced to twice a week, down from three times. Testing at daycare centres will end completely on May 9. The Senat is expected today to shorten the period infected people should self-isolate from five days (down from 10) or two days if they are symptom-free and can show a negative test.
Works council at Getir
Grocery delivery app Getir has set up a committee to organise the election of a works council (Betriebsrat, an inhouse body that represents employees at German companies) — but the Getir Workers Collective said very few workers actually knew about the meeting and suspected that the firm was trying to install a management-friendly council. “A committee for works council elections at Getir Germany is to be elected apparently without warehouse workers, especially the riders and pickers,” Maria of Getir Workers Collective told taz newspaper at a protest in front of the Turkish unicorn’s Berlin HQ. A works council was recently elected at competitor Gorillas. An estimated 60,000 Berliners work in the delivery sector and it is believed that 80 percent of them are non-native German speakers, which makes it easier for firms to deny workers basic rights, according to activists.
Getting German doctors paperless
Berlin start-up Nelly is determined to move German doctors beyond the paper era with tools that digitise documents, signatures and payments. They’ve now attracted €4m in seed funding. Seems like a market with potential. But will I be able to e-mail my Hausärtztin?
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Longish read: Getting the 20 Percent the right to vote
A group of Berlin activists wants to increase participation in Germany’s democracy, at least in part by allowing the 20 percent of Berliners without a German passport to vote in all elections – local and national as well as referendums.
The group, Demokratie für Alle (Democracy for all), launched a petition March 10 that has three demands, including allowing foreigners who’ve lived here for three years to vote.
“In Germany alone there are 10 million people who can’t vote and in Berlin 20 percent of the population,” said initiative representative Nora Circosta. “Very often, the issues affect them just as much as Germans – Kitas and taxes.”
The petition, officially known as an initiative, has six months from the launch on March 10 to gather 20,000 valid signatures but the activists want to get enough this month to give signature teams capacity for other initiatives and referendums. The petition can’t lead to new laws because it’s an initiative instead of a referendum.
Electronic signatures in this digital desert?
Instead, the Berlin parliament would have to respond to the activists’ three demands: Lowering the voting age to 16, allowing anyone who’s lived in Germany for three years to vote and to permit digital signature-gathering on initiatives and referendums.
“The electronic signature would also make it easier for people with disabilities to participate,” Circosta said. Currently, petitions for initiatives and referendums, including this one, have to be signed in-person. “Everyone should be able to participate in a democracy.”
The activists intentionally opted for an initiative because foreigners living in Berlin are allowed to sign petitions for initiatives. Symbolism, anyone?
Demokratie für Alle may find allied ears with their petition. The three-way coalition between the leftwing Die Linke, center-left SPD and environmentalist Greens that governs Berlin has already secured enough votes to lower the voting age in Berlin elections to 16, making good on a campaign promise.
First in Germany
However, few politicians have addressed the 20 percent voting issue – EU citizens can already vote in borough elections in Berlin and many European countries already grant long-term foreign residents some form of voting rights, according to The Local. Austria, France, Italy and Germany are the exceptions.
Circosta admits the move would be novel and is skeptical that it will happen any time soon: “But sometimes things go faster than expected,” she said.
To sign the petition (by printing an A4 and sending it in!) or learn more, go to demokratie-für-alle. And here’s an English pdf with the basics. We’ll keep you updated, especially if you can vote. - Andrew Bulkeley
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Loved the commentary on German pacifism. Feels nothing short of "wishy-washy" and I was glad to read your observations which sum it up perfectly.