Populists in Germany : No Pasarán !

Article published on Sept. 13, 2017
Article published on Sept. 13, 2017

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

On the 24th of September, Germans will choose their destiny by electing their next Parliament. While the country has limited the rise of the extreme right, Alternative Für Deutschland is still predicted about 10% of the vote. But a group of young people with both motivation and imagination have decided to make populism no more than a bad memory in their country. Report. 

What do you reply to a racist remark, or an opinion you don’t like? How do you keep calm and keep dialogue open while avoiding confrontation? On the website Kleiner Fünf advice is lavished on enquirers wanting to know how to prevent certain simplistic, sometimes hate-filled discourses from spreading without opposition. Amongst the best advice is to have good counterpoints to put to your opponent. And for that, it’s worth being well informed. With information dossiers and witty videos, the collective is trying to put out some explanations on the intentions of the populist and far right parties which are proliferating in Germany. 

« We are motivators »

What does Kleiner Fünf have in its sights? One party is of particular cause for concern: Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Created in 2013, the movement has seen rapid growth and is now predicted between 9% and 11% of the vote in the polls for the next legislative elections on the 24th September. Under the German electoral system, a party receiving over 5% of votes can enter the Bundestag (the Parliament) and appoint deputies. The aim of Kleiner Fünf – which means “Less Than Five” – is to do whatever it can to ensure that the AfD don’t reach this significant threshold. 

Created in May 2016, the collective comprises around a hundred people spread all over Germany. A lot of its campaigning is online but also on the ground. “What we do is motivate people to act. We are motivators” explains Paulina Fröhlich, the organisation’s spokeswoman “We don’t represent any party or political position. We just don’t want a xenophobic party to be able to enter parliament, and for it to not only gain institutional influence and media exposure but to also receive public money. Money it would invest in reproducing its ideas for future generations.”

One evening a week Paulina and her friends meet in the Wedding area of Berlin for a bill sticking mission. The project has the look of militant action about it but Kleiner Fünf’s posters don’t necessarily have anything to do with traditional political propaganda. They feature animals: an eagle, an elephant, a dove. And most of all they look like Missing ads. “Where is Horst? Where is Frieda?”….The collective tries to be innovative in its methods of engaging in political dialogue. They continually mix the real and the digital world. So, if a passer-by takes the little detachable tab from the Missing poster he will find out from the web address written on it where (and who) Frieda is, or Carlo, or Timon. Each animal mascot represents one of the big ideas which could be threatened by the rise of right wing populism: Europe, Social Security, diversity, federalism or even historical memory. 

The full programme of action imagined by the collective takes a somewhat idiosyncratic approach. Another intervention involves giving out little “Engagement rings” to encourage abstainers to vote. How? The “Motivators” try to convince someone they know to “get engaged” to go with them to the polling station, just like you’d get engaged to be married. They pop the question “Would you vote with me?” in the traditional way down on one knee. When they agree to go with their proposer the lucky “fiancé(e)” will represent one more vote in the polls but most importantly a vote which won’t be for AfD. The results on a party basis are calculated by percentage of votes cast. So every abstaining voter affects the final swing of results.

Upside down politics

Every week the collective emails out “Calls to Action” Each person should try to commit five minutes of their time. For a generation which apparently spends more time “Liking” then being active in a party or political movement, it’s not easy to combat “slacktivism”. Consequently Kleiner Fünf proposes really easy things to do, as well as little “activism kits” Their ideas include calls to organise a pub quiz (obviously with political content which will stimulate debate amongst participants), poster sticking, photo competitions, but also addresses of organisations for those who want to take it further than the immediate electoral campaign. “We don’t want to do everything single handed. We’re just a launch platform” adds Paulina “Everyone needs to get involved in the work!” She declares that she’s learnt a lot since starting to work with the Kleiner Fünf team.  “In fact, everything depends on the way you approach someone. If I meet someone who doesn’t seem to have a political opinion, and I try to impose my knowledge and my own views, that person is going to back off from it, and feel intimidated”

In the streets of Wedding, Paulina and her friends are able to approach passers by with good humour with the help of their “engagement rings” Some very diverse situations emerge. A woman says she doesn’t even know where or how to vote. The young people try to advise her on the procedure to follow. A man declares that he won’t be voting. Paulina tries some debating techniques to try to understand his position. She explains later “Most importantly I tried to listen to him, and to get him to speak.  I didn’t tell him what to do. It turns out he is severely disillusioned with politics and doesn’t believe in any of the parties” When he leaves, she says with a smile “At any rate I hope we’ve shown you that there are still some young people like us who do still have faith in the political process!”

The famous “engagement ring” | Mathilde Dorcadie.

The 26 year old explains that it’s more efficient to focus efforts on young people “The new generation is not given to protest voting. They haven’t yet been disappointed by their previous vote. They are also more likely to not vote”  The small group of poster stickers are between 23 and 27 years old. They all heard about Kleiner Fünf through word of mouth. It’s Raphael’s first event. He’s interested to see an easy way of taking political action. Marie and Lore have already responded to other “challenges” set by the “Motivators”. “I’ve also written some articles for the blog and circulated information amongst people I know” Marie states. For these idealists, the best way to instigate change is to start to convince your own circle. Take advantage of a family meal to argue against the AfD. Have a discussion with a neighbour or flatmate about the factual basis of an argument and how to verify statistics. Convince your little brother to go and vote. 

Normally, parties seek to achieve the maximum votes. Kleiner Fünf is seeking the opposite – to achieve the minimum. And each vote not supporting the populist trend will be a small victory for them. 

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This article was written with the support of the Franco-German Youth Office