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Civic Movements between Peaceful Protest and Outbreaks of Violence (August 5, 1977)

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The citizens’ initiatives for environmental protection are definitely a popular movement, and in recent years they have grown far beyond the initial participation rate of 17 percent. At their emotional and political core is the struggle against nuclear power, and their mood is similar to that of the student rebellions in the 1960s. They are profoundly disappointed in the Establishment and see the ugly face of the system in everything.

“In-party disputes and intrigues, scandals and affairs caused by party politicians, nepotism, public confrontation by the parties on just about every subject . . . ,” is how Hans Günter Schumacher, deputy chair of the BBU, paints the political parties. His judgment on the ability of the political parties to take up the problems of the citizens is scathing. “Any reference to being a ‘people’s party’ does not apply at the moment to either the CDU/CSU or the SPD. The constitutional obligation of the parties to contribute to articulating the political will of the people is misrepresented. This ‘contribution’ has turned into a claim to power in many cases. The oft-claimed closeness to the people has been increasingly exposed as a distance from the people, even a hostility toward them. Current examples such as regional reforms, the pension debacle, the closing of railroad lines, the cost explosion in health care, the lack of any strategy as regards energy policies, and many more, clearly show how bureaucratized our public life, and how high-handed our state and its institutions, have become. . . .”

Like the members of the student movement, environmentalists also have a very strong sense of being an elite. This can partly be explained by the fact that the initiatives are indeed filled with many committed idealists, but the elitist conviction of seeing through the political system and having recognized its main danger is also widespread: It slithers without a leader into the world of the nuclear civilization. The decision for or against nuclear energy is for some environmentalists the difference between false or correct consciousness, and this certainty of being in the right leads to a missionary zeal.

A third similarity to the extra-parliamentary opposition (APO) of the 1960s is very obvious. The certainty of having recognized the truth leads to an unwillingness to compromise. Compromise is inevitable in political affairs and it even makes normal politics possible in the first place, but it is totally underdeveloped among the environmental citizens’ initiatives. From this inability to compromise comes a tendency to violate legality in the name of a higher legitimacy. The boundaries with violence get fuzzy, and some particularly militant groups do not acknowledge these boundaries at all anymore.

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