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

One of the leading West German journalists analyzes the broad spectrum of participants in citizens’ movements, ranging from local reformers to nationalist extremists. He points out their minoritarian understanding of direct democracy and highlights their ambivalent attitude towards the use of force to compel political change.

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An Attack on the Parties or a Vent for Dissatisfaction?

[ . . . ]

The popular movement of citizens’ initiatives, which now probably has more members than the political parties – recent estimates fluctuate around two million – is a very diverse army. There is the massive Federal Association for Environmental Protection (Bundesverband Umweltschutz, BBU) with about 950 member-organizations and 300,000 members. There is also another large organization – partially in competition, partially as a complement – the Association for the Protection of Nature and the Environment, Germany (Bund für Natur- und Umweltschutz Deutschland?*), whose members (estimated at 40,000) belong more to the political conservatives and are considered too loyal to the state and institutions by some hardcore environmentalists. And finally, to cover the other end of the political spectrum, there are various K-[i.e., Communist] Groups, some of which would stage an armed popular struggle if they could, and they would not shy away from the use of violence.

In addition to these large organizations, there are thousands of initiatives that are often known only locally; they lobby for a better – or at least different – form of city planning, organize assistance for foreigners, and speak out for children’s playgrounds, protection against noise, aid for the elderly, the re-socialization of prisoners, and much more. Some initiatives are short-lived spontaneous movements, some become traditionalist associations. Here, the romantic nature-lovers meet the radical changers of society. As the exceptional case in the town of Bergkamen showed, there are some clever guys who sell their protest for a lot of money, and a vast majority of idealists. There are the busybodies who crave recognition that they don’t receive elsewhere, and many, many people whose commitment and sense of political responsibility can hardly be topped – citizens who want to keep democracy alive.

*The name was changed in 1977 to Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND), and it became the German branch of Friends of the Earth in 1989 – trans.

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