Dealing with populism: shrill versus loud

The AfD calls for shoot-to-kill orders and makes fun of counter-gendered language. The opposing side shouts back loudly. Is a dialogue possible?

That’s the sound, 2015: "FCK AfD" – for some, the message is clear. But the others wonder: is that hairspray? Photo: dpa

There have been numerous situations in recent months that have shown how poisoned the debate culture in Germany currently is. An SPD politician referred to a section of citizens as a "pack." The "pack," in turn, carried a symbolic gallows reserved for them through the streets. A CDU politician stated on the record that he would "shoot himself" if he were married to a certain AfD politician. In talk shows, publicists talk about Frauke Petry as if she were not there, while she sits smiling next to them.

And AfD people advocate a firing order at the border and half-heartedly retract the statement, but only when it is in the world.

Some cry "uberfremdung", others react indignantly and rail against "right-wing populists", "agitators" and "racists". Shouting against the shouting.

It is apparently difficult to mediate between welcome culture and fear of over-foreigning. It’s as if a barrier were stretching through Germany. And on both sides there are people with megaphones and ear muffs: they are loud because they want to be heard, but they don’t listen to what is echoing back from the other side. Where there could be debate, there is a double monologue. And that is an expression of speechlessness.

Clash in Trier

Is dialogue possible in this heated atmosphere? taz author Arno Frank went to an election campaign event in Trier together with AfD supporters to attend an event organized by the party that was billed as a "dialogue". 150 AfD sympathizers and about 100 AfD opponents met in an event hall in Trier to – well, actually, to talk. In the hall, he experienced Beatrix von Storch, who, among other things, made fun of counter-gendered language. He describes his impressions in an essay in the taz.am wochenende of February 20/21.

And he looks for a framework in which dialogue with populists could succeed.

Where does our speechlessness towards populists come from? An essay by Arno Frank in the taz.am wochenende of February 20/21. Also: Shanna Nemtsova is the daughter of the Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered a year ago. She lives in exile in Germany. Interview. And: A glittering chapter of pop history – a visit to the Caufner sisters, a one-hit wonder from the GDR. At the kiosk, eKiosk or right away in a handy weekend subscription.

How do we find our way back to a conversation? In any case, mutual vituperation and insults don’t help. They satisfy one’s own conscience. But no one’s opinion changes as a result. In discussions on less polarizing topics, it’s not those who insult the loudest who are the most convincing.

Wouldn’t it be better to escape the "screaming spiral," as the publicist Sascha Lobo called it, and show the others why you think their positions are wrong? One would then argue that people from war zones do not come to Germany because they want to murder and rape here, but because they are fleeing from murderers and rapists. You could also say that they cannot easily defend their country when fighter jets drop bombs on their heads. Or when the highly armed militias of the Islamic State are on their doorstep with modern tanks. One could argue that individual crimes by refugees are not generalizable and that the crime rate around refugee homes has not increased significantly.

All not so simple

A few level-headed arguments, one might think, and the climate would be less poisoned. But it’s not that easy either. Both sides, left and right, agree on one thing: that their position is the right one. There is a lack of interest in putting oneself in the other’s shoes and questioning one’s own position. Do they really take the other person and his or her concerns seriously?

But Arno Frank also asks: Is there any point in a conversation at all?

How do we talk to populists? Isn’t our shouting just an expression of speechlessness? What conditions are necessary to build bridges? How can dialogue about the indiscreet work? Do you believe that dialogue is possible at all? Or are some statements simply indisputable?

Join the discussion!

Read the cover story "Because… fuck you!" can be read in the taz.am wochenende of February 20/21, 2016.