21st Karlsruhe Dialogues – Abstracts

Rising Anger at ‘the system’: why the European Union is in crisis

Alan Johnson

An anger against ‘the system’, implacable and spectacular, is causing long-established party systems to dissolve, trust in elites, experts, and even basic science to collapse, and racism to rear its ugly head again. Democratic norms and institutions are openly disdained; illiberal and authoritarian ideas from the alt-right and far left are moving from the fringe; and everywhere, truth and civility are squeezed out amid rancour and conspiracism. And ‘we good liberals’, as Richard Rorty used to put it, keep losing.


This paper claims that part of the answer is that (i) there is a system – we can lose the scare quotes –, and 40 years of rising neoliberal individualism and spreading neoliberal global capitalism have produced a definite ‘economics of anger’ in the West. (ii) The European Union has been radically reshaped by that heedless system. (iii) The anger will not abate, our societies will continue to crack up, opening the door to extremisms, until we find ways to – I put this provocatively – ‘stop the world and let people get off’. We need an alternative vision of modernity, an alternative economics, and a post-liberal philosophy in order to pursue not a new utopia but societies of human flourishing within stable and meaningful communities.


The Enemies of Pluralistic Societies: Youth, and the Challenge it Represents

Tom Junes

When communist regimes met their demise in Eastern Europe in 1989, student youth throughout the Soviet bloc countries had been on the frontline of grassroots mobilisation of the opposition. The demise of communism followed the end of dictatorships and authoritarian rule, where youth had similarly played their role opposing the regimes. Following the events of 1989, a wave of optimism and enthusiasm swept over Europe as Eastern Europe hailed its ‘return to Europe’, even though shortly after, Europe saw civil war, violent bloodshed, and genocide return on the territory of former Yugoslavia. But then, once again, the young generation spearheaded a movement that led to the ouster of Slobodan Milošević. With the enlargement of the EU, the 21st century seemed to start off on a positive note for Europe while other countries, such as Ukraine, saw political events like the Orange Revolution in 2004 – again with student youth playing a crucial role – apparently signalling a trend to come.

From today’s perspective, these sentiments seem like nostalgic musings about a long-gone era. The global financial crisis of 2008 swept away the optimism and hit the younger generation particularly hard. At present, barely a day goes by without the media trumpeting about a crisis of Europe, the rise of illiberalism and authoritarianism, and the possibility of a new Cold War. In the view of many commentators, a gloomy time has set upon us. In my talk, I would like to reflect upon how youth are reacting to this situation in different countries, based on a few case studies. Student youth are harbingers of the future; it is therefore worth thinking about the challenge it represents. Basing my argument on the topic of political activity of students in Greece, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Poland and highlighting their various stances, an array of problems comes to the fore that policy makers will have to address in the near future in order to deal adequately with the crisis and to find solutions.


Pluralism in Urban Society: Illusions, Realities, Conflicts

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kaschuba

Our cities function both as laboratories and as navigation systems for social developments. As culturally diverse and socially open lifeworlds, they set the course for discourses and values, images and experiences, fashions and lifestyles. This has, at any rate, so far been the case for long stretches of our modernity. However, this might be about to change. With the German political party AfD (Alternative for Germany) and the Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West), with Brexit and Trump, the social rearguard now seems to want to take the lead, both with regard to politics and culture, on a – so to speak – anti-urban path of social division and cultural exclusion. Our societies are thus beginning to be formed into new social camps and fronts which are primarily divided on the question of whether we want, in the future, to live in ever-greater freedom and openness, or under constant control and in supposed security. These discourses and conflicts touch upon our basic understanding of democracy in dramatic fashion.


The Rise of Authoritarianism: Global Trends against Democracy

Suat Kınıklıoğlu

Liberal democracy is in a crisis. Authoritarianism is on the rise everywhere. We see a nativist backlash against cosmopolitanism, diversity, and tolerance. What we have at hand is a well-grounded backlash against the last wave of globalisation. A distinct nationalist-nativist wave is taking over country by country, including strong democracies such as the United States. Those causing this nativist backlash are aggrieved and want to exact vengeance on the global elite, the experts as well as the establishment they feel have left them behind. This new authoritarianism is challenging the status quo, both in the respective domestic settings as well as in the international arena. The post-World War II liberal order is in danger of succumbing if centrists, democrats, and liberals do not take the threat seriously. Russia, Turkey, India, Hungary, the US, and others are slowly but surely working to dismantle the liberal order we have come to enjoy for decades. The European Union as an institution is under threat of disintegration. In order to counter this strong backlash against globalisation we need to recognise the threat first. ‘Aggrieved nativism’ manifests itself with the following characteristics: (1) nationalism, (2) anti-elitism, (3) economic protectionism, (4) revanchism/irredentism, (5) xenophobia/racism, (6) machoism. There is no doubt that we are entering an era of significant instability.

The world of yesterday is no more. Aggrieved nativism is a powerful force challenging the current status quo. Unless liberal politics come up with a coordinated and convincing response, the onslaught is likely to continue. We must stand up for the freedoms and values many of us have taken for granted for decades. We must think smartly and combat the nativist malaise. The alternative is too grim to contemplate.


Can Diversity Embrace Democracy?

Kenan Malik

We live in a time of great anxieties about both diversity and democracy. Fears about immigration and Islam have led to the rise of xenophobic and populist movements. The rise of populism has in turn led to anxieties about democracy.

In this talk, I question the ways in which we think about both diversity and democracy, and the relationship between them. I show that European societies have always been diverse. What is new today is that we see diversity in a different, and much narrower, way. In the past, ‘diversity’ was often seen as internal to a nation, created by class, religious, or language differences. Today it is seen primarily as an external imposition, created by immigration, and viewed largely through the lens of culture.

The grievances of those drawn to populist parties are real; but neither immigration nor diversity are responsible for those grievances. At the same time the rise of populism expresses not the failure, but the success of democracy. The success of politicians such as Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen reveals a problem not with democracy, but with traditional politics.

In this talk, I explore the inextricable link between democracy and diversity, why the two are becoming unstitched, and how, in today’s world, to make a case for both.


Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism

Elham Manea

Should sharia law be introduced into Western countries’ legal systems? This lecture will introduce the main argument of Elham Manea’s book Women and Shari’a Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK. It is a critique of a paradigm that calls for the introduction of Islamic law in Western legal systems as a means of accommodating Muslim minorities. Four dimensions will be highlighted: 1. the actual experience of legal pluralism in Britain and ‘non-Western countries’ and their negative consequences; 2. the type of Islamic law being applied; 3. the social context of closed communities within which this law is being implemented – where both young women and men are subjected to a suffocating social control; 4. and the role played by two types of Islamism (fundamentalist Islam and political Islam) in promoting Islamic law in non-Islamic societies.


Populism: Democracy’s Achilles Heel?

Prof. Dr. Jan-Werner Müller

Populists often claim that they are the true democrats. Is there something to this claim? Or are the populists dangerous to democracy precisely because they can speak its language while hollowing it out from within? This presentation offers a definition of populism, discusses some of its causes, and provides suggestions on how to deal with populists in a democratic way.


Racism and Radical Nationalism: On the Current Situation in Poland

Prof. Dr. Rafał Pankowski

Arguably, the radicalisation of national identity discourse has been one of the most discernible features of Polish public life in recent years. The nationalist identity discourse is not confined to the field of political rhetoric. Importantly, it is embedded in the realms of the media and popular (youth) culture.

My goal is to provide at least a partial answer to the question how it was possible for the extreme right and for national populism to make such rapid advances into the Polish political mainstream. In particular, what were the symbolic resources they used and the cultural frames that informed their outlook? What are the ideologies of the Polish extreme right and of national populism?

Since the summer of 2015 (the peak of the televised European refugee crisis), the frequency of public xenophobic manifestations against all types of ‘otherness’ has grown sharply, as illustrated by the anti-Muslim demonstration in Wroclaw in November 2015, which – symbolically – culminated in the burning of a puppet that was supposed to represent a Jew. According to data collected by the Never Again Association, the scale of both hate speech and hate crimes has increased sharply, despite Poland remaining the most ethnically homogenous society in Europe today. ‘Antisemitism without Jews’ has been supplemented by a new discursive phenomenon that can be labeled as ‘Islamophobia without Muslims’.

The boundaries of social norms pertaining to expressions of radicalised forms of xenophobia have shifted visibly, especially among the young, not least due to the role of social media as a major identity-shaping platform.


Countering Extremisms: Women’s Role after the Arab Spring

Hajer Sharief

In 2012, an armed group barged in on a meeting on women’s rights in Eastern Libya. All the women who were participating in the meeting instantly distinguished the group as extremists and denominated them as such. However, many members of the international community and many Libyans did not believe them, opposed their view, and thought it was a sign of hostility on the part of the women. Two years later, the Security Council did identify the armed group as extremists. The moral of this story is the following: as long as women’s insights on security issues are not considered, we will keep missing opportunities for a more peaceful response to the rise of violence in local communities. The women in the meeting could identify the armed group as an extremist group because they are the ones who know who the potential extremists or ‘disaffected’ members of the community are because they live with their anger and violence, and they see who is influencing them. Therefore, women can identify the early symptoms of extremism in their communities and can play an active role not only in countering, but also in preventing violent extremism.


Interventional Politics: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned?

Emma Sky

Interventions – and non-interventions – in the Middle East have led to a break down in the sense of an international community. The Iraq war was the catalyst; and the collective failure of the international community to respond to the carnage in Syria is the evidence. The 2003 Iraq war should not have happened. But nothing that happened in Iraq after 2003 was inevitable. There were hopes of a world without Saddam Hussein; and missed opportunities to create a better order. The primary cause of the civil war in Iraq was state collapse. The secondary cause was the nature of the peace settlement. In Syria, the United Nations Security Council has failed to prevent atrocities, protect civilians, or hold anyone to account. There has been complete impunity for torture, the use of chemical weapons, the destruction of religious sites, the deliberate targeting of hospitals.

The chaos of civil wars created the conditions for the rise of extremist groups. ISIS is not the root cause of the problems in Iraq and Syria – it is a symptom of failed politics and broken governance.

Our experience in the West has shown that pluralism deters the retreat into tribe; that democracy is the best antidote to war; and that liberal internationalism is the alternative to fear of others.


Democracy and Media Freedom: New Polish Unfreedom

Bartosz Wieliński

The Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has been ruling Poland since November 2015, is seeking to comprehensively restructure Polish society. Under the pretext that the development that took place over the last 25 years in Poland was unjust and almost exclusively served former Communist Party officials as well as the intelligence services – which have built up a criminal network in the country – the party is preparing to dismantle the established democratic institutions so as to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian power.

This campaign has already yielded its first victims. The Constitutional Court was first paralysed, then taken over by lawyers loyal to the party, and thus can no longer be considered an independent authority. The public media was utterly subordinated to the government, and has been spreading pure party propaganda ever since. The Polish government is going to go further, however, and intends to bring the entire judiciary under its control, to limit the freedom of non-governmental organisations, and to change electoral law in such a way that the dominance of the PiS Party on Poland’s political stage will be guaranteed. At the same time, the police and intelligence services are being given new and virtually unlimited investigative authority. And the party’s leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, is even publicly saying that the media that are still independent of the government must be legally forced to tell the truth. When a politician with authoritarian tendencies speaks of an obligation to tell the truth, he is referring to a muzzle for journalists. A collapse of the freedom of the press in Poland is unfortunately on the horizon.

In my presentation, I will describe the daily life of independent journalists in the land of the PiS. How can we manage to obtain information when all the government’s doors are closed to us, when we are treated as undesirables? How can one work while constantly struggling with party officials and propagandists? How can one remain objective despite this? Are journalists willing and able to defend freedom in Poland? These are the questions I want to answer. I must warn you, however: It will not be a happy story.