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Thank you Germany: Part 019: The many citizens’ initiatives also make up the country


Germany is not only made up of football and clubs, cars and beer. Civic initiatives also make up the country. Germans have a particular penchant for civic engagement. They have acquired this historically. The 1960s saw a cultural awakening with protest movements of various kinds. The student protests were followed by the women’s movement, which fought for the rights of female citizens. Then came the peace movement and initiatives against nuclear power. Finally, an environmental movement emerged from which a party of its own was founded: The Greens. Many people also stood up for the rights of lesbians, gays and intersexuals with their own movement.

Again and again, people took to the streets loudly and articulated important demands. As not only politicians spoke out, but also ordinary citizens took the floor in public, a new culture of debate emerged. Even politicians could not easily overlook the demands of large demonstrations. Germans understand that public speaking can also exert influence. Consciously, therefore, they continue to make their own case for their concerns to this day. It is not only at the highest level that people become active. Even in small towns, citizens’ initiatives are formed again and again. Right after clubbing, founding and supporting citizens’ initiatives or petitions seems to be a popular hobby. This is a good thing.

On the one hand, it enlivens the political debate and encourages people to speak up for themselves. On the other hand, such activities have also got important causes off the ground. Civil society engagement has sparked many disputes in society. At the end of each dispute, however, there has always been a balanced judgement. Through engagement, people also realise that politics can be changed. In this way, engagement provides one of the most important foundations for a living democracy. If individual disputes are not decided in favour of one’s own opinion, people can live with that. If, on the other hand, decisions are simply made over their heads, this endangers democracy. The founding of many citizens’ initiatives has contributed to the consolidation of democracy for precisely this reason.

The demonstrations provided an important arena in which the political debate about the contradictions in society can be fought out. Civil society engagement offers young people in particular a good opportunity to bring their own concerns into the social debate. In every new departure in society, young people have always been involved in initiating important debates. As a rule, however, the major initiatives build bridges between generations. They make it clear that a certain problem affects all people and needs to be dealt with. You simply have to appreciate this country for the many citizens’ initiatives and petitions.

They are part of Germany’s lively culture of dispute. And this culture of dispute is also what makes the country. Where people have argued openly, they subsequently find their way back to each other. This is not only evident on a small scale, but also in society as a whole. Civil society in Germany offers platforms for political disputes as well as for coming together.

Last updated on 6. February 2023

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