Inspiration and clarity can sometimes be found in unlikely places. On Friday morning, I was browsing my personal Facebook page when a post from Thomas Gansch, my first interviewee on this blog (and one of the best musicians in Europe) drew my attention, mostly because of the photo of a rather serious bearded man staring out of the page. My German is far from fluent, but I figured out from Thomas’s comment that this post was political or related to current affairs. I’m interested in life and politics from all across Europe, so I thought I’d have a look.
What I discovered, with a little help from Google Translate here and there, is a really interesting project in Austria – Weil’s um was geht! (the bearded man was David Schalko, one of the founders).
In order to better understand this movement, here is some text from their ‘Manifest’ page – translated from the German by both my own limited powers and Google (with apologies to the author). I have interspersed this with how I felt, as I read, in italics:
“The signs in Austria are changing. The old mechanisms of power no longer work, old political realities are in crisis all over the world.
We see this as an opportunity! We want to show how this political change can also lead to a modern, cosmopolitan and progressive society in Austria. It is possible, especially from autumn 2017, a right-wing populist government could be in power, which would throw Austria back by decades and leave all the exciting future topics unanswered.”
(That right-wing populist government is already installed in the UK, in the wake of Brexit. We are already at risk of damaging our future. But I know plenty of people who yearn for that modern, cosmopolitan, progressive society here…)
“What it takes is very simple: a coalition of reason, of the world, of civil society. Just a few months ago, this coalition won the presidential election campaign impressively. At the moment, it seems as if many have already forgotten this success. We do not. We know there is a majority that stands for Europe, for a just and socially balanced policy and for a consistent response to climate change.”
(Of course. We were all pleased when Alexander van der Bellen won the Austrian election, one the first signs that the far right weren’t going to have the Europe-wide success that Brexiteers were predicting. But how easily it is to forget, as the world moves on and the risk is forgotten. Look what happened in the UK when we forgot how delicate the balance is, how easy to lose liberal, democratic, reasonable values. Europe; Society; Climate change. I would agree that these are the greatest challenges we currently face – as responses to my blog interviews have also shown).
“In almost all parties there are these voices, at the moment they are very quiet. That is why we step onto the stage. We want to build pressure so that our country can once again play a pioneering role in the central themes of our time. For this we need many reforms in order to augment Austria and to get rid of the stagnation.
This hard work for Austria must permeate many topics: education and school, health, economic location, science, bureaucracy, climate protection, energies. For far too often, only the enemy images are being discussed, or the politics are lost in apparent debates.
We do not want Austria to take a wrong path. We are committed as an open, civil society initiative of the future of our youth.”
(Yes! We all know those politicians and activists who don’t fit with their party’s overriding ethos – who are freewheeling fighters for social justice, or Europe, or the environment. Those people who tweet in ways, or give interviews, which show they care more about the world, their communities and the future than they do about party politics or loyalty to their leaders. They have been cowed, by Brexit and ‘the will of the people’. But they are returning. There is a feeling… something in the air in the UK, stronger since the 2017 election. The UK always had a pioneering role in the world – why should we reduce ourselves to less than we were, why should we force stagnation on ourselves – ‘to take back control’ in the ugliest way? It is quite right to say that this is not a single issue consideration – this applies in the UK. We must look across politics, society, the economy and more to find the answers. Our young people – already betrayed by the referendum – depend on this.)
“We are against a populist policy of negativity, exclusion, and cynicism. We are the counterpoint to this worldview. Therefore, we will oppose the impending Orban-ising and Trump-ising of Austria with something decent, optimistic, forward-looking, positive, progressive, meaningful and open-minded.”
(I think we can all get behind opposing populism and cynicism – especially since populism seems to have reached its pinnacle with Brexit and Trump and is now waning. It’s harder not to be negative, especially for those of us living in the UK, anxious about Brexit, seeing our society ever more divided. Sometimes, negativity is needed to drive change – we need to talk about how bad things are, in order to seek improvement. However, negativity brought us to Brexit – we heard everything that was bad about the EU and immigration on the Leave side, and every negative connotation of leaving on the Remain side. Neither side told us what to hope for, neither side campaigned in a truly meaningful, optimistic way. Perhaps the optimistic case for Remaining might have been strong enough. We’ll never know. But I keep hearing calls for a centrist, pro-EU campaign group to form. I keep seeing new projects, like my own, with an intention of celebrating Europe, open-mindedness and a progressive path into the future. It feels like there is something in this. It feels like we can find some hope in the ashes…)
I was drinking coffee before work on Friday when I discovered Weil’s um was Geht! It’s not left my mind since. I am involved in party politics, but I am increasingly losing my passion for it. As I see political tribalism distracting intelligent and thoughtful people from the important issues, I wonder what the point of it is, especially in a country like the UK where the electoral system is unrepresentative and therefore people often vote tactically, or for the ‘least bad’ option in their area. I don’t, for a moment, believe all politicians are bad people and I believe there are excellent politicians in most major parties. But the political debate often obscures the clarity of their voices. Politics is so often about showing where you stand compared to other parties rather than expressing what you truly believe. This is even harder for centrist parties, who lack an emotive ideology – being reasonable is hard to get excited about. I believe, more and more all the time, that party politics can’t save the UK – not from Brexit, or from itself. Brexit is, after all, a symptom of many other issues, most of them not at all related to the European Union.
But maybe, just maybe, there is something in these new, positive projects. This weekend sees the first birthday of the wonderful The New European newspaper, meant as a 4-week pop up. It’s a publication which is unceasingly progressive and good-humoured, even whilst fighting Brexit. It fights for the hopeful vision of liberal, reasonable, progressive people. Fighting for something, rather than against something, is so much more motivating to get behind.
I have recently discovered, through my blogging and Twitter activities, several very positive projects related to Europe – Letters 2 Europe, Dear Europe, Positively European – all smaller scale than The New European and certainly not as formalised as Weil’s um was geht! – but all making their mark in celebrating humanity, what we have in common, a reasonable and compassionate world view. The appetite is there, perhaps it just took Brexit for us to realise it.
We need these new projects. We need new social spaces – online and offline. We need to find our humanity in the arts and creativity. We need to find ourselves again. But perhaps all the positive projects will begin to converge. Perhaps someone will form our own version of Weil’s um was geht!, whatever that would look like in the Brexit-striven UK. I know reading about their project has inspired me to seek it out, help give it a push if needed.
I think the time is now upon us. Perhaps hope can save the world – if we look from our current dark place towards the light and keep going forwards.
For further information, here is the Weil’s um was geht! credo:
For some, politics is a cynical game, we stand for honest commitment.
For some, headlines are the goal, we stand for results, reforms and future-oriented.
For some, the aim is to be tantalizing and agitating, we stand for objectification.
For some it’s about playing against each other, we stand for attitude and decency.
We want to face the challenges of digitization and the radical transformation of our economy, seize the opportunities, recognize the dangers and set the course for more justice.
We do not want to forget climate change as the greatest global threat to future generations and use it as a push for a reform of our economic and tax system.
We want a refugee policy in the sense of integration, human rights and sustainable solutions. This can only be achieved at EU level, through better foreign policy and more efficient aid and development work on the ground. We should be pioneers and not misuse this issue for small domestic policy.
We want a women’s policy that creates fair opportunities and reduces poverty and inequality.
We believe that in 2017, Austria has earned a government majority that works on these exciting future topics without cheap populism. We, our children and our parents deserve it.
We are not behind a single party, we are non-partisan and stand for an optimistic attitude for our country.