In Silencing Its People, China Invites Disaster

From repression on the mainland to tightening its grip on Hong Kong, the actions of the Chinese government in 2020 have only confirmed its authoritarian nature and lack of respect for human rights and dignity. Despite its disastrous initial cover-up, China’s health response has seemingly since been effective. But, from unemployment to inequality, the ripple effects of Covid-19 will be massive in China as everywhere.

In the Xinjiang region, over one million members of the Uighur minority continue to be held in detention camps. In Hong Kong, the new security law has effectively ended the city’s political autonomy and democracy. Since the law was passed in late June, many political activists have gone underground and crimes such as “subversion” risk life sentences. Badiucao is a world-renowned dissident cartoonist based in Australia. His art speaks to the struggle between humanity and repressive, hypocritical power. Ewa Dryjańska interviewed him about his journey, the current situation in Hong Kong and China, and the future of democracy around the world.

Ewa Dryjańska: How did you become a cartoonist?

Badiucao: By accident. I started making cartoons in 2008, around the time of the Zibo train crash in China, in which many people died and were injured. The incident provoked a public outcry in the country. People were commenting on Weibo, a social media platform similar to Twitter. I wanted to be a part of the discussion. I am not so good with words but I’ve always had a passion for drawing and art. That’s how it started.

You studied law. Does that mean that you were also interested in the relationship between the state and the individual, but in the end you chose the path of art?

I studied law at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai. It was not my first choice, but rather my family’s expectation. They wanted me to work as a lawyer or in another highly paid profession. But my family history gave me quite a different idea as to who I could be. My grandparents were filmmakers in China. They were persecuted by the government in the Hundred Flowers Campaign, which targeted artists and intellectuals, and they died as a result. That’s why my family has never wanted me to be an artist. They discouraged me from doing anything creative, believing it could bring bad fortune to the family. But sometimes, you know your destiny. I believe that mine is to create art for issues I truly care about.

Do you think that your studies and the tragic history of your family influenced your creativity as a political cartoonist?

Absolutely. Being an artist is one thing but being an artist who cares for human rights is another. The books that I read, the stories and ideas that I learned helped me to shape my understanding of the rule of law, democracy, and the difference between the systems of China and so-called Western civilisation. Universities in China are tightly controlled by the government. It is not easy to perceive things differently through the education system in this country. But I was lucky enough to have some brave and independent teachers that taught me truthfully about politics and human rights. That helped shape me into who I am as a political cartoonist today.

My family history shielded me from all this education propaganda, enabling me to tell the difference between truth and lies.

How successful is the education system in China at encouraging support for the state as well as patriotic attitudes and behaviour among citizens?

This system is designed to control people, no doubt about it. But they cannot control every individual. There will always be something beyond control, especially when it comes to what people say. Thanks to that, I had the opportunity to meet good teachers at university. There are not many, but it takes just one or two to open your mind to the world. My family history shielded me from all this education propaganda, enabling me to tell the difference between truth and lies. I will always be vigilant when it comes to China’s narrative of itself and its education system. I will always check things myself before accepting anything.

Did your objections make you stand out in China, or were they shared by your colleagues?

I didn’t express my political stance while living in China because the whole situation was quite oppressed. Everyone concentrated on getting a job and starting a family. I only started to show my character and speak out against the Chinese government after I had left the country. Only after arriving in Australia and escaping censorship did I feel at liberty. My studies in China prepared me for that stage.

Some scholars working on the political history of China argue that Chinese – and generally East Asian – values are different to the Western values of individualism and democracy. They recall, for example, the genesis of the first emperor and the political philosophy which supported him: legalism (fajia), an ancient version of totalitarianism. What is your opinion?

The idea that cultural differences mean that Chinese and East Asian people don’t understand the value of democracy or freedom is total nonsense. Just look at Taiwan, Japan or Korea. These countries are good examples of how East Asian – or more precisely the Confucian circle – countries can adopt Western values. In reality, these values are not so Western and they are not so old. When we think about the genesis of democracy, we think of the ancient Greeks. But that system was very different from modern democracy. It was not built on universal human rights but the interests of the privileged caste, on a system of oppression. Democracy and human rights as we know them today are a very modern product of the civilisation born after the Enlightenment, about 300 years ago. Let’s not forget that Europe was under the sway of the Church for centuries.

These values are comprehensible for anyone, regardless of race or culture. If we examine Chinese culture carefully, there are certain ideas which are very close to democracy and freedom even in Confucian theory itself. For example, one of the sayings of the philosopher Mencius was that the people were more important than the ruler. He also emphasised feedback from the people. Of course, the idea of democracy was not prominent in Chinese history, but there are nevertheless points where elements of democracy existed, especially at the beginning of the civilisation. Instead of saying that the Chinese are different because they didn’t develop democracy, we should think about the positive side of the country’s history.

This desire for democracy is visible in Hong Kong…

For Hong Kong, it is even stronger. When Hong Kong was a British colony, it was not given full democracy. What the protestors want now is not partial democracy, but full democracy as in the rest of the Free World. Ultimately, we are all the same and can tell the difference between good and bad.

It seems that the Chinese central government is tightening its grip not only on Hong Kong and ethnic minorities like Uighurs and Tibetans but also common citizens through surveillance and the social credit system. Do you think that it can still be stopped?

Modern technologies assist authoritarian regimes in oppression and make social control much easier. But freedom and democracy are needed for a prosperous economy too. The so-called Chinese economic miracle has come to an end because it is not enough for reforms to be only economic. The Chinese government will have to do more to make the system freer and avoid corruption, contrary to what they are doing now. The more they control society, the less creativity there is. Unless they somehow manage to stimulate the economy, the slowdown will pose the fundamental challenge for the authorities: the loss of their legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

A government that doesn’t allow people to speak out about dangers will eventually be swallowed by disaster.

That’s the dilemma faced by the Chinese government and that’s why it is not sustainable. Although they deny this and claim that China is an alternative model for civilization, so many events, including Covid-19, are a result of Chinese censorship. The authorities had multiple chances to stop the pandemic. Luckily, even in this tightly controlled society, heroes like Doctor Li Wenliang dared to speak out about the dangers of the virus.

The Chinese system was unable to prevent the coronavirus crisis and now the whole world is paying the price. The Chinese government is currently trying to portray itself as a kind of saviour – the country that managed the virus most successfully. But the price that the Chinese people paid was never revealed to the public. We will never know how many people died in Wuhan and other cities. A government that doesn’t allow people to speak out about dangers will eventually be swallowed by disaster.

China’s influence extends well beyond its own borders and even global powers try to avoid angering Beijing. When Australia suggested an independent international investigation into the coronavirus outbreak, France replied that instead of looking for who is guilty we should focus on combating the virus. Are you afraid of growing Chinese influence worldwide?

Giving way in the name of short-term gains such as the favour of the Chinese government or cheap products is a dangerous move. The Chinese system behaves like a virus: not satisfied with staying in the country, it wants to introduce the model elsewhere. The question is why are some so easily led by Chinese money, and at what price. By getting too close to China and relying too heavily on its market, they put their own countries at risk.

But it’s not only the financial aspect. The Australian government was right to insist on an investigation into the outbreak from early on because it could help prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Of course, it is important to deal with the virus right now, but I see no reason not to investigate the origins of the virus meanwhile. China is now sending threats: “We’re the world’s biggest supplier of medical equipment. If you investigate the origins of the outbreak or the role of the Chinese government, we’ll stop deliveries.” What kind of behaviour is that? China is bullying the rest of the world. How do we deal with terrorism and bullying? We do not compromise. We should fight back. That is why Australia should insist on the inquiry.

Whistleblowers are warning that governments, even democratic ones, may use this pandemic as an excuse to increase the surveillance of their citizens. Do you sometimes wonder whether democratic countries will be tempted to follow China’s path?

Every government is susceptible to corruption. But Western countries have democracy, rule of law, and means to restrain power that are absent in China. The Chinese government is trying to normalise the exchange of citizens’ freedom in the name of protection and safety. In one Chinese city, a programme was recently introduced which obliges citizens to declare their health status to the government online, and the authorities want to make this permanent. It is a major violation of privacy and the danger is that even the Free World will try to justify taking privacy away from citizens.

Every government is susceptible to corruption. But Western countries have democracy, rule of law, and means to restrain power that are absent in China.

Privacy is also related to the manipulation of public opinion, which is the ultimate threat to democracy. When public opinion is manipulated, there can be no fair elections or referendums. I believe that this was the case in 2016 with the UK’s Brexit referendum and possibly the US presidential elections, due to Russian influence. But democratic societies do have free media, and there are even great whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange that keep power in check. These don’t exist in China. There‘s no New York Times or Washington Post. There‘s no Edward Snowden – just one doctor who ends up at the police station the day after speaking out. This lack of freedom is precisely why democratic governments should not adopt the Chinese way.

Could the current situation influence how China is perceived worldwide? What about in China itself?

For those worldwide who were sympathising with China, this is a good opportunity to reflect on whether this beautiful story is true or not. China presents itself as a saviour but the pressure is already being turned up regarding the crisis. It must be said that the American administration is playing a dirty game by blaming China entirely for its own mismanagement of the virus. The public should question the actions of their governments as well as how China let this virus become a global threat.

the American administration is playing a dirty game by blaming China entirely for its own mismanagement of the virus.

As for the Chinese people, it is hard to say due to censorship and lack of free expression. You can never tell what people think because it’s just too risky to speak up. After Doctor Li died, Chinese internet platforms were flooded with mourning and anger. I think that this outpouring was just the tip of the iceberg. However, there was a harsh crackdown and this was silenced very forcefully. But who knows what will be the final straw? Maybe the Hong Kong protesters, maybe the concentration camps in Xinjiang, maybe the Tibetan movement or even Taiwan. People in China are not just dull slaves, they have their own thoughts. If they were given the time and space to act, change in China would be inevitable.

Why did you decide to reveal your face? For a long time, not only your real name but also your appearance was hidden. The Chinese secret service is very active abroad, including in Australia where you live and where several scandals involving Chinese nationals have occurred.

It was not a choice that I made but rather a situation I was put into. My identity became compromised before I revealed my face. My family in China was threatened by the authorities and they demanded I stop making art. That was three days before my first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at the end of 2018. After that, I decided to reveal my face in a documentary about my art called China’s Artful Dissident, which was released in 2019 on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. It was not an easy choice. I don’t know exactly when or how my identity was compromised. The Chinese spying network is very active globally, especially in Australia where we have a huge Chinese population. I receive digital threats daily and I have been followed by suspicious people, probably members of the Chinese spying network. My internet has also been attacked. This is the reality that most of dissidents face, and to think that I am just an artist, not a hardline revolutionary.

Europe and the Western Balkans: Dull Reality and Unrealistic Expectations

French President Emmanuel Macron made headlines in October 2019 for vetoing EU accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. But the stalling accession process for the Western Balkans as a whole cannot be put down to one country’s obstructionism. For leaders in the region, EU membership risks losing control over power and patronage. For EU leaders, it is a political headache that they would rather avoid. Writer and diplomat Zlatko Dizdarević analyses how and why the process seems to be going nowhere, as both parties turn in upon themselves. From the wider geopolitical game to the re-emergence of tensions in the region, he warns of the risks that continued ambiguity and pretence could bring. 

To both outside observers and increasing numbers of its citizens, the European Union is turning into an arena of various political absurdities. This slide is happening slowly but surely regardless of how hard officials in Brussels try to explain it away. The facts unambiguously show the EU now is far from the relations, standards, political logic, and even the principles on which the EU rested when the so-called Thessaloniki promise was signed 16 years ago with unconditional commitment: the future of the Western Balkans is in the European Union.

This summer Angela Merkel and Viktor Orbán commemorated August 19, 1989, the historic day when Hungary – then behind the Iron Curtain – opened its border to 700 refugees from East Germany en route to Austria and freedom. Later that year the Berlin Wall would fall. Until this 30th birthday of freedom for refugees, Orbán was a passionate critic of Merkel’s “unforgivable open-door policy” for asylum seekers. However, on this occasion, the fence-building Prime Minister of Hungary was happy to voice his appreciation for the German Chancellor. In response to Orbán’s honeyed insisting on the two countries’ attachment to “European values”, Merkel said loudly that Europe will only be truly united when all the countries of the Western Balkans join the EU.

As shadows fall over much of what Europe promised 20 years ago, there was considerable scepticism, publicly expressed by many in the Balkans, about the declarations made that day. Back in Thessaloniki in 2003, the attitude towards the Western Balkans waiting room was optimistic. This opinion is not based only on the mood or political convictions, but on what were clear and solid criteria for both candidacy and membership in the European Union. In this context, the bitter statement of a German Left MP quoted in European media last year is worth recalling: the EU is now in such a condition that it would not meet the criteria for its membership of itself.

Analysis of the new reality of the EU-Western Balkans processes provide ample evidence of a serious slowdown, even compared to 2018. In some cases, the reality has become still more troublesome. The reasons are twofold. First, there are internal issues that have bred the counter-European mechanism. Second, there is external unwillingness, ignorance or very bad judgment on the part of the EU itself regarding the essence of the local obstructionsto reforms and progress towards the EU. The logic behind the new governing profiteer-nationalist leaders and their parties is simple: any move towards the EU is a major step towards losing their power, based as this is on disorganisation, profiteering, corruption, and a paralysed state.

The limits of the Berlin Process

In the past decade, the most serious attempt of the EU countries to integrate the countries of the Western Balkans is known as the Berlin Process. The first conference of this process, initiated by Angela Merkel, was held in Berlin on August 24 2014.

All these years, the EU structures and administration have formally and routinely engaged in the Berlin Process as an enlarged coalition of ten European Union countries in the name of the region’s further development. First, there were Austria, Croatia, Germany, and Slovenia and then France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Poland, Greece, and Bulgaria joined. Annual meetings of the leaders of these countries have taken place in Vienna, Paris, Trieste, and London. The most recent in Poznan, Poland, was held in July 2019.

These meetings primarily aimed to support the Western Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro – in their efforts towards EU membership, as well as to encourage closer regional cooperation among them. Initial enthusiasm, however, cooled shortly after the first Berlin conference when then newly elected European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made it clear that there would be no further enlargement during his term. Thus, the Berlin Process was, from the start, a plan B for the Western Balkans. It became clear that the enlargement of the EU would be indefinitely delayed. For political elites in the region, the process became an internal issue. In Europe, attention turned to its own unresolved issues, compared to which the Balkans was no longer a priority.

Looking back on five years of the Berlin Process, it seems clear that its goal was not a more thorough involvement in the internal structures and organisation of the Balkan countries. The aim was to assess formal and technical adherence to the EU principles and to ensure the requirements for joining the EU family were met on paper. Too often the distance of Balkan reality was deliberately overlooked, rather than taking the speed and degree of approaching the EU reality as the true criteria for evaluating the European path of the Balkans.

Within many circles in Europe, and the EU administration in particular, the essence of the perpetual problems in the Balkans, primarily connected to historical, national, and religious issues, is misunderstood.

Throughout the Berlin process, the final declarations after meetings did not insist strongly enough on building an unchallenged rule of law as the key condition for future candidates and new members. Attitude towards the rule of law has traditionally been a cornerstone of the capacity for democratic processes in countries that have long inherited the basic principles of statehood and civil society. Unfortunately, this fact seems to apply to Europe, but not to the Balkans. Instead, room for manoeuvre was created for the governing castes, especially in the countries created by the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Many governments formally pledged to accelerate reforms, resolve bilateral disputes, make progress in reconciliation, and deepen regional cooperation. But the lack of elementary understanding of the rule of law and institutionalism in the Balkans seems to have been overlooked for years by the Europeans.

There are many examples in each of the countries aspiring to join the European Union which corroborate this. Although different, they essentially all share a common denominator: a markedly unstructured, systematically disordered and deliberately neglected rule of law, a prerequisite for reform and accession to the European Union. Unfortunately, concrete responses from the EU were not sufficient. The main focus of the EU in general, and regarding Western Balkans, is on the economy, profits, and the market, and this region is not a priority in that regard. Within many circles in Europe, and the EU administration in particular, the essence of the perpetual problems in the Balkans, primarily connected to historical, national, and religious issues, is misunderstood. But it is on these grounds that solutions must be sought, not in compliance with the rules of ‘old Europe’.

Stalling progress across the board

The core of the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina stems from the problems arising from a purposefully disintegrated society. Relations in this multinational and multi-religious country are dominated by deliberately awakened animosities, conflicts, and disagreements. It has been a year since the last elections in October 2018 and central government bodies have not been constituted – from parliaments to the Council of Ministers, which has completely or partially blocked all the reform processes linked to EU membership.

This is not a coincidence. The obstructions are caused and maintained by the leaders of all three national communities, or rather by their leading nationalist parties which Brussels considers their chief partner. The judiciary is the weakest link and is under the absolute control of politics that has assumed constitutional-institutional power while blocking all other mechanisms. The EU, on the other hand, deems the reforms achieved impressive. This cynicism is recognised by the public. The Bosnia and Herzegovina candidacy is yet more distant and the date of the start of the negotiations is absolutely uncertain. The country’s leaders, who issue false statements on a daily basis, are most interested in maintaining the status quo, as it is the only way to preserve their power. For them, every step closer to the EU is fatal because it means better functioning of state institutions, judiciary, press freedom, and reduced ethno-national tensions.

In Montenegro, seven years accession negotiations opened, but with only three of 35 negotiation chapters closed, there is already talk of the EU suspending negotiations. The unacceptably bad situation related to Chapters 23 and 24 (judiciary, rule of law, press freedom, security) contributes to this. Corruption at the highest level is widespread, a fact explicitly criticised by the European Commission in their May report. Even so, Montenegro has withdrawn more than half a billion euros from EU funds between 2007 and 2020.

Serbia entered the EU accession process quite effectively. It gained candidate status in 2012, opened negotiations, opened 13 of 34 chapters, and closed 2. Still, the recognition of Kosovo presents an insurmountable problem. Regarding the solution of this issue, Belgrade is further away today than a few years ago, though not just due to their own fault. European support through the optimistic Brussels process, a mediation initiative that began in 2011, has completely failed. Considering all this, much like Croatia, Serbia is struggling to cope with the extremely retrograde ideological visions of the past, which further narrows their path to a European future.

For them, every step closer to the EU is fatal because it means better functioning of state institutions, judiciary, press freedom, and reduced ethno-national tensions.

North Macedonia has not opened its accession talks, though it made large and painful concessions in early 2019 and changed its name at Greece’s request. Improving neighbourhood relations has been a priority of the Berlin Process, and the new government in Skopje has achieved this goal, including by signing the Treaty on friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation with Bulgaria in 2017. However, the start of North Macedonia’s EU accession negotiations, as recommended by the European Commission, was halted by France in June 2019. Bulgaria is now imposing a condition that requires the national identity of the 19th-century revolutionary Goce Delčev be changed to Bulgarian in Macedonian history textbooks – an example of how the conditions set by the EU member states to non-member countries are far from irrelevant.

Kosovo is blocked in the process together with Serbia. Like Bosnia and Herzegovina, they do not yet have membership status. Both countries, each in their own way, seem to be doing their best to delay as long as possible. Europe has failed in this regard and Kosovo is on the verge of a complete blockade due to unresolved internal relations between Albanians and Serbs, dominant corruption across all parts of the system, and crime and radicalism of every kind.

Albania has been an official candidate for membership since June 2014, but internal relations, corruption, and the strong negative influence of the mafia – both locally and in the diaspora – are clear obstacles in the road ahead. A snap election will hardly fix the situation. The favourable opinion of the European Commission did not help either, as other conditions became more complex.

Many in the Western Balkans hoped that the most advanced candidates in the negotiations would have the opportunity to join in 2025. It was naturally assumed that meeting the membership criteria was unquestionable, and that the EU would continue to show interest in enlargement. In this context, Chancellor Merkel’s aforementioned statement is encouraging. However, in the context of many recent developments, such an explicit statement is somewhat surprising simply because, over the past few years, the whole global reality has changed, from new relations between America and Europe, the Russian factor, Turkey’s position, and developments in the Middle East, to the already devastating situation with refugees and the ‘reorganisation’ of relations within the EU and at its borders.

A new geopolitics

Global geo-strategic relations involving the Western Balkans are becoming more pronounced. The USA is exerting increased influence to round out its strategic power in this zone. Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are officially the last two countries in the Balkans where NATO integration, of great US interest, is not going to plan (North Macedonia is in the process of joining). In Belgrade, there is a direct, unhidden Russian influence. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska entity fully identifies with Belgrade’s political goals and obstructs moves in this direction. Turkey is openly seeking to regain its imperial influence in the Balkans in Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia (especially the Sandžak province), and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular. While the influence on Bosnia and Herzegovina is predominantly religious and cultural, on Belgrade it is economic.

It is hard to believe that the proposed election of László Trócsányi, Hungary’s former Minister of Justice who is very close to President Viktor Orbán, as the Commission’s Enlargement Commissioner, would have helped balance external interests in EU enlargement [for more on the candidacy of László Trócsányi, see here] . The candidate has since been rejected by European parliamentarians for his role in undermining the rule of law in Hungary and at the time of writing it remains unclear who will fill the post. Similarly slim are the prospects of the USA overcoming resistance in Serbia and Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina to joining NATO. The economic vacuum left by the EU in the Western Balkans is rapidly being filled by China with no resistance whatsoever on the part of the citizens of this region.

Moderate optimism feeds on new concepts such as the Regional Organization for Youth Cooperation exchange initiative, and the London and Poznań meetings of the Berlin process strengthened cooperation on security matters and the economy. Such projects undoubtedly contribute to creating a positive atmosphere through meetings of the citizens of the region, especially young and educated people, bringing them closer and contributing to understanding. However, the negative energy that comes from politics interested solely in the survival of corrupt governments sustained by tensions and hollowed-out institutions is much stronger than the optimism of young people who, therefore, move abroad in droves.

The economic vacuum left by the EU in the Western Balkans is rapidly being filled by China with no resistance whatsoever on the part of the citizens of this region.

There are many examples in everyday political life in the Balkans of a lack of political will to solve problems that, if resolved, could have a positive effect on strengthening regional stability. At one point, it was announced that civil society organisations in the Western Balkans intend to set up a Regional Commission to determine the facts of all victims of war crimes and other serious human rights violations committed in the former Yugoslavia. Despite more than half a million signatures in support of the commission in a region of about 18 million people, not all Balkan governments were willing to support the initiative.

The motivation for deeper involvement of governments in the region for activities within the Berlin Process is declining. The lack of prospects for membership makes it difficult to implement the provisions of previous summits. It is increasingly felt, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that despite various, mostly unrealised, initiatives and projects, the European Union has not yet found enough political will to deal with this country and the depressing consequences of its absurd constitutional system seriously. There is a growing belief that the fundamental interest of the international community is to maintain the status quo which suits current oligarchies interested in divisions based on an exclusively ethno-religious concept in the organisation of the state and society.

Croatia takes the EU Presidency

Traces of all this can be seen in the process of European integration of the Western Balkans, in the different attitudes of the EU countries towards enlargement, and also in relations between the countries which are on their way to the EU. These relations have never been worse since the last war in the former Yugoslavia. This is especially true of the extremely bad relations between Croatia and Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (there is an idea for ​​a ‘Croatian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina’), and Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina  (separatist ideas within Bosnia and Herzegovina). The relations between Serbia and Montenegro are similarly poor and neither Serbia nor Bosnia and Herzegovina recognise Kosovo.

In this context, there are dilemmas about how Croatia will preside over the European Union from January 2020 with its obvious internal radicalisation of the right, nationalist extremism, and support for the defeated fascist tendencies. Croatia has ongoing problems with virtually every country in the region. This is particularly true in the case of its neighbours – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Slovenia. Unresolved borders, alienated property from the Yugoslav era, and issues of the dead and missing persons from the war remain. In addition to this, there is a strong feeling in Bosnia and Herzegovina about the direct and unacceptable interference of Zagreb in its internal affairs.

political relations in the Balkans resemble the situation across Europe and beyond. Trust is lacking, constructive solutions are few, and there is no turning to the future.

Zagreb persistently backs the resolve of the Croatian Democratic Union party (HDZ) of Bosnia and Herzegovina to change the electoral law in a way that would increase their chances of gaining Croat-designated seats. In essence, the main course of action of HDZ in Bosnia and Herzegovina has become the total denial, open and aggressive, of any civic concept in organising the state. In this context, they demonstrate support for all manner of condemned, retrograde and extreme nationalist forces in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The denial of the verdicts of the Hague International Criminal Tribunal is publicly encouraged and separatist leaders and their criminal associates have now become heroes of the struggle for national interests. These stances are no longer individual cases, but Croatian government policy. It is also noteworthy that the warnings repeatedly sent to Croatia from the EU have been completely ignored, including recommendations and opinions of the Human Rights Tribunal in Strasbourg on specific cases. It is hard to believe that such politics has the necessary credibility during the EU presidency and, in particular, in the process of bringing other Western Balkan countries closer to the European Union.

Ambiguity is untenable

Considering the situation after the recent EU elections, it is difficult to predict whether or to what extent the policy of Brussels towards the integration of the Western Balkan countries into the EU will change. There have been no tangible indications so far that the logic, strategy, or policy of the EU administration will be different. The functioning of the EU itself is becoming increasingly complex to navigate and major structural changes are unlikely. Overall, political relations in the Balkans resemble the situation across Europe and beyond. Trust is lacking, constructive solutions are few, and there is no turning to the future. Unfortunately, the Balkans are increasingly dealing with the past and persisting with ‘old debts’ in a destructive, bordering on aggressive manner.

It is hard to say whether, in this context, it would be more desirable to speed up the processes of the accession of the Balkan states to the EU with all the problems arising from this potential ‘leap’ or to move away from those who do not show sufficient will for integration in order to remain in power. Not because the answer is not clear, but because the EU needs to clarify what outcome is better for Europe as a whole.

The room for manoeuvre of the European Commission is limited and constrained by at least three aggravating factors. First of all, the European Union has again become an open project due to many internal and external issues. However, it cannot be seen as a thorough project of peace, prosperity, and security while the volatile Western Balkans is not a part of it. Second, outside influences in the region, especially those of the USA, Russia, and Turkey, are growing stronger and often in opposition to the interests of the EU. Moreover, these influences are increasingly recognised as acceptable to certain EU countries and candidates for accession. Third, regional cooperation is weakening. Instead, tensions and animosities of various kinds are being encouraged.

The only thing the new Commission should not allow in all this is to prolong the situation without offering clear and unambiguous answers and, more importantly, without taking much more vigorous and concrete action against such tendencies both inside and outside the EU. All in all, the situation in the countries of the Western Balkans, in general and with regard to European integration, is worse than a few years ago. There are fewer reasons for optimism than many in Brussels would like to see or admit.

Published with the support of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.

„Menschen verlieren ihre Heimat, ihre Vergangenheit und ihre Zukunft” – ein Interview mit Rebecca Harms

Nach 15 Jahren im Europäischen Parlament reflektiert Rebecca Harms auf ihre Erfahrungen. Wir sprachen über die Aufgaben der EU in den ehemaligen Sowjetstaaten, den Risiken der Atomenergie und die Rolle der Grünen in Europa.

Green European Journal: HBO hat vor nicht so langer Zeit eine neue Serie über Tschernobyl gezeigt. Was war dein Eindruck davon?

Rebecca Harms: Die Serie setzt sich sehr zutreffend mit den Schrecken der Katastrophe von  1986 auseinander. Das Drehbuch zur Serie geht von dem besten Buch aus, das je über Tschernobyl geschrieben wurde, denn Swetlana Alexijewitschs Tschernobyl. Eine Chronik der Zukunft prägt die Filme. Die Dreharbeiten fanden im Atomkraftwerk Ignalina und in Kiew statt, Drehorte und Ausstattung versetzen einen deshalb wirklich zurück in die Sowjetunion der 80er Jahre.

Das neu geweckte Interesse an der Katastrophe von Tschernobyl ist gut, und dem, was damals passierte angemessen. Diese Katastrophe und ihre weitreichenden Folgen dürfen nicht vergessen werden. Denn die Folgen dauern nicht nur bis heute an, sondern reichen weit in die Zukunft.

Es gibt immer noch Leute, die sagen, die ganze Katastrophe ist eigentlich nur der schlechten sowjetischen Technologie zu verdanken, und in der EU könnte so etwas nicht passieren.

Für den Supergau von Tschernobyl spielten die Bauart und der Ehrgeiz sowjetischer Ingenieure eine Rolle. Auch, dass im Denken der Reaktormannschaften ein Unfall ausgeschlossen war.

Aber das heißt nicht, dass Störfälle in Reaktoren anderer Bauart, und in anderen Ländern ausgeschlossen sind. Mit Fukushima oder Harrisburg haben Japan und die USA selbst Erfahrungen gemacht. Wobei Harrisburg im Jahre 1977 glimpflich verlaufen ist. Die meisten Japaner haben nach dem März 2011 gesagt, sie hätten immer gedacht japanische Atomkraftwerke seien sicher und seien nur deshalb für die Atomenergie gewesen. Wie sehr das trügt zeigt ein Bericht, den ich in Auftrag gab. Darin wurden Störfälle untersucht, die nah an einem großen atomaren Unfall waren. In der EU gehörten dazu das schwedische Ringhals, das deutsche Brunsbüttel und das ungarische Paks.

Es gibt auch Argumente, nach denen man das Klima eigentlich nur dann wirklich schützen könnte, wenn wir uns weiterhin, wenigstens eine Zeit lang, auf Atomkraft stützen – denn das ist immer noch besser als Kohle.

Das wäre der Versuch, den Teufel mit dem Beelzebub auszutreiben. Die Opfer, die eine Gesellschaft nach einer Atomkatastrophe ertragen muss, sind in jeder Hinsicht furchtbar. Zehntausende bezahlen mit ihrem Leben. Noch viel mehr mit ihrer Gesundheit. Sehr viele Menschen verlieren ihre Heimat, ihre Vergangenheit und ihre Zukunft.

Ich befürchte, dass wir auch in Japan nach Fukushima noch erheblich steigende Opferzahlen sehen werden, denn nach der Katastrophe wurden die Leute zögerlich, zu spät und nicht weiträumig genug evakuiert. Auch die Schutzvorkehrungen für zigtausende Arbeiter bei den Aufräumungsarbeiten waren nicht ausreichend.

Atomkraft ist aber auch im Normalbetrieb schädlich für Mensch und Umwelt. Und kein Staat, der die Atomkraft nutzt, hat bis heute eine verantwortbare Lösung für die sichere Endlagerung von hochradioaktivem Müll gefunden. Dabei dauert in einigen Ländern die Suche nach einem geeigneten Endlager schon 40 bis 50 Jahre.

Heute ist auch der Neubau von Atomkraftwerken sehr teuer. Die Bauten in Olkiluoto in Finnland und Flamanville in Frankreich sind für die beteiligten Unternehmen zu ökonomischen Katastrophen geworden. Wegen dieser Erfahrungen setzt die EU Kommission oder auch Frankreich auf Laufzeitenverlängerung für alte Reaktoren. Aber Atomanlagen, die auf dem Stand der Technik von vor 30-50 Jahren sind, ohne große Prüfung weitere Jahrzehnte am Netz zu lassen, ist für mich eine Hochrisiko Strategie. 

Die Alternative zur Atomkraft ist nicht die Kohle. Die Alternative ist eine kluge Energiestrategie, in der Erneuerbare Energien, Effizienz und Einsparung parallel und in allen Bereichen der Erzeugung, der Verteilung und des Verbrauches entwickelt werden. Für Europa glaube ich sowieso seit langem, dass das beste Zukunftsprojekt die europäische Energiewende ist mit vielen positiven Effekten für Innovation und Beschäftigung.

Du bist gerade zurückgekommen aus der Ukraine wo du an einer Wahlbeobachtung teilgenommen hast. Was waren deine Erfahrungen?

Diese Wahl war eine vorgezogene Parlamentswahl, nachdem Wolodymyr Selenskyj mit einer unglaublich großen Unterstützung die Präsidentschaftswahlen gewonnen hat. Und dieser Erfolg von Präsident Selenskyj hat sich danach in der Parlamentswahl fortgesetzt. Das ist eine Situation, die es in der Ukraine so noch nicht gegeben hat. Denn es gab noch nie einen Präsidenten, der sich auf eine eigene Mehrheit in der Werchowna Rada stützen konnte.

Und es ist auch eine andere Sache an dem Wahlergebnis sehr interessant: Die Wahl hat noch nach dem alten System mit Listen und Direktmandaten stattgefunden. Und selbst bei den Direktmandaten haben sich überraschend viele Kandidaten der Partei Selenskyjs durchgesetzt. Es scheint also, dass die Zeiten zu Ende gehen, in denen es einfach war, ein Parlamentsmandat mit Geld und guten Beziehungen zu gewinnen.

Also können wir sagen, dass man jetzt, nach sechs Jahren endlich die Früchte vom Maidan ernten kann?

Der Maidan hat auch schon die Legislatur von dem vorherigen Präsidenten Petro Poroschenko und dem Ministerpräsidenten Wolodymyr Hrojsman beeinflusst. Aber gegen Ende der Legislatur wurde klar: obwohl es einige große Reformen gab, obwohl für die Korruptionsbekämpfung unabhängige Behörden geschaffen und sogar ein Anitikorruptionsgericht auf den Weg gebracht wurden, waren die Ukrainer nicht zufrieden mit den Fortschritten und der Umsetzung der Reformen. Die Unzufriedenheit wegen der in einigen Bereichen andauernden Korruption hat diese Wahl geprägt. Für mich war beeindruckend, dass die Demokratie in der Ukraine so stark ist, dass nicht ein neuer Maidan organisiert wurde, sondern die Bürger in freien Wahlen Veränderungen erreichen wollen.

Das bedeutet für die mit großer Mehrheit in die Werchowna Rada und in den Präsidentenpalast gewählten Leute, dass sie wahnsinnig ehrgeizig an den Reformen anknüpfen und vieles besser umsetzen müssen. Besonders gilt das für die Justiz, die Sicherheitsbehörden und die Dezentralisierung.

Hast du Wolodymyr Selenskyj getroffen?

Ich habe ihn getroffen als er noch in der Präsidentschaftskampagne steckte. Ein guter Freund, der Abgeordnete und Journalist Serhij Leschtschenko ist in Zelenskyis Wahlkampf eingestiegen und hat mich gebeten, mich einmal mit ihm zu treffen. Er wollte, dass es auch in Brüssel und in Deutschland Leute gibt, die einen Eindruck davon haben, was für ein Mensch da antritt. Ich habe das unter der Bedingung gemacht, dass dieses Treffen bis zur Wahl nicht bekannt gemacht werden darf. Ich wollte nicht, dass das im Wahlkampf ausgeschlachtet wird. Ich muss sagen, dass ich Wolodymyr Selenskyj sehr sympathisch fand bei diesem Gespräch. Dass er kein Politiker ist, das ist eine Binsenweisheit. Er hat selber nie behauptet, dass er das gewesen ist, bevor er Präsident wurde. Aber gerade, weil er kein Politiker war, haben so viele Ukrainer ihre Hoffnungen auf ihn gesetzt. Denn sie haben es denjenigen, die seit Jahrzehnten in wechselnden Konstellationen die politischen Geschicke der Ukraine in der Werchowna Rada bestimmen, nicht mehr zugetraut, tatsächlich die Interessen aller Bürger der Ukraine repräsentieren.

Selenskyj wurde damals auch vorgeworfen, dass er eine Puppe von Oligarchen ist. Wissen wir jetzt mehr darüber ob er beeinflusst werden kann?

Das Verhältnis zwischen dem Päsidenten und dem Oligarchen Ihor Kolomojskyj ist aus guten Gründen im Fokus der Debatten in der Ukraine. Wenn Kolomojskyj ein neuer grauer Kardinal werden kann, dann wird es schwer für Zelenskyi seine Versprechen zu erfüllen. Wichtige Personalentscheidungen, die er bisher getroffen hat, ergeben in dieser Hinsicht ein gemischtes Bild. Die ukrainische Zivilgesellschaft reagiert auf einige mit Lob, andere sind sehr umstritten, wie der Leiter der Präsidentialverwaltung Andrij Bogdan, der als Anwalt für Kolomojskyj gearbeitet hat.

Was sollen wir jetzt von den europäisch-ukrainischen Beziehungen erwarten?

Ich hoffe, dass die Reformen fortgesetzt werden, die auch auf dem Assoziierungsabkommen mit der EU und den Absprachen mit anderen internationalen Unterstützern der Ukraine beruhen. Auch wir in der EU müssen im Blick haben, dass die Bürger der Ukraine von unserem Engagement profitieren. Die Institutionen des Staates müssen für seine Bürger besser funktionieren. In Verwaltung, Justiz, Schulen, Krankenhäusern muss viel passieren, und soziale Fragen dürfen bei den Reformen und dem Aufbau eines funktionierenden Staates nicht in die dritte Reihe gerückt werden.

Ansonsten wünsche ich mir, dass die Europäische Union das macht, was sich auch die allermeisten Ukrainer wünschen. Nämlich stärker für den Frieden einzutreten und dafür, dass Wladimir Putin Besatzung und Krieg in der Ukraine beendet. Nach über 5 Jahren Verteidigung gegen die russische Aggression und mehr als 13.000 Toten kann dieser Wunsch auch nicht überraschen. Selenskyj hat in seinem Wahlkampf auch viel Zustimmung bekommen, weil er diesen Wunsch aufgegriffen hat. Dieser Wunsch nach Frieden ist aber weder bei der Mehrheit der Ukrainer noch bei Selenskyj ein bedingungsloser Wunsch. Sie wünschen sich Frieden innerhalb den ursprünglichen Grenzen der Ukraine.

Das aber kann die Ukraine alleine nicht erreichen. Sie braucht dafür viel mehr Einsatz von der internationalen Gemeinschaft. Die Russland-Sanktionen, die die EU verhängt hat, seit Putin 2014 die Krim besetzen und den Krieg gegen die Ukraine im Donbas anfangen ließ, dürfen nicht in Frage gestellt werden. Ein Mega-Projekt wie Nord Stream 2 darf nicht verfolgt werden, so lange dieser Frieden für die Ukraine nicht erreicht wird.

Es sieht aber so aus, als würde die Nord Stream 2 dieses Jahr schon fertig sein. Gibt es da eine Art Doppelmoral von der Seite der deutschen Regierung, wenn sie einerseits von den EU Ländern erwartet, dass sie in Bezug auf Russland einige Regeln einhalten, aber andererseits selbst Geschäfte macht mit Russland?

Das ist die Frage, die mir in der Ukraine immer wieder gestellt wird. Warum machen die Deutschen das? Und ich bin der Meinung, dass das der größte Fehler der deutschen Politik ist. Trotz der Erfahrungen mit der aggressiven russischen Außenpolitik gegenüber seinen Nachbarstaaten, versuchen die Deutschen mit Russland „business as usual” zu machen. Deutschland konterkariert mit Nord Stream 2 systematisch die Linie, die Kanzlerin Angela Merkel in der Europäischen Union für die souveräne Entscheidungen der Ukraine zur Westbindung verfolgt. Die Sanktionen gegen Russland werden verwässert, wenn Deutschland gleichzeitig Putin mit Nord Stream 2 ausdrücklich unterstützt.

Wir feiern jetzt das zehnte Jubiläum der östlichen Partnerschaft der EU. Was denkst du, wie erfolgreich war dieses Projekt?

Wenn man sich anschaut was in Ländern wie Ukraine, Georgien, der Republik Moldau oder Armenien – trotz russischer Einmischung und Besatzung– passiert, dann muss man einfach sagen, dass es großartig ist wie Schritt für Schritt, auch durch das Engagement der neuen Generationen, nicht nur immer wieder für mehr Demokratie und Rechtsstaatlichkeit gekämpft, sondern auch immer mehr erreicht wird.

Ich gehöre zu denjenigen die diese Nachbarschaft ja schon vor langer Zeit kennengelernt haben, nämlich 1988, nach meinem ersten Besuch in Tschernobyl. Deshalb habe ich auch nie Wunder erwartet. Auch nach dem Maidan habe ich damit gerechnet, dass es nicht nur eine Legislatur, sondern eher eine oder zwei neue Politikergenerationen brauchen wird, bis diese Länder da sind, wo ihre Bürger sie so gerne hätten: nämlich, dass sie normale Staaten sind, in denen Parlamente die Interessen der Bürger repräsentieren, die Institutionen für die Bürger arbeiten und Rechtsstaatlichkeit herrscht.

Haben diese Länder in der Partnerschaft noch irgendwann in der Zukunft eine Chance Mitglieder der EU zu werden?

Es gibt in Osteuropa, aber auch im Norden, wie zum Beispiel Schweden, Staaten, die das sehr ernst nehmen und die das auch so vertreten. Auch beim Außenministerrat, der anlässlich des Jubiläums zu 10 Jahre östliche Partnerschaft stattgefunden hat, ist das deutlich geworden. Ich denke, unsere Assoziierungsabkommen würden noch erfolgreicher wirken könnten, wenn die Tür in die Europäische Union offengehalten würde.

Ich weiß, dass das keine Sache ist, die schnell und einfach zu schaffen ist. Zum einen brauchen Reformen und der Aufbau eines funktionierenden Rechtsstaates Zeit. Zum anderen halte ich die EU heute nicht für aufnahmefähig ist.

Müsste die Europäische Union auch versuchen den Beitritt dieser Länder anders zu managen als den Beitritt der osteuropäischen Mitgliedstaaten, wo wir zurzeit Probleme mit der Rechtstaatlichkeit sehen?

Ich glaube, dass man aus den zähen Auseinandersetzungen um Rechtsstaatlichkeit Konsequenzen ziehen müsste für nächste Beitrittsverhandlungen. Ich weiß, dass das von vielen meiner Kollegen abgelehnt wird, aber ich halte es für Selbstbetrug, wenn man auf der einen Seite jetzt diese Schwierigkeiten mit den Rechtsstaatlichkeitsmechanismen gegenüber Ungarn sieht, und dann gleichzeitig so tut als könnte man so wie bisher Staaten den Beitritt ermöglichen. Meiner Meinung nach ist der sichere Weg für neue Aufnahmen, wenn man sich ernsthafter mit den Beitrittsbedingungen und einigen Grundlagen der EU auseinandersetzt.

Und wie siehst du jetzt die Situation in Russland? Gerade mit der Freilassung des Journalisten Iwan Golunow haben wir ja gesehen, dass der russische Staat nicht allmächtig ist.

Ich bin seit langem aus Russland verbannt, und deshalb gewinne ich meine Ansichten sehr stark aus zweiter Hand. Allerdings habe ich auch einige gute Kontakte zu russischen BürgerrechtlerInnenn, UmweltaktivistInnen oder auch JournalistInnen, die ins Exil in die Ukraine oder die EU gegangen sind. Mein Eindruck ist, dass in Russland die Neugier und das Erstaunen darüber sehr groß ist, dass in der Ukraine inzwischen frei und demokratisch gewählt wird, und dass Präsidenten und alte Eliten einfach abgewählt werden. Diese Entwicklung konterkariert die Propaganda Putins, dass die Ukraine vom Faschismus befreit werden muss.

Selenskyj ist heute für Russen auch deshalb ein besonders interessanter Typ, weil sein Erfolg im russischen Fernsehen anfing. Gleichzeitig zeigen Umfragen und die Proteste in Moskau, dass die Zustimmung zu Putin nachlässt. Alles was der gefühlt ewige Präsident an Unterstützung neu gewonnen hat mit der Besetzung der Krim und dem Krieg gegen die Ukraine, ist inzwischen wieder verloren.

Das sind Zeichen dafür, dass auch Russland sich ändern kann und wird. Ich weiß nicht wann und wie das passieren wird, aber ich glaube nicht, dass der Wunsch nach Demokratie und Gerechtigkeit auf Dauer einen Bogen um Russland machen wird.

Als langjährige Aktivistin, wie siehst du den Klima Aktivismus in Deutschland und Europa zurzeit? Gibt es mit Greta Thunberg und Fridays for Future ein Momentum?

Natürlich gibt es eine stärkere Aufmerksamkeit für den Klimawandel und die Notwendigkeit etwas dagegen zu tun. Ganz stark hat sich das ja in der “grünen Welle” gezeigt, den Erfolgen der Grünen bei der letzten Europawahl und einigen nationalen Wahlen.

Schade ist aber, dass wir nicht aus unserer nord-westeuropäischen Ecke rauskommen, und dass die Grünen im Süden und im Osten bisher eigentlich kein wirklicher Faktor geworden sind. Ich glaube, das bräuchte von den europäischen Grünen viel mehr Aufmerksamkeit. Auch die Klimapolitik der EU kann nicht so ehrgeizig wie nötig gestaltet werden, wenn die Mitspieler dafür auf der europäischen Ebene nur im Nordwesten der Europäischen Union sitzen.

Was sind die Themen, wo du siehst, dass du in deinen Jahren im EU Parlament wirklich einen Einfluss auf die Politik hattest?

Als einzelne Abgeordnete und als Fraktionsvorsitzende, würde ich sagen, dass wir sehr ernst genommen worden sind und Einfluss entwickelt haben in der gesamten Debatte über die Energiewende und die Atomenergie. Zuletzt ist das noch einmal bei der Auseinandersetzung um Ignalina und der europäischen Finanzierung des Rückbaus deutlich geworden. Da habe ich eine einmütige Entscheidung des Europäischen Parlaments gegen die Vorschläge der Europäischen Kommission und eine viel großzügigere und solidarische Finanzierungsentscheidung erreicht, die den Risiken des Jahrhundertprojektes angemessen ist.

Ich denke, dass ich einige Fundamente mit legen konnte, die jetzt in der Klimadebatte eine tragfähige Politik ermöglichen. Die ganze Auseinandersetzung um den Green New Deal, also die Verbindung von ökologischen Innovationsprojekten mit der Schaffung von nachhaltigem Wachstum und zukunftsfähigen Arbeitsplätzen wurde von mir zusammen mit meinem luxemburgischen Kollegen Claude Turmes angeführt. Ich erinnere mich noch, dass wir die deutschen Grünen nicht zu einer Wahlkampagne unter dem Motto Green New Deal bewegen konnten, weil die Deutschen das nicht verstehen könnten. Statt Green New Deal prangte dann der WUMS auf den Plakaten, ganz einfach eine Abkürzung für Wirtschaft und Umwelt, menschlich und sozial. Ich war sauer. Heute muss ich darüber lachen.

An all unsere Arbeit zum Green New Deal muss stärker angeknüpft werden. Mein Gefühl ist, in der Diskussion mit Fridays for Future und angesichts der Aufmerksamkeit und der Erwartungen, die sich durch Greta Thunberg auf uns richten , dass wir weniger über CO2-Ziele bis 2030 reden müssten, sondern eher über wirtschaftliche Innovation und den industriellen Umbau reden müssen, mit denen wir Klimaziele erreichen wollen. Ich bin überzeugt, dass wir tatsächlich das Gespräch und eine breite gesellschaftliche Verständigung über notwendige Veränderung brauchen. Diese großen Transformationen werden nicht im Konflikt, sondern im Konsens und unter Berücksichtigung der sozialen Wirkungen erreicht.  Ich sehe einen großen Teil der Bestimmung der Grünen darin, die Vermittler zu sein, die eine breite gesellschaftliche Zustimmung für Veränderung in Zeiten des Klimawandels schaffen.

Published with the support of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union.

Imagining the Transition from the Grass Roots

Positive environmental transitions are not impossible, but they require imagination and a compelling narrative. Although some of the world’s most powerful politicians and policymakers continue to drive a destructive, macho politics, developments on the local level are sowing the seeds of change. We spoke to Rob Hopkins, environmentalist and co-founder of the Transition Network, about how citizens can work together to address the challenges they face and lay the foundations of a better future for all.

Green European Journal: What do you see as the most powerful levers of change for local communities?

Rob Hopkins: There are three main levers of change: effectiveness, initiative, and the power of story. Effectiveness means communities realising that they don’t need to wait for permission from above in order to effect change. At the Transition Network we have run projects in 50 countries around the world, and we’ve witnessed how a group of people with a shared goal create the kind of momentum that money can’t buy. The stage where more support and input is needed to move forward comes later.

Initiative, the second lever, has been used most powerfully in cities like Preston in the north west of England. The city was hit hard by austerity in the years after the 2008 financial crisis. With the economic situation only getting worse, Preston City Council, with the help of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, decided to take a different approach to spending. The Council brought together the organisations that spend most public money – the hospital, the university, the schools, and the municipality – and started looking at where all this money was going. It turned out that only 4 per cent of 750 million pounds’ worth of public money actually went to local actors, despite the moral responsibility public institutions have to the people of Preston. This prompted a complete rethink of how to run local government services, and they completely changed their practices of procurement, pension scheme management, and investment. They began to break up big development projects so local companies could qualify, not just the big conglomerates.

The new approach created 12 000 new jobs and the Preston model is now an example discussed all over the UK. The Preston model is the Transition approach on a big scale, making sure that money circulates as many times as possible locally before it leaves.

The third lever of change is the power of the story. The difference that a real story can make can be seen in the success of one Transition group in the Belgian city of Liège. Born out of a simple idea, the Ceinture Aliment-Terre project now allows the city to acquire most its fruit from nearby land. Today the project has 21 cooperatives and has raised five million euros from local people and the municipality.

The Preston model is the Transition approach on a big scale, making sure that money circulates as many times as possible locally before it leaves.

This whole project started with a really good ‘what if’ question and a narrative to go with it. It simply asked whether local land could supply our fruit and set out to prove that it could. The municipality was a bit suspicious, but after two or three years it recognised that it is not just an amazing story, but also a feasible project. The mayor now considers the project “the story of the city.”

How do you come up with a good story?

It is a skill that activists have to acquire. We need storytellers to counter the narratives of politicians who try to divert attention from the gravity of climate change by questioning whether there really is anything to worry about if the planet gets 3 or 4 degrees warmer. 2 or even 1.5 degrees would already be catastrophic. Staying below that – and I think it is still possible – will depend on society being able to change the way it thinks.

Effective stories can help bring about the revolution of the imagination that is needed to make rapid and far-reaching changes to all aspects of society. A new economy, a new society, a whole number of paradigms – these will all need people who can stand up against the current model and articulate that it is not acceptable and must change.

What do you mean by a revolution of the imagination?

My new book, From What is to What If, explores how to rekindle a collective imagination. It was inspired by the observations of thinkers such as Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein who kept saying that climate change is a failure of the imagination. Reading their works, I identified four possible conditions that we can create to overcome this: space, places, practices, and pacts.

First of all, space. Our best ideas usually come when we are on holiday, when we soak in the bath, when we are out walking without our smartphones, when we’re cycling or when we’re knitting. It’s at times like these that our brains can start to be imaginative. When work deadlines are coming up or there are 400 Facebook notifications to check, there is no space left for the imagination. People work harder and are increasingly exhausted. Proposals like universal basic income and three or four-day working weeks are important for people to regain their space.

Secondly, to foster the imaginative process, people need places where they can reflect on how the world can be different. That is generally not the workplace, and neither is it schools. The current design of the education system is about passing tests, not giving children space for daydreaming.

Effective stories can help bring about the revolution of the imagination that is needed to make rapid and far-reaching changes to all aspects of society.

Thirdly, new practices can encourage people to ask what if, as can movements such as Transition. In Tooting, a district of London, a Transition group transformed a bus turnaround into a green space, laying grass, playing music, and getting the whole community involved. In Bologna, the municipality has created a civic imagination office that acts like a Transition group. It runs an open space and hosts big ‘what if’ events where people can envision and dream.

Fourth and finally, pacts with municipalities can help people secure their good ideas with money, human resources, and other support. In the last five years, Bologna municipality created nearly 500 pacts that range from painting a new bench and planting some flowers to turning an empty building into a school for classical music.

How can schools help the imagination?

The chapter of my book on education was heartbreaking to research. So much of education systems works against children’s imaginations. In the United Kingdom, schools are obsessed with testing children from the age of 4. I have heard of 4-year-old children who were taken off school because of anxiety. In Finland schools don’t even start to teach children anything until the age of 7 – they let them play until then.

Tools that can drive imagination in childhood are increasingly a function of privilege. The children of wealthy families that can afford private schools will have access to amazing arts resources, drama classes, theatre performances, and musical education. On the other hand, people affected by government austerity, who have to choose between feeding their children or heating their homes, will not have the resources to improve their children’s imaginations.

Moving on from imagination, how can we convince people to change comfortable but environmentally harmful ways of life?

Overloading people with terrifying information and expecting that they will change won’t work – clearly not with most people. The Transition Movement has developed a tool called Transition Streets. People get together with six to ten of their neighbours and agree to meet seven times in the next seven weeks in each other’s houses. In the first week they talk about energy, then water, then food, and so on. We have developed a workbook that they go over together before starting to make changes as a group.

Individual decisions about consumption and behaviour can bring positive change too. This approach is not about doing this on our own, but acting together with the people around us.

And this really gets them to change their daily life?

Plenty of proposals are met with scepticism but work nevertheless. Banning plastic bags in supermarkets has been successful in Ireland, later in England, and in many other countries. Policy tweaks can change people’s idea of normality.

Individual decisions about consumption and behaviour can bring positive change too. This approach is not about doing this on our own, but acting together with the people around us. In one of our projects, households who participated in our Transition Streets programme cut their carbon emissions by about 1.3 tonnes per household and saved roughly 700 euros a year in bills. Asked afterwards, they didn’t mention energy or money as the most important part of the programme, but feeling more involved in their community and getting to know their neighbours. Many of the groups carried on meeting for years and started other projects, because they realised they actually quite liked each other and enjoyed working together.

How has the Transition Movement fared in the last years?

The Transition movement has been active for 13 years and has achieved some incredible things – but not enough. We would achieve much more if we had the necessary support from local and national governments. Fortunately, some governments now provide exactly the kind of help that is needed. The mayor of Liège, for example, believes that the main role of the municipality in supporting the Ceinture Aliment-Terre project is just getting out of its way so that it can continue with the good work. The municipality only acts when members of the project ask for help, removing blockages, making land available, and switching school canteens to local food bought through Ceinture Aliment-Terre.

Are Transition projects accessible and beneficial to all?

Absolutely. In Liège, Ceinture Aliment-Terre shops are full of people from all backgrounds. Everyone appreciates good quality, affordable food. The social component is always important in environmental projects. Social, educational or mental health crises do not exist independently from the climate crisis. If we can tackle the problems in a way that understands these issues as connected, then the solutions can be just fantastic. In London, there is a project in which people with mental health issues learn to bake their own bread – their slogan is “baking is the new Prozac”. Urban agriculture also has many mental health benefits. Seeing food growing when you look out the window, not to mention getting outside and using your hands, can be a magical feeling.

Why do you think that fear and greed dominate over magic and imagination?

Oil companies and leaders like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the US lack imagination. They are part of this toxic, very masculine mindset that needs to be the biggest and the strongest, a mindset that fuels economic growth. It is this kind of thinking that we must get away from.

Fortunately, at the local level ordinary people are doing incredible things, and not just within the Transition movement. School strikes are taking place all over the world, often led by extraordinary young women who are brave enough to say that they do not need congratulating or patronising; they need our support. They want us to join them on strike and at their protests, and this is really hopeful.

Un recorrido por el lado salvaje de Europa

Durante milenios, el desarrollo humano se ha basado en la invasión progresiva del ámbito natural. Sin embargo, la crisis de biodiversidad de principios del siglo XXI alertó sobre sus límites. Ante la destrucción de ecosistemas vitales, el resilvestrado (proceso por el que se busca devolver un determinado hábitat a su estado salvaje original, rewilding) abrió la vía para restaurar la prosperidad y la productividad del mundo natural.

En el año 2049 recordaremos el 2019 como el punto de inflexión para el continente europeo. Condenada a fracasar en su lucha por detener y revertir la erosión de la biodiversidad antes del 2020, la Unión Europea se encontraba entonces al borde de una verdadera catástrofe medioambiental. Y, a pesar de todo, algunas áreas aisladas en proceso de creciente asilvestrado, ofrecían esperanza a la vez que permitían adivinar los cambios drásticos que ocurrirían en las sociedades europeas y en sus prioridades políticas en las tres últimas décadas.

En 2019, los ecosistemas silvestres en Europa se encontraban en proceso de recuperación, discreta pero triunfante, en buena parte gracias al resilvestrado: programas de conservación mediante los que se restaura un ecosistema reintroduciendo ciertas especies, hasta entonces desaparecidas en dicho ecosistema.

Así, se salvó de la extinción al bisonte europeo, el animal terrestre más grande de Europa, cuya presencia fomenta la biodiversidad. Fue reimplantado en muchas zonas de su área de distribución original, incluyendo el bosque Białowieża en Polonia, las montañas de los Cárpatos en Rumanía y las dunas Kraansvlak de los Países Bajos. Los castores eurasiáticos reintroducidos en el Reino Unido dieron nueva vida a sus hábitats, construyendo presas capaces de aumentar la biodiversidad y contener las inundaciones. Los grandes carnívoros, hasta entonces muy escasos, comenzaron a reaparecer en todo el continente, incluidos el oso pardo, el chacal común y el lobo, que expandieron sus áreas de distribución.

Estos casos, junto con el lince, la cabra montés y una gran variedad de aves en el valle de Côa, Portugal, el oso y el alce errantes del bosque de Kainuu en Finlandia, los fértiles humedales del delta del río Danubio, y muchos otros, confirmaron el potencial de un Europa más natural y salvaje, como la que hoy en día conocemos.

La dramática transformación de nuestros modos de vida acaecida desde 2019, unida a una decidida acción legislativa en pos de la conservación, consolidó estos primeros logros. La transición hacia fuentes de energía renovables y políticas agrícolas sostenibles, así como el abandono del crecimiento económico sin fin redujeron radicalmente la contaminación del aire, la tierra y el agua y contuvieron el impacto del cambio climático. Se liberaron grandes extensiones de tierra rural a medida que cada vez más población se mudaba a zonas urbanas, consiguiendo un tipo de agricultura menos intensiva. La naturaleza recuperó estos espacios de manera espectacular y antiguas parcelas de cultivo se convirtieron en bosques caducifolios o extensos pastizales, incorporándose a la red Natura 2000, protegida por la UE.

La naturaleza recuperó estos espacios de manera espectacular y antiguas parcelas de cultivo se convirtieron en bosques caducifolios o extensos pastizales

Los estrictos controles sobre pesticidas introducidos después del riesgo inminente de colapso de las poblaciones de insectos que tuvo lugar a principios del siglo XXI permitieron el retorno masivo de estas, así como el de las cadenas alimentarias y el de las cruciales ventajas para el ecosistema que fomentan. Desde las cordilleras hasta los viejos bosques, los hábitats se regeneraron gracias a a su estatus protegido y hoy en día rebosan de flora y de fauna. Los ríos fluyen libres y puros, repletos de vida acuática. Respecto de los mares, las estrictas restricciones a la pesca llevaron a la recuperación de las poblaciones marinas, que ahora sustentan a las focas, delfines y ballenas tan abundantes ahora en las aguas europeas.

Los pueblos y ciudades en que se concentra la gran mayoría de la población europea son también más salvajes hoy que en 2019. La urbanización inteligente y la gestión sostenible de los recursos y de los servicios naturales han servido para crear espacios urbanos en los que conviven ciudadanos y naturaleza, en beneficio mutuo.

A falta de solo un año, la Unión Europea tiene visos de lograr sus objetivos para 2050, fijados a principios de siglo para proteger y preservar la biodiversidad en Europa, así como sus servicios ecosistémicos. Hace 30 años, en medio de una crisis de biodiversidad galopante, una situación semejante se antojaba inalcanzable.

El antropoceno

Volviendo a 2019, suenan señales de alarma en todo el mundo. El planeta está en plena fase de extinción con una pérdida de vida sin precedentes desde el fin de los dinosaurios. Al ritmo actual, miles de especies se pierden cada año. Un importante informe del WWF (World Wildlife Fund) estimó que el 60 por ciento de las poblaciones de animales han desaparecido desde 1970. [1]

Esta pavorosa aniquilación de vida ha sido denominada el Antropoceno. Corresponde a la humanidad, a sus prácticas de consumo creciente y sobre-explotación de energía, tierra y agua, la inequívoca culpa de provocar el sexto evento de extinción planetario. Esta hazaña puede compararse al advenimiento de la edad de hielo, las erupciones volcánicas y los impactos de meteoritos que fueron, a su vez, responsables de las cinco extinciones masivas anteriores sufridas por la Tierra. Tal es la influencia de nuestra especie que solo una cuarta parte de la superficie terráquea queda libre del impacto humano, proporción que se calcula quedará reducida a solo una décima para 2050. [2]

La situación en Europa no es menos grave. Los informes sobre la salud de los ecosistemas europeos utilizan frases tales como “olvido de la biodiversidad” y “Armagedón ecológico” para describir la pérdida de vida salvaje en el continente. Los estudios que estiman que las aves en tierras de cultivo han disminuido en un 56 por ciento [3] y los insectos voladores en un 76 por ciento ilustran algunas de las muchas pérdidas sintomáticas de la degradación actual de los ecosistemas. [4]

The collapse of bird populations in Europe

La crisis de la biodiversidad amenaza nuestra propio modo de vida. Muchos pueden prescindir de la naturaleza en la vida cotidiana moderna, pero lo cierto es que la humanidad depende de los procesos naturales para la producción de alimentos y el suministro de agua y, por lo tanto, para su salud y prosperidad. Los insectos juegan un papel central en multitud de estos procesos: en el ciclo nutricional, como fuente de alimento para otros animales y como polinizadores. Su importancia es inmensa y sin ellos el sistema se derrumbaría. La catástrofe que representa la pérdida de biodiversidad es tan grave como la crisis del cambio climático. Ambas están tan estrechamente relacionadas que los informes de las Naciones Unidas instan a que se las considere con el mismo nivel de gravedad.

La llamada de la naturaleza

El resilvestrado es una propuesta de solución no solo para detener, sino para conseguir revertir la destrucción insostenible de la naturaleza. Como estrategia de conservación atrae cada vez mayor atención internacional y, por su puesto, polémica.

Un aspecto esencial del resilvestrado es que los animales reintroducidos constituyen especies clave. El efecto de estas especies en su ecosistema es más que proporcional y son cruciales para la salud de las comunidades de vida donde habitan. A falta de ellas, se pierde un delicado equilibrio y la perturbación repercute en todo el ecosistema.

Illustration of a smartphone with Twitter open in a cage

El ejemplo clásico de una especie clave en resilvestrado es el lobo gris del Parque Nacional Yellowstone en los Estados Unidos. Erradicada en la década de 1930, la especie fue reintroducida en la década de 1970. Al regresar, los lobos provocaron una cascada ecológica. Rápidamente devoraron el exceso de ciervos, cuyas poblaciones se habían multiplicado fuera de todo control. Al disminuir el número de ciervos y con la mayor movilidad de los individuos restantes por temor al depredador reintroducido, se recuperaron zonas sometidas a un pasto excesivo. Regresaron árboles y arbustos que, a su vez, dieron lugar a nuevas poblaciones de castores, cuyas emblemáticas presas cambiaron el curso de los ríos y crearon nuevos hábitats para aves, peces y otros animales salvajes. El lobo también frenó a su rival, el coyote, permitiendo el crecimiento de poblaciones de osos y aves rapaces.

El éxito de los lobos de Yellowstone demuestra la importancia de tales especies para un ecosistema y lo que sin ellas se pierde. Existen planes de resilvestrado en toda Europa, desde proyectos locales a pequeña escala hasta ambiciosas iniciativas transnacionales como Rewilding Europe. Los resultados son prometedores y, en algunos casos, las especies han retornado prácticamente sin ayuda. Tal es el caso del lobo: se estima que el número de lobos europeos es ya de 12 000. Este depredador vértice resurge en toda Europa y ya puede avistarse en países donde hacía siglos que había desaparecido, como Bélgica y Dinamarca. [5]

Corazones y mentes, dientes y garras

Los avances conseguidos con los planes actuales de resilvestrado subrayan el potencial de esa visión de Europa en 2049, pero como con todos los problemas complejos, las soluciones nunca son simples. Sus defensores no se ponen de acuerdo sobre lo que constituye exactamente el resilvestrado: ¿cuán “salvaje” puede llegar a ser? ¿Qué niveles de intervención y gestión humanas son aceptables?

Estas cuestiones son fundamentales respecto a la controversia que rodea la reserva Oostvaardersplassen, en los Países Bajos. Este humedal artificial al este de Ámsterdam fue creado en 1968 en tierras ganada al mar. Con objeto de imitar los hábitos de alimentación de herbívoros desaparecidos desde hacía mucho, se liberaron ciervos, caballos y ganado en el área. A falta de depredadores naturales, las poblaciones crecieron hasta el punto de destrucción. Tras el duro invierno de 2018, miles de animales fueron abatidos por las autoridades neerlandesas para evitar que muriesen de hambre, provocando la furia de los militantes de los derechos de los animales.

En una época de predicciones cataclísmicas, el resilvestrado ofrece un rayo de esperanza en un sombrío horizonte para el futuro de la biodiversidad en Europa y en el mundo entero.

Además, el resurgimiento de los grandes carnívoros en Europa también ha reavivado conflictos ancestrales con los humanos. Dichos conflictos seculares están presentes en el ADN cultural de la humanidad y su manifestación hoy en día suele ser una consecuencia de la pérdida de ganado. Protegidos por la Directiva europea Hábitats, los lobos han sido objeto de la cólera de parte de los agricultores de toda Europa. Ha habido peticiones para que se relaje la legislación para permitir el sacrificio controlado, y en algunos casos, grupos de civiles han abatido lobos ilegalmente.

A una agitación similar llevó la re introducción de una pareja de osos en el Pirineo francés, acompañada de amenazas de “reabrir la caza al oso”. Otras especies también están en el punto de mira. Así, los castores en Escocia, que los propietarios de tierras atacan por el impacto drástico que los grandes roedores tienen sobre el entorno local.

A pesar de estas pugnas, el entusiasmo del público por el resilvestrado es alto generalmente y ya existen varios proyectos liderados por grupos comunitarios, propietarios de tierras y organizaciones privadas. Sin embargo, persiste la disparidad de opiniones entre las zonas rurales y urbanas, y no pueden olvidarse las objeciones de las comunidades más cercanas a las iniciativas. Medidas preventivas como el cercado eléctrico y la indemnización por la pérdida de ganado son posibles soluciones a estas objeciones. Con educación se puede disipar el temor a ataques de depredadores, mientras que los beneficios tangibles que aportan los servicios ecosistémicos unidos al ecoturismo pueden persuadir a la población local para que trabajen en pos y no en contra de la naturaleza.

¿Fantasía ingenua o realidad optimista?

Las especies clave del resilvestrado resultan tan atractivas como controvertidas. Son animales grandes, visibles y, desgraciadamente, exóticos. La creencia de que la simple introducción de unos cuantos osos, bisontes u otros animales curará milagrosamente un ecosistema de todos sus males constituye una simplificación excesiva y corre el riesgo de convertir el resilvestrado en una mera expresión de moda.

Y sin embargo estos animales son como iconos, reductos de un mundo natural del que nos hemos desconectado, y cuyo regreso mediante el resilvestrado apunta a la reactivación de algo más grande que hemos perdido. Estas especies e incluso el término en sí evocan imágenes de grandes extensiones ondulantes, pero los principios del resilvestrado también pueden aplicarse a menor escala. Deshacerse de los pesticidas y desterilizar pueblos y ciudades haría que las áreas urbanas fueran más hospitalarias para la naturaleza, beneficiando así no solo a la vida silvestre, sino también a los residentes: múltiples estudios demuestran los efectos positivos en el bienestar mental y físico humano aportados por la reconexión con la naturaleza.

En una época de predicciones cataclísmicas, el resilvestrado ofrece un rayo de esperanza en un sombrío horizonte para el futuro de la biodiversidad en Europa y en el mundo entero. Y, sin embargo, los encargados de formular políticas a nivel nacional, regional y mundial van a la zaga de la sociedad civil y de los medios de comunicación en este empeño, reacios a sacrificar el crecimiento económico a corto plazo para hacer frente a la crisis. Los gobiernos de todo el mundo están incumpliendo los objetivos de biodiversidad para el años 2020 establecidos por la ONU en Aichi, Japón, en 2010. Más cerca de nosotros, los países de la UE tienen ahora una rara oportunidad de coordinar estrategias de conservación a escala continental. La red Natura 2000 de áreas protegidas, que cubre más del 18% de la superficie terrestre de la UE, ya es un paso en la dirección adecuada. [6] Pero con el 45 por ciento de las tierras de la UE dedicadas a la agricultura, la lentitud con que avanza la legislación para prohibir pesticidas tóxicos y la continua sobrepesca en aguas europeas, aún queda mucho por hacer si la UE quiere alcanzar los objetivos de biodiversidad 2020, y aún más si pretende realizar su visión a largo plazo de restauración de la biodiversidad para 2050. [7] La conservación es a menudo la hermana pobre en la política nacional. En 2018 Nicolas Hulot atribuyó en parte su dimisión sorpresa, radiodifundida en vivo, como ministro francés del Medio Ambiente, a la falta de progreso en la mejora de la biodiversidad, lamentando en particular la falta de apoyos para la protección del lobo y la reintroducción del oso.

Es precisa una transformación social a todos los niveles para garantizar la supervivencia de todas las especies de este planeta, incluida la nuestra. Dicha transformación requiere que la percepción  humana de la naturaleza pase de la explotación a la convivencia y el valor de esta se mida más allá del rendimiento económico. El resilvestrado puede convertirse en parte integral de este cambio, con su promesa de una Europa que en 2049 será más saludable, biológicamente más diversa y decididamente más salvaje.


[1] WWF (2018). Living Planet Report – 2018: Aiming Higher. M. Grooten and R.E.A. Almond (Eds). Gland, Switzerland: WWF.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Maaike de Jong (November 2017). Latest update of European wild bird indicators confirms continued decline of farmland birds. European Birds Census Council. Available at <>.
[4] Caspar A. Hallmann et al. (2017). More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE, 12(10).  e0185809.
[5] Guillaume Chapron et al. (2014). Recovery of large carnivores in Europe’s modern human-dominated landscapes. Science. 346(6216), pp. 1517-1519.
[6] European Commission (2019). Natura 2000.  Available at: <>.
[7] Patrick Barkham (March 2018). Europe faces ‘biodiversity oblivion’ after collapse in French birds, experts warn. The Guardian.

Climate fiction: předpověď budoucností

Klimatická změna nebude pouze šumem na pozadí rušného 21. století. Ať už ji zvládneme nebo se nám vymkne z rukou, určí ráz života nastupující generace. Redaktorka deníku Libération vypráví příběhy dvou možných podob Evropy roku 2049.

V roce 2018 se zástupci 197 zemí světa sešli v polských Katovicích na kongresu COP24, kde měli vyjednat, jak zvládnout klimatické změny. „Chápeme obrovitost výzvy, které nyní v podobě změn klimatu čelíme,“ prohlásil tam generální tajemník Organizace spojených národů António Guterres. „A vidíme, že nejsme na správné cestě k tomu, abychom ji zvládli,” dodal.

Už tehdy byla budoucnost lidstva v ohrožení a řadu důsledků globálního oteplování jsme znali: od podílu na vzniku duševních nemocí přes respirační a kardiovaskulární potíže až ke zrychlenému šíření infekčních chorob. Aniž by si to lidstvo uvědomovalo, právě v těch letech překročilo bod, ze kterého není návratu.

O šest let dříve se ve Francii narodila Souria, typická představitelka „klimatické generace”. Tu čekají dvě možné budoucnosti v závislosti na činnosti či nečinnosti států, institucí, firem a občanů. Dva různé životy – hnědý a zelený – žité Souriou v prosinci 2049 jsou spolu v ostrém kontrastu. Reprezentují varianty vycházející z dnešních perspektiv klimatické krize.

Možnost prvá

Hlas v telefonu se třese. „Je to potřetí za rok, co nám to zaplavilo dům. Pojišťovny jsou zahlcené a nepřijímají žádná podání snad až do roku 2051. Nemáme na výběr, necháme tu všechno shnít a najdeme si něco jiného. Mohli bychom u vás s tátou na pár dní zůstat?”

„Určitě, jste tu vždy vítaní,” odpověděla Souria. Zavěsila a matčin hologram zmizel v hodinkách. Rozpomínala se na dům na jihovýchodě Francie, který nyní zřejmě rodiče opustí. Už od velkých záplav roku 2041 tušila, že se to dříve či později stane.

Mladá žena mechanicky projela nejnovější upozornění na Googlu. Mezi fotografiemi zatopených vesnic napříč Francií ji zaujal titulek „Čína zahajuje rozsáhlý geoinženýrský experiment bez souhlasu sousedů”. Technologie, dvacet let zpátky ještě neznámá, má prý přinést novou naději na omezení klimatických změn. A současně představuje jeden z nejriskantnějších experimentů, do jakých se kdy lidstvo pustilo.

Po vlnách horka, jež před rokem v Číně zabily na pětašedesát tisíc lidí, se Peking rozhodl vypustit do stratosféry ohromná množství drobných částic. Ty by měly odrážet sluneční záření zpět do prostoru, a snížit tak oteplování planety. Proti experimentu se ale vymezil text podepsaný takřka čtrnácti sty vědci upozorňujícími na možná rizika. I po desetiletích výzkumu totiž není zcela zřejmé, co se při odvrácení části slunečního svitu stane s pozemskými ekosystémy.

Souria si povzdechla. Měla katastrofických titulků varujících před chmurnou buducností lidstva tak právě dost. Ony letní vlny horka trvaly tři týdny a přinesly teploty k pětačtyřiceti stupňům Celsia. V mizerně izolovaném bytě se prakticky nedalo spát. Nešlo ani otevřít okna, protože horko zapříčinilo strašlivé znečištění vzduchu.

Jako astmatičce jí nezbývalo nic jiného, než si představovat, co mohla udělat jinak generace jejích rodičů mezi roky 2000 a 2010. Tehdy si lidé sice již byli vědomi rizik, ale stále si užívali možnosti odkládat potřebné změny na neurčito. Takový přístup zvítězil v roce 2019, kdy státy Evropské unie navzdory očekávání odmítly spolupráci na snižování uhlíkové stopy. Evropské a následně i národní volby zcela podkopaly výhledy do budoucna. Občanům se nepodařilo politiky přesvědčit o tom, že by se s klimatickým programem daly vyhrávat volby.

Souria až příliš dobře ví, jak se věci mají. V Nantes pracuje jako úřednice zajišťující přijímání uprchlíků. Již nějakou dobu se nerozlišuje mezi lidmi prchajícími před válkou, „ekonomickými migranty“ či migranty klimatickými. OSN předpokládá, že počet posledně zmíněných vzroste do roku 2060 na půl miliardy.

Tváří v tvář takové mase lidí Francie nebyla s to udržet dřívější politiku uzavřených hranic. Minulá vláda se sice snažila příchozí zadržet, výsledkem byly nicméně pouze nepokoje a následná porážka v prezidentských volbách.

Sourii v práci doslova zaplavují případy žadatelů o azyl z oblasti Sahelu mezi Saharou a velkou súdánskou savanou. Kvůli extrémním vlnám horka přesahujícím padesát stupňů Celsia se zde totiž zkrátka nedá žít, a lidé tak putují na sever.

Léo, Souriin přítel, jí zrovna před týdnem popisoval obsah nového dokumentu o africké krizi. „Vypadá to, že oteplení o 1,7 stupně oproti předindustriální éře způsobilo oteplování oceánů, hlavně Atlantiku. Golfský proud kvůli tomu zpomalil a monzunové deště nad západní Afrikou se posunuly k jihu. Kvůli tomu se ze Sahelu stává poušť,“ vysvětlil.

Pár poslední dobou každou chvíli diskutuje o tom, nakolik musí trpět následky činů generace svých rodičů a prarodičů. „Dokud žijeme, doufáme,“ říká často Léo u sklenice anglického vína, které pije hlavně proto, že nedostatek chmele extrémně zdražil pivo. Pracuje ve farmářském družstvu. Ta se rozšířila napříč Francií do té míry, že z venkova v podstatě vytlačují drahé supermarkety.

Souria je ovšem méně optimistická. Bojuje s pocitem obecné mizérie, který v ní dřív rostl každým dnem. I proto se před čtyřmi lety se spolu s Léem rozhodla adoptovat dítě původem z Mali. Podobně jako řada přátel, i oni dávno zavrhli možnost mít vlastního potomka.

S tím, jak se budoucnost stávala stále nejistější, Léo jednoho večera řekl: „Stal by se z něj kriminálník.“ Když ale Souria potkala šestiletého Birama, rozhodli se rychle. Mladý pár samozřejmě netuší, jaké klimatické podmínky adoptivního syna čekají. Jsou si jistí jenom tím, že se mu pokusí zajistit lepší život.

An illustrated infographic showing how Earth Overshoot Day, or The date when humanity’s yearly consumption overtakes the planet’s capacity to regenerate renewable natural resources in that year, has got earlier and earlier since 1970.
Earth Overshoot Day since 1970 : The date when humanity’s yearly consumption overtakes the planet’s capacity to regenerate renewable natural resources in that year.

Možnost druhá

Hlas v telefonu je klidný. „Neodvážila jsem se v té chumelenici ani vyjít ven. A trvá to už kolik dní! Ještě že jsme opravili tu izolaci. Jsme stulení v teple v obýváku a je to skvělé. Ani účty za topení ostatně nejsou nějak hrozné.“

„To ráda slyším, mami. Stavím se za vámi, až ty vánice skončí. Viděla jsem nějaké levné lístky do Paříže přes hyperloop,“ odpověděla Souria s odkazem na ultrarychlou železniční síť poháněnou magnetickým polem. Ta je mezi Toulouse a Paříží v provozu od roku 2035.

Souria zavěsila a matčin hologram zmizel v hodinkách. Mimoděk si vzpomněla na rodinný dům na jihovýchodě Francie, oázu klidu a míru napájenou solárními panely a bateriemi. Ty si její rodiče pořídili již ve dvacátých letech, kdy vláda spustila program dostupných půjček.

Nebylo to nejlevnější, ale díky úsporám vody a energií se výměna ve výsledku vyplatila. Souria s Léem si nový byt v Nantes také opatřili novou izolací a připojili jej na místní teplárnu poháněnou bioplynem z průmyslových a zemědělských produktů.

Profesi si Souria vybrala takřka bez přemýšlení. Pracuje pro město jako takzvaná renovátorka. Nabízí místním dotované rekonstrukční programy, shání řemeslníky a vybírá nejdostupnější technická řešení. Když byla malá, odvětví prakticky neexistovalo, ale od doby, kdy v roce 2030 nastoupila na vysokou školu, se nový ekonomický sektor vzepjal.

A z dobrého důvodu. O několik let dříve se Francie rozhodla, že výrazně uspíší ekologickou přestavbu. Vláda, povzbuzená mezinárodním rozhodnutím přijmout v roce 2021 ještě ambicióznější evropské cíle na ochranu klimatu, se odhodlala ke sladění všech sektorů s transformačním plánem négaWatt 2050. Ten sepsali odborníci ze stejnojmenného think-tanku s cílem načrtnout první přesný plán na dosažení uhlíkové neutrality k roku 2050.

Souria zná négaWatt do posledního písmene: byl ostatně hlavním tématem její dizertační práce. Když ji psala, obrátila se mimo jiné na Thierra Salomona, viceprezidenta négaWattu. „Je to čistá a realistická cesta k ekologické transformaci, kterou Francouzi akceptují,“ řekl jí.

„Renovuje se 780 tisíc domů, zvyšuje se účinnost dopravy o takřka šedesát procent, úroveň konzumace masa naopak klesá na úroveň devadesátých let a ukončují se dodávky fosilních paliv s cílem dosáhnout do roku 2050 stoprocentního podílu obnovitelných zdrojů. Tomu pomůže i omezení spotřeby energie o dvě třetiny. Což je možné a potenciálně i přínosné pro ekonomiku,“ vysvětlil dále.

Souria končila rozhovor se Salomonem proměněná. Žasla při zjištění, jaké množství přebytečné energie – sluneční v létě, větrné při chladném počasí – lze převést na bioplyn a uložit na zimu skrze elektrolýzu.

Spolu s Léem, který nyní spravuje rozvíjející se síť zemědělských družstev kolem Nantes, procestovala na oslavu svých pětadvacátých narozenin Evropu na kole. Pár na cestách objevil, jak portugalské třísettisícové město Vila Nova de Gaia vyrábí třetinu elektřiny jen tím, že přetváří odpad na bioplyn.

V Norsku Souria trvala na tom, že musí navštívit hlavně první energeticky pozitivní školu na světě. Od dostavby v roce 2018 sama budova produkuje 30 500 kilowatthodin ročně, což odpovídá spotřebě dvou rodin se třemi dětmi.

Pár sedí na zarostlé terase a zamýšlí se nad tím, jak se v posledních desetiletích vyvinula světová situace. Zrovna před týdnem o tom Léo viděl dokument. „Věci se začaly měnit asi dvacet let nazpět. Krátce poté, co Evropa v roce 2019 přijala nová klimatická opatření, Spojené státy zvolily prezidentkou odvážnou ženu. Ta okamžitě zařídila znovupřistoupení země k Pařížské dohodě. Zasloužila se i o uzavření uhelných elektráren a zakázala těžbu břidlicového plynu. To spustilo světovou vlnu,“ shrnul.

Toho večera se Souria s Léem potulovali ulicemi Nantes, které od doby, kdy mají do města povolený vjezd pouze elektrická vozidla, ztichly. Pár míjel tramvaje užívané k noční přepravě zboží do centra namísto zastaralých nákladních aut. Lampy se rozsvěcovaly, jak je míjeli, a následně opět zhasínaly. Z ulic byly zase jednou vidět hvězdy.

Esej vyšla pod titulkem Futures Foretold: Climate Fiction v časopise Green European Journal jako upravená verze dřívějšího textu pro francouzský deník Libération. Přeložil JAN KAŠPÁREK

The Climate Justice Movement in the Czech Republic Has Broken the Silence. Now What?

The ‘climate spring’ arrived in the Czech Republic this year as young students, spurred on by the global school strike movement, abandoned their classrooms to protest the Czech government’s chronic inaction on climate. Josef Patočka situates this new wave of activism in a tradition of ecological mobilisation in the country known for being in the ‘coal heartlands of Europe’. Now that the climate issue has broken into Czech public debate, what can be done to effectively push for structural change and a just transition to clean energy?

With over half of its electricity still generated from coal, an energy sector ruled by a powerful oligopoly of wealthy corporations, and a lively public debate on climate all but non-existent compared to Western Europe, it seemed unlikely, until recently, that the Czech Republic would be the scene of any remarkable developments in terms of climate and energy policy.

But this seems to be changing. Since early 2019, the Czech Republic has witnessed a remarkable surge in climate activism, unparalleled in the past decades of passivity and denial. How has this come about? What are the chances for the nascent climate movement to change the political course of the country? To a great extent, this development was triggered by one largely unforeseen event in spring 2019.

Students breaking through

On 17 March, Richard Brabec, Minister of the Environment and prominent Deputy Prime Minister in the scandal-ridden government of the populist oligarch Andrej Babiš, entered the Sunday national television political debate to talk climate with his habitual smile. But this time, his usual performance betrayed a certain tone of uneasiness.

This was due to the fact that two days earlier, in unison with young people across the globe, thousands of school children in the Czech Republic skipped class to march through Prague, Brno and other cities big and small. They lambasted universal political inaction on the root causes of the climate crisis and demanded change from the country’s political leadership.

Brabec’s defense of his cabinet’s record was typically both patronising and hypocritical. He stated he was “happy” about the protest and the concern it has demonstrated, then shortly after he accused the “youngsters” of being “unfair” to the government, which –he claimed– was already doing all in its power to protect the climate.

Coal commission as a concession

However, during this first major political reaction to the initial student strike, Brabec announced – reluctantly – a government concession to the emerging pressure. He promised to set up a coal commission, following the German example, which would discuss possibilities for an earlier phaseout of the climate-wrecking fossil fuel which is responsible for the larger part of the country’s emissions.

This underscores the importance the spring climate strikes have had in allowing the emerging climate justice movement in the Czech Republic to accomplish the first task of any social movement: they broke the silence, exposed the problem, and established the subject as a legitimate point of public debate.

the struggle for climate justice will be in any foreseeable future in the Czech Republic prominently directed against the coal industry

As important as the youth climate strikes have been in bringing about this breakthrough (no small feat in a society plagued until recently by the legacy of the former president and internationally renowned climate denier Václav Klaus), they are the latest development in a long history of ecological activism in the Czech Republic. For as much as the new prominence of the climate crisis in the Czech public debate is indebted to the current international momentum (‘the Greta effect’), it is also the product of a distinct domestic tradition of struggles for ecological justice, particularly against coal.

Coal country

The simple truth is that the struggle for climate justice will be in any foreseeable future in the Czech Republic prominently directed against the coal industry. Together with Germany and Poland, the Czech Republic remains one of the vertices of what has been dubbed the ‘black triangle’, or the ‘coal heartlands of Europe‘. These three countries account for the absolute majority of all the coal production and coal power generation in the whole of the European Union.

Owing to the wasteful usage of this most-polluting of fossil fuels, the Czech CO2 emissions rank among the highest in the EU in both per-capita and per-unit-of-GDP terms. Moreover, emissions from the energy sector have barely abated at all in the past two decades, betraying the non-existence of any meaningful climate policy.

The fact that Brussels-set mitigation targets (such as that for CO2 emissions) are measured against the 1990 baseline provided a simple excuse for the governments of the former Soviet-bloc states, including the Czech government. Emissions have indeed declined compared to 1990 levels, but not because of an ambitious – or any, for that matter – policy but simply as the result of the collapse of many industries during the transition to capitalism in the early 1990s. Since then, they have been really stagnating.

A powerful industry

This stagnation has been both the result and the precondition for the coal business to flourish. This concerns not only ČEZ, the semi-state monopolistic energy provider, which has used its money and power to expand even beyond the borders of the country, buying utilities and power plants in Bulgaria, Romania and Albania. Crucially, the Czech Coal company, responsible for mining lignite in the huge open-cast pits of Northern Bohemia, was plundered from the state during the post-communist transition years of the 1990s and then sold into the hands of two billionaires – Pavel Tykač and Jan Dienstl – who have gradually re-purposed it into the Northern Energy Company, a prominent and aggressive anti-mitigation player in the Czech energy sector.

More recently these have been joined by Daniel Křetínský’s powerful EPH corporation, which is now expanding with acquisitions all over Europe, including the purchase of the east-German coal assets previously owned by the Swedish energy company Vattenfall [for more on Vattenfall see here]. This expansion has seen the EPH corporation assume the position of the third most-polluting European coal company. Even if Křetínský does not own so many assets within the Czech Republic itself, he has a crucial influence over the country’s media and owns one of its largest publishing houses, the Czech News Center.

Together, these three companies form the dirty ‘troika’ of the Czech coal business. The coal tycoons have made sure that nobody gets in the way of monumental electricity exports of up to 20 per cent of all production, exports which have indeed become a key feature of the Czech energy policy in the past two decades with the country repeatedly ending up in the global top ten for electricity exports. Their profits skyrocketed accordingly, often channeled into tax havens, as in the case of Pavel Tykač who has sucked tens of billions of crowns from coal companies to his letterbox enterprises in Cyprus.

The roots

Until recently, due to the lack of awareness about the climate crisis, struggles around coal in the Czech Republic have focused mainly on its impacts on health, landscape and, most importantly, human habitation. The first of these struggles was the non-violent defense of the village of Libkovice, set to be demolished for coal, shortly after the Velvet revolution. For the early environmentalists and founders of the first eco-organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, many of them students who participated in the protests that brought down the socialist dictatorship, this struggle has been symbolic: no more villages should be destroyed.

For a new generation of climate activists looking for a front line from which to confront the fossil fuel industry, the threatened town was an obvious choice

Even though Libkovice lost its struggle for survival, weakening hopes that the new-founded democracy would set itself on a more environmentally friendly course, the early 1990s marked some progress: in 1991, the first democratic government created so-called ‘territorial limits’ to mining, set to protect other human habitation from the diggers, even though they allowed mining to continue until at least 2050. Both coal tycoons and environmentalists have for some time respected this compromise, with conflicts erupting sporadically over the permits of various power plants.

It was only after more than ten years of relative peace that the Czech Coal company began lobbying for the territorial limits to be breached, which would have led to the destruction of the town of Horní Jiřetín, home to two thousand people. These ‘limits’ have thus become the battle lines in a protracted struggle for the survival of the community, in which local inhabitants and activists united in an association named ‘the Roots’ (Kořeny) are linked with established NGOs.

‘We are the Limits’

For years, Horní Jiřetín has been hanging in the balance, on the verge of being mined away for the coal which lies beneath its houses, streets and gardens. In 2015, this conflict came to a head just as the world was preparing for historic climate talks in Paris. Against this backdrop, the fact that the Czech government was entertaining the option of expanding coal mining – and razing homes to do so – was symbolic of the perceived absurdity of the Czech energy policy.

For a new generation of climate activists looking for a front line from which to confront the fossil fuel industry, the threatened town was an obvious choice to rise up and demand action. Together with locals and NGO environmentalists, younger activists rallied to oppose the town’s destruction under the slogan ‘Limity jsme my!‘ (‘We are the limits!’).

Just weeks before they would preach “responsibility towards future generations” in Paris, the social-democratic government of the time ruled to spare the town but trash the climate: even though the limits were saved in the vicinity of Jiřetín, they were broken on a different nearby mine, where operations were prolonged until 2035.

From climate camps to climate movement

The bitter-sweet result prompted many of the younger activists to reflect on the movement’s strategy. In contrast to their predecessors, the 2015 protestors’ emphasis was already on mass mobilisation rather than lobbying, and they opted to frame energy struggles in terms of climate justice rather than ecological modernisation.

Inspired by the actions against coal in Germany, the Limity jsme my! initiative has been progressively transformed into a campaign for an ‘immediate coal phaseout’, aiming to organise a broad, inclusive and participatory climate movement. In 2017, the very first climate camp, modelled on European counterparts, was organised – an event which culminated in a mass civil disobedience action which shut down the very mine that was expanded two years earlier.

Away from frontline communities directly impacted by the coal industry, new grassroots groups are emerging

With further climate camps accompanied by mass blockades, dozens of smaller events, and generally reinvigorated campaigning against coal on climate grounds in the following years, the movement was progressively growing even before this year’s ‘climate spring’. It was from this fertile ground that many of the youth climate strikers have taken inspiration.

Away from frontline communities directly impacted by the coal industry, new grassroots groups are emerging: Universities For Climate, Medics For Future, and a Czech branch of Extinction Rebellion, to name a few. A week-long decentralised mobilisation connecting these groups was organised during the September climate strike, with over 150 events in up to 50 locations, and almost 10 000 participants. While this may seem small compared to the scale of climate protests in neighbouring Germany, for example, a potential for a significant growth in the numbers and strength of the movement is now apparent.

In terms of party politics, the fast-rising Czech Pirate Party has largely stepped in the boots of the struggling Green party [read more on the 2017 Czech legislative election results here] as the champions of the movements’ demands, providing – after years of absence – a parliamentary platform for ecologically progressive policy as a vigorous opposition.

The coal commission as a trap

As important as the formation of the government’s coal commission is as a signal of changing winds, it would be a grave mistake not to see it for what it is: a trap. Packed with pro-coal hardliners, even if the commission were to bring forward the industry’s deadline to 2040 and thus shorten its life span by fifteen years, this would still be too late.

According to coal phaseout pathways consistent with targets to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, all coal-power generation in OECD countries must be off grid by 2030. The rise of vibrant civil society inspires hope that the coal commission will be rightly recognised as a smokescreen to obscure the real state of affairs. For the fact remains that, even though the feasibility of a renewables roll-out sufficient to completely replace coal in the Czech Republic by 2030 has been proven beyond doubt, policy is going in the opposite direction.

On the very same day that the Czech government formally authorised the set-up of the coal commission, the Ministry of Environment under Brabec put the final stamp of approval on the expansion of the Bílina mine, prolonging its life span beyond the critical 2030 deadline. Similarly, instead of substantial unnecessary capacities of coal power plants being shut down to reduce emissions, their operations are being prolonged by their owners with tacit agreement from the government.

Contrary to the movement’s demands to close down old power plants, these are now instead being privatised into the hands of coal tycoons like Pavel Tykač. Having already bought and partially retrofitted the Chvaletice power plant, not far from Prague, Tykač is now eyeing Počerady, the most polluting power plant in the country and among top 30 dirtiest power plants in European union. Moreover, instead of closing down these operations, the state is facilitating their continued operation by granting them exemptions from the new European air-quality regulations.

Exposing hypocrisy, avoiding a ‘culture war’

In such a situation, what should be the way forward? From breaking the silence and alerting society to the problem, there is still a long way to go to expose the institutional failures at its root and building active majority support for change. Politically speaking, especially as the result of the coal commission can be presumed to be unsatisfactory, the conflict over its meaning will likely be among the most important landmarks in the coming year.

Here it will be necessary to expose the hypocrisy of the government and to use the opportunity to increase long-term pressure for a paradigm shift in energy policy. Both actions of mass civil disobedience and street protests have succeeded in pushing the debate forward, but in order to grow they need to become more relatable and grounded in sustainable structures of day-to-day, bottom-up organising. To lay the ground for that, trends towards isolation in comfortable ‘identity activism’ must be avoided, and new alliances worked out instead.

it’s essential to avoid the framing of the climate struggle as yet another ‘culture war’ between metropolitan liberals and small-town conservatives.

More than anything else, this path forward makes it essential to avoid the framing of the climate struggle as yet another ‘culture war’ between metropolitan liberals and small-town conservatives – a framing already being imposed by right-wing populists, who have greatly benefitted from this logic in previous clashes over foreign policy or the rights of refugees. These divisive politics have in recent years allowed authoritarian politicians such as Czech President Miloš Zeman or Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to successfully hegemonise the political center, something which has occurred not only in the Czech Republic but also in neighboring Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary.

This framing has also been historically supported by a large segment of the post-privatisation billionaire class, to which both Babiš and Tykač with his fellow coal tycoons belong, through their influence in politics and media. Channeling the frustration of marginalised classes, largely originating in the discontents of the post-socialist transition, towards nationalistic passions has allowed them to let themselves off the hook and displace a social conflict into a cultural one.

A struggle for the common good

If progressives are to be successful again in the post-socialist space, they need to rediscover the ability to link their ‘noble causes’ – including the climate – to a credible vision for a more just and inclusive society. This will not be easy, or fast. But as the unprecedented success of former environmental activist Zuzana Čaputová in the Slovak presidential election shows, when articulated as a question of the common good rather than individual taste, even demands usually perceived as quintessentially ‘metropolitan’ concerns are capable of gaining majority support.

If progressives are to be successful again in the post-socialist space, they need to rediscover the ability to link their ‘noble causes’ – including the climate – to a credible vision for a more just and inclusive society.

If the fledgling climate movement wants to stand on firmer ground in Czech society, it should take these lessons seriously and strive to link energy struggles to the multitude of other discontents in the context of the increasingly authoritarian Czech brand of capitalism: a shortage of housing, low wages and long working hours, or the plight of the very regions where coal is being extracted.

The challenge is to present the vision of a decarbonised economy as an opportunity to also address structural issues which are at the core of much of the frustration with the thirty years of post-socialist development. When the present wave of mobilisations temporarily subsides – as is sure to happen – it must dig in for the long haul of overturning historically embedded structures of power and wealth, which are behind our interlinked social and ecological crises.

Rational Hope: Connecting Hard Truth with Climate Solutions

“Yes, the situation is serious. No, it’s not hopeless and yes, solutions are there for the asking.” Tine Hens interviewed Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe about her experiences speaking truth to climate denialism and how rational hope – a solutions-focussed approach which looks the crisis in the eye – must be the cornerstone of discussions on the climate emergency.

“To fly or not to fly?” Lately this has been the topic of heated debate among climate scientists. Is their message more powerful when they put their money where their mouth is? Or does the number of people they reach by flying outweigh their personal carbon footprint? In short, what has the greatest effect: personal lifestyle or personal contact? Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who lives in the United States, is convinced that she achieves more by meeting people than by scrapping her flights. Nevertheless, she doesn’t take the decision to travel by plane lightly. “I save up my appointments until I have enough to square them with my own conscience. If I can’t manage this, I give lectures via skype.”

At the moment she’s in Europe. Her schedule is overloaded with appointments and conferences. As director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, Hayhoe is considered the woman who not only masters the science behind the climate crisis, but who knows how to best communicate it. She’s the driving force behind the Global Weirding channel on YouTube, where she dissects any argument imaginable against climate action or any confusion around the cause of climate change with the necessary passion.

To her, talking about the planetary emergency in which we find ourselves is only meaningful if you connect the hard truth about the situation with a clear analysis of the solutions. What Joanna Macey in her book of the same name describes as ‘active hope’, Hayhoe likes to call ‘rational hope.’

“Without hope, we’ll be paralysed by fear,” she says. “The function of fear is very specific: it’s a response to an immediate danger. It helps us to run away from the bear or from a house on fire, but we cannot survive long in constant fear. In that case dissonance occurs, we disconnect from reality. We either throw our hands in the air and say, ‘All is lost’, or we decide not to bother and continue with our lives as if there’s nothing wrong.”

“That doesn’t mean that we must disguise the seriousness of the situation. That is irrational hope and false optimism. Because yes, the situation is serious. And no, we are not going to solve this by recycling more or by replacing light bulbs with LED lamps or by inflating our car tires. Those who claim that this will suffice are lying. The effect is the same as with a constant flow of stories of doom. When people discover that you don’t save the world by putting plastic in the right bag, because those plastics aren’t recycled but burnt, then they get disillusioned and drop out.”

“With rational hope we look the crisis in the eye. But we also focus on the solutions that are already there. Renewable energy is an important one, as are alternative agricultural techniques and a circular production system. We can start with those now. But in order to push the politicians in that direction, we need a global movement to get the message across. That’s why it’s so important to see youngsters taking to the streets worldwide. We don’t need small changes, but big ones and they are clearly calling this generation of politicians to account.”

Tine Hens: On social media young climate activists get a lot of opposition from adults. It offers some politicians a way out by minimising the voice of those youngsters.

Katharine Hayhoe: Let’s not mince matters: this counter-movement is organised. I come from the US, so I know how the doubt brigade works. I have specialised in addressing venues full of people shaking their heads disapprovingly about all the climate hysteria. There are five stages of climate denial. The first one is claiming it doesn’t exist, that it’s some sort of left-wing invention. The second is admitting that the climate is changing but not that human activity is the cause, or saying that we just don’t know why. The third one is admitting that the climate is changing, but claiming that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Who doesn’t want a bit more sun and less rain? And maybe there’ll be palm trees all over the place. The fourth is admitting climate change and that it isn’t necessarily good, but that the solutions are worse and that’s it’s just better to adapt. Finally, there’s the last stage where people say, ‘Yes, it’s true. Yes, it’s bad. But you should have said this sooner, because now it’s too late.’

Each of these five stages has the same goal: a delay or an abandonment of climate action. Claiming that we’ll adapt is just as damaging as denying climate change because the outcome of both these attitudes is the same: doing nothing.

My experience in Texas has taught me that talking about solutions takes the sting out of the debate. I often meet people who cast doubts on climate change, but who are one hundred percent in favour of wind energy because they prefer breathing healthy air.

A lot of people want to make lifestyle choices, but without being subject to ‘the moralising finger’. It seems to boil down to this idea we mentioned before that you’re a better person when you decide not to take a plane.

Oh yes, that sounds very familiar. I think it’s totally counterproductive, and it’s something I often experience myself. Because I talk about climate change, people tell me I’m a hypocrite because I drive a car, I still eat meat, I fly, or because I have a child.

‘Overpopulation is the problem, not climate change,’ is what people often say.

Exactly. But it’s not the number of people, it is the way in which people consume and produce, and the totally unfair distribution which is the result. So yes, I have a child and I wouldn’t want otherwise, because my twelve-year-old gives me the hope and the power to keep working for that better future. I owe it to him. And yes, I do have a car, because I live a six-hour ride away from Dallas, the closest town with something resembling public transport. And yes, I do eat meat. I live in Texas. Here meat is important to people. At the University we’re researching how farmers can keep cattle and store CO2 in the soil. Of course, that can only work with fewer cattle and more space, a bit like the buffalos that were grazing the plains here some 200 years ago. Whenever I do eat meat, it comes from this university trial project.

For many people in Texas, being a cattle farmer, growing food, is part of their identity. If you attack them because of that, the only thing you achieve is that they become disaffected. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me what I can and cannot do, I somehow feel inclined to do the opposite. I remember a pastor in church saying that you sin every time you turn your car key.  When I heard that I felt like walking out, getting in the biggest possible truck and driving round and round him with screeching tires. We must trust people, not tell them how to live. When I talk about solutions, I present them as possibilities.

Yet these possibilities scare people off. ‘It’s impossible to make the world turn on 100 per cent renewable energy!’ ‘If we do that, it’s a return to the Middle Ages!’ You probably recognise these objections. How do you react to them?

What I hear most often is ‘The sun doesn’t always shine’ and ‘What if there’s no wind?’ I try to explain to people that partly we’re living in the 18th century because we’re using exactly the same fuels we did back then. ‘Don’t you want new, modern technologies? An energy source of the 21st century? That’s solar panels. That’s wind energy.’

And then people answer: ‘No, I’d rather have nuclear energy.’

That’s applying a 20th-century solution on a 19th-century principle. It’s true that nuclear plants don’t produce any CO2 in the production stage. I think it’s good to retain the nuclear capacity that’s there already as long as it can be done safely. I advocate looking into the potential of nuclear energy. But we mustn’t kid ourselves. Currently nuclear energy is the most expensive means to create electricity and one of the least effective. Poor countries can’t build nuclear plants. Even in the United States, no new nuclear plants have been built in the last three decades. One was planned but has been scrapped because it was too expensive.

In order to make progress, it is important to neutralise the opposition between nuclear and renewable. Who profits? The fossil fuel companies. That should remain the focus. As long as we don’t pay the right price for the emission of greenhouse gases it will be difficult to roll out new emission-free technologies. A Swiss company has invented a technology to take CO2 out of the air and store it in certain types of rock. Right now, it is impossibly expensive because CO2 is free.

Isn’t that exactly where the hopeful story about all the possibilities gets bogged down? Citizens can get something done, but without political courage and vision that too remains a form of therapy. You undoubtedly know the figure that is annually spent on fossil fuels in terms of subsidies. An ordinary citizen can’t change that.

You have to take to the street to do that. Absolutely. That’s why the global movement of climate strikers is so essential. I know what it means to live in a country where the federal government is ignoring science. I co-wrote the national climate report (National Climate Assessment) which the government simply dismissed.

At the same time, I notice the reaction to that denial of reality. People, corporations, and states are doing what they can to reduce emissions. Together they account for 40 per cent of total US emissions. Is that sufficient? No. But the Yale Program on Climate Communication opinion polls, held four times a year, has shown that more Americans than ever before are worried about climate change.

On the other hand, in the US more money is pumped into the fossil industry in terms of subsidies than into the entire operation of the Pentagon. Changing that requires a lot of pressure from the street. Political will is only going to come when people are indignant, when they discuss it, and when they realise what’s going on. As I remarked when I was asked to do a Ted Talk about the most important thing you can do for the climate, it is to talk about the impact and about the solutions.

Just now we were talking about the fear that exists that climate action will send us back to the Middle Ages. If that’s not the future, how does it look according to you?

The good news: for all the dreams I cherish for my future and particularly for my son’s, the technology is already there. We need innovation to take the surplus levels of CO2out of the atmosphere again in order to stabilise rising temperatures, but we shouldn’t wait for that instead of reducing our emissions now.

Concretely, I envision a future where people live in houses which generate energy, where our roads propel our cars, and where neighbourhoods are so closely connected that we can get anywhere by public transport, by bike, or on foot. Farmers will become CO2 managers – they will work the soil to make it store CO2. We will no longer throw away 30 per cent of our food. Worldwide, there will be support networks to take care of the consequences of climate change and to help each other in the process.

Maybe that’s the most important thing that I’ve learnt in the past fifteen years: material things don’t make us happy. People need one another. Experiences, building something together, meeting each other – that’s happiness. And we’re being robbed of that because other stuff has taken its place. So yes, I envision a much happier world. Not a world in which everything gets more and more difficult, where our lives get tougher, where we have less because we need to solve climate change, but a world in which everybody flourishes and is better off.

This is a republication of an interview originally published on Mo Magazine.

Under the Paving Stones, a Vegetable Garden

Today’s concrete jungles are becoming increasingly interlaced with green as urban space transforms around us. But simply ‘greening’ the city is not enough to repair the gross imbalances in the relationship between humans and the natural world. Joëlle Zask explores how greening citizenship – through cultivation practices – offers an opportunity for self-government which may just restore this relationship to one of perpetual regeneration rather than mutually destructive exploitation.

In April 2016, during protests against labour law reforms in Place de la République, Paris, the slogan “Sous les pavés le potager” (“Under the paving stones, a vegetable garden”) appeared on paving slabs that a protestor had pulled up to create a tiny garden. Although echoed since, this slogan has not stuck in the French collective memory like the phrase it parodies: “Sous les pavés la plage” (“Under the paving stones, the beach”). Coined by a worker during the civil unrest of May 1968, “Under the paving stones, the beach” was a phrase which spread when protestors noticed that the paving stones they were ripping up for projectiles and barricades were laid on sand. And yet another slogan had preceded this one: “Il y a de l’herbe sous les pavés” (“There’s grass under the paving stones”). This wasn’t adopted, however, partly because the word ‘grass’ was associated with marijuana, but above all because unlike sand, a construction material, grass sounded like a slightly surreal oddity in the context of the city.

Greener city, greener citizens?

“Under the paving stones, a vegetable garden” is much more in keeping with the times in which we find ourselves today. Gardens have acquired a right to belong in the city that they didn’t enjoy in 1968. All sorts of planting – from vegetable gardens to wild grasses – have sprung up in streets, parks and courtyards, below trees, atop roofs and on the outskirts of cities. But this transformation of the city does not seem to have been accompanied by a parallel transformation in conceptions of citizenship. While our urban environment is ever greener, the same cannot be said for the citizen, who is, etymologically speaking, an inhabitant of the city. Yet ‘greening’ citizenship is vital: it is, on the one hand, a prerequisite for the emergence of a complete ecosystem that offers an alternative to the inorganic urban system that is colonising the natural world on which it materially depends. On the other hand, greening citizenship is also necessary for encouraging action on climate and against activities that create imbalances in the relationships between humans and nature.

While our urban environment is ever greener, the same cannot be said for the citizen

“Under the paving stones, a vegetable garden” is certainly not a statement of fact. Rather, the slogan is a manifesto. It promotes the idea that social relations which respect nature and natural beings are of superior quality to the classical ideal of people assembled in an agora (a public gathering place or market square) making “public use of their reason.”[1] According to this classical definition, the citizen is the central element of a logocentric and disembodied conception of political practices. This could be countered with a citizen-environmentalist whose relations with others are both situated in and produce – or protect – a tangible shared world that includes a territory, a habitat, a landscape, an economy and a resource: food.

Living well in the city

“The vegetable garden under the paving stones” expresses the necessary link between the city and nature, in all senses of the term. In the ancient tradition, with which we would do well to reacquaint ourselves, cultivation of the land, aesthetic pleasure and subsistence agriculture were not separate ideas. The city, in the sense Aristotle gave this term, was (despite the known limitations imposed by slavery’s economic and social ubiquity) a community deemed to be happy because it was self-sufficient, or rather independent. The freedom and equality of citizens would not have been achieved if the city, that is to say the community and its inhabitants, had not been able to forge a connection with nature to obtain shareable knowledge and sustenance from it.[2] Demeter was the Greek goddess of agriculture and civilisations, which are ultimately inseparable.

In fact, the ancient Greek city, including the agora, was not the inorganic universe that we usually imagine. The agora was open to all, shaded by huge plane trees that were naturally irrigated and connected to surrounding nature.[3] It can even be argued that the city conceived as a free and independent community had characteristics that were the exact opposite of those later depicted in the famous painting The Ideal City of Urbino.[4] Since the Renaissance, in the minds of thinkers from Thomas More to Claude Nicolas Ledoux, from Charles Fourier to Jean-Baptiste André Godin, from Henri Ford (with his Fordlandia in the heart of the Amazon rainforest) to Le Corbusier, ideal cities have been planned and laid out according to principles that supposedly express fundamental human needs but without ever consulting, involving or empowering citizens when it comes to their living conditions. They bring to mind the ideal cities built in the sky that Greek playwright Aristophanes mocked in his comedy The Birds.

The exclusion of nature from the fully inorganic city fossilises citizenship. The “right to the city” is not part of it. The private city may well be functional, useful, specialised and purpose built, but it isn’t conducive to living well.

The politics of the shared garden

“Under the paving stones, a vegetable garden” also highlights, metaphorically, that what the city is made from, its raw materials, is not just the sand used to make mortar and concrete but land divided into lots in which fruit and vegetables may grow. The citizen defined by their critical reasoning or their position away from the land is replaced by an idea in which producing food is part of everyday life. As traditional farmers or city dwellers with a garden will tell you, access to a patch of land, far from being at odds with the human condition, is in fact a fundamental aspect of it. It is this access, also known as the ‘right to cultivate’, that is the firmest guarantee of equality and liberty, understood as independence.

With the shared garden, we move from the essentialised – even sacralised – idea of ‘the politician’ to an open and dynamic notion called ‘politics’.

From the German Peasants’ War between 1524 and 1526 to today’s landless peasant movements, the importance that activists place on the union between discursive activities and productive activities is clear. Without such a union, it is inevitable that slavery, mercenary work, exploitation and dependence will develop, along with ever more profitable monocultures, diabolical production rates, all manner of inputs, soil degradation and more. With the demand for access to land, including in the ecological sense of ‘greening the city’, the social union ceases to be ideally formed by citizens of nowhere, equal because the same, neutral and objective. Rather, it concerns citizens who do things together and believe that producing their livelihood is necessary for a democratically organised social life.

With the shared garden, which is also a place where people who like to chat and socialise gather, we move from the essentialised – even sacralised – idea of ‘the politician’ to an open and dynamic notion called ‘politics’. Instead of being confined and separated from the rest of the world, like the traditional city behind its wall, policy can, without risk of corruption, be associated with each activity in which one form of self-government or another is played out.

The vegetable patch as a school for self-government

“The vegetable garden under the paving stones” is a school for self-government. Gardening means taking your experience and adapting it to the land and, at the same time, your needs. Knowing the land means knowing the surrounding environment, geography, weather, water regime and history. As the Scottish biologist and sociologist Patrick Geddes believed, a good city and authentically human life require observation from viewpoints that range from the panoramic to the microscopic.[5] That’s how genius loci, the precursor to the notion of an ecosystem, was born.

The farmer, both a grower who produces his livelihood and a gardener who maintains nature, practices a form of self-government that can be extrapolated to many other situations.

Farmers will often remind you that mother nature is their mistress. They can’t just do whatever they want. As Turner wrote about the American wilderness, the environment is not something with which you can sign a contract.[6] But while the farmer, as admiringly depicted by the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, may serve the land, he does not obey it.[7] On the contrary, he enters into dialogue with it and transforms the landscape, working for the benefit of future generations.

Yet, in the pragmatist sense, experience is constitutive of individuality. It is real if the subject of the experience learns from the changes that they cause in the situation of their action. This implies that they actively transform this situation and observe the effects that they have, then situates themselves in relation to these effects to reject, confirm or transform them into a means for further experience. The grammar of land cultivation is that of experience. The farmer, both a grower who produces his livelihood and a gardener who maintains nature, practices a form of self-government that can be extrapolated to many other situations.

A down-to-earth solution

Lastly, “Under the paving stones, a vegetable garden” implies a dimension of care, stewardship and cultivation. When it comes to forests and nature, it has never been clearer that landscapes are partly shaped by human beings who, since time immemorial, have organised and managed these to preserve them. Thus, aboriginal Australians, whose philosophy of country ‘cleaning’ guides the practice in which forest burning is used for religious and spiritual as well as for land management reasons, understand that they are stakeholders in nature and guarantors of its perpetual regeneration.[8] As with Adam in the Garden of Eden, working and taking care of a garden are two aspects of the same activity.

As we have seen, societies organised in such a way that diligently ensures the coupling between cultivation and preservation of nature by guaranteeing its perpetual regeneration enjoy specific spiritual and material qualities. In contrast to those societies that exploit nature to dominate and distance it in the name of a supposedly superior spirituality, they possess qualities that are indispensable to developing the individuality of all while also maintaining the commons. As sensed by Thomas Jefferson – the great advocate of agrarian democracy and enemy of latifundia (large estates specialising in agriculture destined for export), cotton and tobacco planters, and a physiocracy that was already fully extractivist – the exploitation of nature and of human beings are two sides of the same coin.[9]

the exploitation of nature and of human beings are two sides of the same coin

So, greening citizenship – by incorporating philosophies of perpetual regeneration; creating and caring for common spaces; practising custodianship of the shared environment that preserves conditions and opportunities for all to experience and, therefore, sharing with every member of the community the possibilities for individuation, contribution and exploration that give meaning to life – is an ‘ecosystemic’ solution which, far from being utopian, is within reach of everyone. This has been clearly shown by the many actions of the Occupy and Reclaim the Streets movements, such as the establishment of villages at the heart of occupied urban spaces, as well as by residents’ creation of shared gardens, sociable street furniture or neighbourhood-level urban renewal plans. Ultimately, what the slogan “Under the paving stones, a vegetable garden” teaches us is that the opportunity for self-government, rather than being an unachievable dream or a distant utopia, lies right under our feet. It’s up to us to seize it.

A first draft of this article was prepared for the Brussels Ecosystems conference organised by Metrolab in October 2019.


[1] This expression can be found in Kant’s Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment? (Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?. 1784).It is reprised by Jürgen Habermas in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962, trans. 1989). The “public use of reason” is inherent to the “bourgeois public sphere”, which develops to scrutinise and criticise the government. It comprises a thinking and “enlightened” public.
[2] Aristotle, Politics, Book III.
[3] For more on this and the question of the shared garden, see Joëlle Zask. La démocratie aux champs. Paris : La Découverte (“Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond” series). 2016. On the geometric and inorganic conception of the public square, see J. Zask. Quand la place devient publique. Lormont : Le Bord de l’Eau Éditions (“Les Voies du politique” series). 2018.
[4] The Ideal City of Urbino, also known as the Urbino panel, is a wooden panel painted between 1480 and 1510. It is one of three very similar unattributed Italian Renaissance paintings which are referred to by the location where they are now stored, the other two being The Ideal City of Baltimore and The Ideal City of Berlin.
[5] Alessia de Biase, Albert Levy, and María A. Castrillo Romón. “Éditorial. Patrick Geddes en héritage”. Espaces et sociétés. Vol. 167, no. 4. 2016. pp. 7-25. This issue is entirely dedicated to Sir Patrick Geddes.
[6] Frederick Jackson Turner. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History“. A paper read at the meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago, 12 July 1893, during the World Columbian Exposition.
[7] Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 12 vols. Fireside Edition. Boston and New York. 1909. Vol. 7, Chap. 4. “Farming”. [Available online] <> .
[8]Marcia Langton. “Burning questions: emerging environmental issues for indigenous peoples in northern Australia. Darwin : Northern Territory University, Centre for Indigenous Natural and Cultural Resource Management. 1998
[9] For more on the different branches of American agrarianism and Jefferson’s position, see Thomas P. Govan. “Agrarian and Agrarianism: A Study in the Use and Abuse of Words”. The Journal of Southern History. Vol. 30, No. 1, 1964.

Investitionen statt Schwarze Null – ein Interview mit Danyal Bayaz

Deutschland ist gewissermaßen das Zentrum des europäischen Fiskalkonservatismus. Jahrelang hat es den austeritätspolitischen Kurs Europas geprägt. Die sogenannte „Schwarze Null“ wird von Finanzpolitikern der Christdemokraten sowie der Sozialdemokraten vehement verteidigt. Nun haben zwei Abgeordnete der Grünen Bundestagsfraktion – Danyal Bayaz und Anja Hajduk – einen investitionspolitischen Aufschlag gewagt. In ihrem Papier, „Investitionen sind wichtiger als das Symbol ‚Schwarze Null‘“, fordern sie eine Investitionsregel. Wir sprachen mit Danyal, Grüner Bundestagsabgeordneter und Mitglied des Finanzausschusses, über Austeritätspolitik, seinen Vorschlag für mehr Investitionen und was das für Europa bedeuten würde.

Green European Journal: In den vergangenen Jahren hat die Austeritätspolitik die europäische öffentliche Diskussion bestimmt. Mittlerweile wird aber immer mehr von der Investitionsnotwendigkeit gesprochen. Hat sich das Blatt gewendet?

Danyal Bayaz: Ich halte nichts davon, ins andere Extrem zu verfallen und jetzt wieder Schuldenberge anzuhäufen. Schulden im Blick zu behalten und – insbesondere bei nichttragfähiger Verschuldung – auch zurückzuführen, bleibt richtig. Doch darf das nicht zu Lasten von klugen Investitionen gehen, die ja gerade notwendig sind, um die Wirtschaftsleistung zu stärken. Wir müssen in der gesamten EU eine bessere Balance zwischen Sparen, Reformen und Investitionen finden. In diesem Zusammenhang ist es offensichtlich, dass wir Investitionen vernachlässigt haben. Investitionen, die die Infrastruktur, Wettbewerbsfähigkeit und Lebensqualität der Bevölkerung verbessern, sind mindestens so wichtig wie Sparsamkeit und gehören ebenso zu einer soliden Haushaltsführung. 

Warum sind gerade Investitionen in Deutschland notwendig?

In Deutschland haben wir in den vergangenen Jahren trotz Haushaltsüberschüssen nicht ausreichend in Zukunftsthemen wie Forschung, Bildung oder Klimaschutz investiert. Wir sehen uns als High-Tech-Standort, als Wissensgesellschaft und als Vorreiter bei der ökologischen Modernisierung an. Aber diesem Selbstbild werden wir immer weniger gerecht. Beim Megathema Künstliche Intelligenz (KI) diskutieren wir über drei Mrd. Euro bis 2025 und landen dann bei einer Milliarde Euro bis 2023. Shanghai alleine kündigt an, in den kommenden Jahren fünfzehn Mrd. Euro in KI investieren zu wollen. Das sind die Dimensionen, mit denen wir es bei KI zu tun haben. Der Anteil von Glasfaseranschlüssen, der schnellsten Internet-Technologie, an allen stationären Breitbandanschlüssen beträgt gerade einmal 2,6%. Innerhalb der OECD sind wir damit im Tabellenkeller. Hinzu kommt, dass wir dringend unsere Infrastruktur erneuern müssen, die immer mehr verfällt. Da geht es um die Qualität von Brücken und unser Schienennetz. Die ist teils dramatisch schlecht. Mir geht es darum, dass das kommende Jahrzehnt eines der gezielten Investitionen und der Erneuerung unserer Infrastruktur wird.

Was schlägt ihr vor?

Es gibt hier verschiedene Varianten, die auch unter Ökonomen kontrovers diskutiert werden. Eine Option ist, die Schuldenbremse durch eine Investitionsregel zu ergänzen, die sich am Werteverlust der Infrastruktur orientiert. [1] Sie könnte Investitionen in mindestens der Höhe des Wertverlusts vorschreiben, um den Kapitalstock konstant zu halten. Eine andere Möglichkeit ist, dass die Schuldenbremse auf die Schuldenquote reagiert und auf dieser Basis den Spielraum für Investitionen bestimmt wird. Es macht einen Unterschied, ob die Schuldenquote des Staates bei 80% des Bruttoinlandsprodukts liegt oder bei 50%.

Das nächste Jahrzehnt muss das Finanzministerium ein strategisches Investitionsministerium werden, anstatt die symbolische Schwarze Null ideologisch zu verteidigen.

Wenn wir den Schuldenstand immer weiter zurückführen, sind wir als Staat zwar irgendwann schuldenfrei, haben aber auch keinen Kapitalstock mehr, den wir zum Wirtschaften brauchen. In einer weiteren Möglichkeit könnte sich der Staat bei bestimmten Investitionen über einen öffentlichen Investitionsfonds mehr finanziellen Handlungsspielraum mittels Kreditaufnahme verschaffen. Die Schuldenbremse würde dabei nach wie vor für konsumtive Staatsausgaben gelten.

Welches Modell würdest Du befürworten?

All diese Varianten haben Vor- und Nachteile. Es geht auch um die Frage, was als Investition gilt und was nicht. Sind Personalkosten für Lehrer Investitionen oder nicht? Wenn es gelänge, einen zukunftsfähigen Investitionsbegriff zu formulieren und diese entsprechenden Investitionen von der Schuldenbremse auszunehmen, wäre aus meiner Sicht viel gewonnen. Ich halte aber auch öffentliche Fonds mit besonderen Schwerpunkten für einen gangbaren Weg: Einen Fonds für Klimaschutz oder einen für den flächendeckenden Ausbau von schnellem Internet an jeder Milchkanne. Diese könnten sich dann über den Kapitalmarkt refinanzieren. Die Zinsen dafür würden aktuell deutlich unter der volkswirtschaftlichen Rendite liegen: Ein Deal, den wohl jeder Unternehmer machen würde. Nur der Staat nicht. Das halte ich für einen Fehler.

Wir stehen jetzt vor Jahren riesiger Herausforderungen. Das nächste Jahrzehnt muss das Finanzministerium ein strategisches Investitionsministerium werden, anstatt die symbolische Schwarze Null ideologisch zu verteidigen. Eine Investitionsregel wäre aus meiner Sicht ein guter Mittelweg.

Wie würdet ihr dafür sorgen, dass die Investitionen auch in die notwendigen Bereiche fließen?

Das ist ein demokratischer Aushandlungsprozess. Investitionen in die Straße sind ja nicht per se schlecht. Viele unserer Brücken sind sanierungsbedürftig, Wasserstraßen und Schleusen stammen z.T. aus dem Kaiserreich. Auch hier müssen wir investieren. Aber eben auch in die Schiene, Fahrradstraßen und in den Nahverkehr, die sonst gerne vernachlässigt werden. Es sollte die Aufgabe jeder Bundesregierung sein, strategische Ziele zu setzen und dann diese investiv nachzuverfolgen. Da werden auch Grüne Kompromisse schmieden müssen. Aber für mich ist klar, dass Investitionen dazu dienen sollten, die Innovationsfähigkeit unserer Wirtschaft zu stärken. Das kann auf verschiedenen Wegen erfolgen, da sind gute Schulen ebenso wichtig wie eine gute Infrastruktur und herausragende Forschungseinrichtungen, die eng mit Unternehmen kooperieren. Aber Innovationen sind entscheidend bei der Frage, wo wir in zehn Jahren beim globalen Wettbewerb stehen werden.

Die Austeritätspolitik ist bei den Grünen umstritten. 2012 gab es bei uns in der Partei einen großen Streit zum Fiskalpakt. Der damalige Länderrat beschloss mit knappen 40 zu 37 Stimmen, den Fiskalpakt zuzustimmen. Glaubst Du so eine Abstimmung würde heute anders ausgehen? Hat sich die Grüne Position zur Austeritätspolitik geändert?

Die Beschlüsse 2012 wurden vor dem Hintergrund der Euro-Krise gefasst. Ohne Fiskalpakt hätte es vielleicht keine Hilfen für Griechenland gegeben. Der Schaden für die EU wäre nicht abzusehen. Insofern glaube ich, dass wir uns wie damals sehr kritisch und der Zeit angemessen mit dem Thema befassen.

Dass wir einen europaweiten Investitionsbedarf haben, ist offensichtlich.

Auch sollten wir unterscheiden: Reden wir von Griechenland, das tatsächlich ein Steuererhebungs- und Schuldenproblem hat oder aktuell Italien? Oder von der Bundesrepublik? Daher ja auch der Vorschlag, Ländern mit niedriger Schuldenquote neue Freiräume zu schaffen. Außerdem lohnt sich der Blick nach Portugal, das es ja auch in der Finanz- und Eurokrise erwischt hat: Dort wurde ordentlich in soziale Infrastruktur investiert: 12 Milliarden für den öffentlichen Verkehr und 8 Milliarden für den Energiebereich und in Umweltprojekte, statt in teure Steuergeschenke zu investieren.

Wäre so eine deutsche Investitionsregel mit den europäischen Verträgen vereinbar?

Ja. Solange wir die Maastricht-Kriterien und die Regeln zum Fiskalpakt einhalten, ist eine deutsche Investitionsregel darstellbar. Nochmal sei hier erwähnt, dass es einen Unterschied macht, ob die Schuldenquote des Staates bei 80% des Bruttoinlandsprodukts liegt oder bei 50%. Bei einer niedrigen Schuldenquote gibt auch Maastricht mehr Spielraum für Kredite. Dieser Gedanke ist im Maastricht-Regime ausdrücklich verankert.

Welche Auswirkungen könnte eine Investitionsregel für Deutschland auf den Rest der Eurozone haben?

Mehr öffentliche Investitionen würden sicherlich zu steigender Binnennachfrage führen und unsere Exportüberschüsse ein wenig abflauen lassen. Gleichzeitig besteht die Chance, dass andere Länder nun dank Binnenmarkt in Deutschland operieren können und somit Geld in die Südländer fließt.

Und so wie ich von unseren Partnern erwarte, dass sie sich an Regeln wie Maastricht halten, so sehr müssen auch wir uns daran halten und zum Beispiel anerkennen, dass unser dauerhafter Leistungsbilanzüberschuss zu makroökonomischen Ungleichgewichten führt. Denn eine positive Leistungsbilanz bedeutet rein volkswirtschaftlich auch ein Export von Kapital – auch ein Anzeichen dafür, dass wir zu wenig im Inland investieren. Denn den Bedarf dafür gibt es ja offensichtlich.

Jetzt möchte natürlich niemand der erste Finanzminister oder Finanzministerin sein, der oder die dieses Symbol der Schwarzen Null reißt.

Inwiefern sollten auch andere Mitgliedsstaaten wie Frankreich, Italien, Griechenland eine Investitionsregel einführen können?

Das sollten die Länder jeweils für sich entscheiden. Die ökonomische Ausgangslage ist innerhalb der Länder der Europäischen Union enorm unterschiedlich. Dass wir einen europaweiten Investitionsbedarf haben, ist offensichtlich – Stichwort Künstliche Intelligenz. Hier würde uns u.a. ein gemeinsames Budget für die Eurozone helfen.

Deutschland gilt als ein fiskalkonservatives Land. Könnte euer Vorschlag euch politisch nicht schaden?

Das Thema ist sensibel in Deutschland, aber ich sehe keinen Schaden. Ganz im Gegenteil, die Debatte ist notwendig, das merke ich an den Rückmeldungen. Es geht in der Finanzpolitik meines Erachtens auch nicht um Werte wie konservativ oder liberal, sondern um die Frage, ob es ökonomisch Sinn ergibt? Die Schwarze Null wurde immer mehr zum Symbol stilisiert. Die Politik hat sich dafür selbst gelobt, übrigens ohne etwas dafür tun zu müssen, denn die Steuereinnahmen sprudelten ja nur so. Jetzt möchte natürlich niemand der erste Finanzminister oder Finanzministerin sein, der oder die dieses Symbol der Schwarzen Null reißt. Gerade deshalb ist eine Debatte über die Sinnhaftigkeit der Schwarzen Null so bedeutsam. Auch Ökonomen führen diese Debatte gerade recht intensiv. Auch dort ändert sich die eine oder andere Einschätzung, weil die Realität sich ändert.

Wie haben denn die anderen Parteien auf euren Vorschlag reagiert?

Ich war selbst überrascht von den vielen positiven Rückmeldungen. Anja Hajduk und ich habe einiges an Unterstützung erfahren. Auch aus Bundesländern, wobei es auch dort verschiedene Sichtweisen gibt. Auch in der Fraktion und der Partei diskutieren wir das Thema aus verschiedenen Perspektiven. Die Fraktion wird den Meinungsbildungsprozess weiterführen, auch im Rahmen eines Fachgesprächs. Insgesamt ist klar zu erkennen, dass die Forderung nach einer Weiterentwicklung der Schuldenbremse eine positive Resonanz erfährt. Finanzminister Scholz (SPD) hingegen zeigt keine Bereitschaft, die Schwarze Null kritisch zu hinterfragen oder die Schuldenbremse weiterzuentwickeln. Ich weiß, dass nicht jeder darüber im Finanzministerium glücklich ist. Er hat über sich gesagt: „Ein deutscher Finanzminister bleibt ein deutscher Finanzminister“. Offenbar sieht er sich in der Pflicht, die Linie seines Vorgängers Wolfgang Schäuble konsequent weiterzuführen. CDU-Parteichefin Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer fiel nicht mehr ein, als uns Schuldenmacherei vorzuwerfen. In den Fachausschüssen gibt es hingegen Abgeordnete, die an einer offenen Debatte interessiert sind. Ich bin mir sicher, dass das Thema auf die Tagesordnung kommen wird. Besser aber zeitnah, bevor uns die konjunkturelle Situation dazu zwingt.


Die Schwarze Null steht für einen ausgeglichenen Haushalt.

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