Germans and Demonstrations: What We Want is Color; What We Don’t Want is a Union

protest title pic

Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.

Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.

Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism.

For more on that and to see pictures of a typical protest, click here to continue……

 

flefi deutschland logo

2012: The Year of Reckoning

If there is a year where judgement day will take place, where our actions of the past will determine our fate in the future and where justice will be served once and for all, this year is it and for a good reason. Many sources on both sides of the Atlantic have already touted 2011 as the worst year to date, as scandals hit the airwaves, many politicians were exposed for their wrongdoing, many countries faced default as they spent more than they could save, and most of the public was led to a false sense of security, resulting in protests against Wall Street in the US and other financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring, which is already in its second year.  While 2011 exposed all forms of lies and deception, 2012 will definitely be the year of the truth- where people responsible for the scandals and corruption will be brought to justice, old institutions will collapse and a new world order will be created, and the public will finally start getting what they deserved (and what they have been longing for since 2000), which goes beyond the color of money and other forms of financial security.

Many have gone by the Mayan assumption that 2012 will be the year Earth ceases to exist and that we will all perish on 21 December, 2012. Speaking from our past experience with Y2K and Nostradamus and its connection with 11 September 2001, this theory will never happen in practice. It will be business as usual and we will all celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013, so you can rest easily. Yet we will see fundamental changes in our way of life as many institutions will cave into the pressure by the majority who have perceived them to be corrupt and dysfunctional. What has already occurred in the Middle East and North Africa will make its way to Europe and the Americas, both legally (through the election process) and illegally (through the coup d’ etat).  It may not be like the hot summer of 1968, but it could be even hotter both literally as well as in the context.  Here are some examples of changes that we may see in this year:

The End of the Euro and the Return of the Deutsche Mark:  This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Euro, yet there is nothing to celebrate about given the events that occurred in the last year. Countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and now Italy have more debt than what their Gross Domestic Product can handle. France might follow and Germany is stretched at the breaking point after dishing out its share of money to help Greece. And now the UK wants to protect its British Pound and its own interest. It is hard to believe that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which were supposed to bind the 27 countries together (17 of which have the Euro currency), are becoming null and void, but given the problems the European countries are having to keep their fiscal policies in order, it is a sad reality. Despite attempts by Germany, France and now Denmark (which leads the European Parliament for the first six months of this year) to stabilize the Euro, elections in France and possibly elsewhere will make every attempt very difficult, if not impossible. Prediction: The Euro will fall and the national currencies, like the German Mark and the French Franc will return, but European policies will remain intact albeit as a loose-leaf political federation.

The End of the Dream Coalition: The sound defeat of the Free Liberals, combined with the scandals involving many members of the Christian Democrats and the lack of satisfaction among the Germans because of the Euro Crisis may spell the end of Angela Merkel’s regime as Chancellor of Germany. Already before the end of 2011 another scandal emerged with an ugly face involving the German President Christian Wulff as he was accused of obtaining a loan from a private bank, which has gotten the Opposition furious and the media happy to defame the former minister of Lower Saxony. Should he step down as president, it could create implications for possible early elections, which would not be a first in modern history. The last early elections of 2005 brought down Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and perhaps a beleaguered Merkel could face that possibility that her coalition may not last to the scheduled federal elections in 2013.

 

The End to Washington politics: Perhaps the most pivotal event taking shape in 2012 is not the Olympic Games in London, even though the city will be touted as the first one to host the Games five times since the inception in 1896. It will be the Presidential elections in November that will remake Capitol Hill and break the deadlock that has given President Barack Obama headaches in the past two years. Health care, the debt ceiling, spending cuts, reinforcing the nation’s infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce the unemployment has caused the Republicans and Democrats to harden their stances and the public to lose respect for Washington altogether. Even the President’s performance is considered appalling in the eyes of many Americans. Yet the challengers from the Republican side of the spectrum have not been able to come up with a clear cut plan as to tackle the problems the country has been facing since the Recession started in 2008. Unless the deference of responsibility ends and there is a unified plan to handle the problems that have been left behind from the era of President George W. Bush, we could see a very hot summer over the US which could change the landscape of the US once and for all. There are three ways that could happen: a Revolution like in 1968 marked by protests and violence, a Revolution of 1848 that includes overtaking Washington and New York, or a Revolution of 1936 in Spain, which marked the beginning of the three year civil war. None of these options are desirable. Prediction: Change will come to America but only through a President with a plan and the ability to relate to the needs of the Public and a Congress that will support every policy the President has to tackle the problems that are keeping the country from becoming the best.

 

The End of Big Oil and its influence: This theory may be far-fetched but is possible in practice. After facing lawsuits because of oil disaster after oil disaster (including the 2010 Disaster off the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent disaster in northern Spain), the increasing interest in renewable energy and electric automobiles and people becoming fed up with the monopoly, increasing oil prices and its cozy relationship with politicians, the influence of the big oil companies will diminish due to regulations and the need to keep their influence in check, something that people have been asking for since 2001 but have not had their wishes respected until now.

 

The End of Ignorance to the most pressing environmental problems:  If the world ever was to come to an end on 21 December 2012, it will be because of the natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, similar to what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow. While 2011 was touted as the wildest weather in recent memory with unprecedented snowfall and blizzards, combined with flooding and extremely hot temperatures, this year will most certainly be considered hotter and wilder. Already, both the northern half of the US and all of Europe (minus the Alps) set the record for the warmest December in recent memory with a green and brown Christmas, and 2012 started off with spring weather in Germany and all places to the north. If one follows the trend, a warm December means a January full of hurricanes and an extremely hot summer with high humidity and storms. This was certainly the case in Winter 2006/07 in Germany, where a warm December was followed by hurricane Kyrill, which devastated northern Europe, brought travel to a total standstill, and coined the word kyrillize. If people do not realize the gravity of the situation with global warming and take action, no one will and the consequences will be unthinkable.

 

And finally….

The End of Rush Limbaugh and Biased Media: In the past 10 years, we have seen the media veer away from becoming a neutral medium where people receive their regular dose of 60 minutes of news on the local, national and international levels and divulge into far left and far right media, influenced by  celebs like Rachel Madow and Keith Obermann (left) and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh (right). With this divisive influence comes the split in family structure and value where members have been taking sides on certain issues and the ignorance of the most pressing issues that have been mentioned above.  Fortunately, thanks to the likes of CNN and the BBC, German public TV, like N24 and ARD, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and lastly online blogs and columns, like this one, we are starting to see the influence from the extremes diminish. This is good as many people are really tired of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who has harassed one celebrity too many too much. Earning six years worth $400 million to host his own talk show, he has influenced the public with his own version of the news to a point where many have believed his propaganda and have tried to encourage others to refer to him for guidance. Whoever says that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease and that oil is a renewable resource must be way too insane to write a column or speak on the radio. Once the elections of 2012 are finish, we will also see the downfall of many people like him and the return to reality and real news with neutral information, something that will definitely help us become more informed and indeed smarter.

 

But before seeing what 2012 will really bring us, there are some memos worth noting that will help determine whether or not the theories brought forth will come true.

 

FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:

Operation Wulff:  The background to the credit scandal involving German President Christian Wulff is as follows: During his time in office, he obtained a home loan from a private bank with low interest rate to purchase a house, which is considered illegal according to German law. He tried to avert the scandal by not mentioning it in his Christmas speech or in any of his interviews and apparently threatening the yellow press and other newspapers, which is also considered illegal. Support for Mr. Wulff is waning and it may be a matter of time before Chancellor Merkel will be forced to elect a new president- another torpedo hit to a Dream Coalition that has been battered with scandals since 2009.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642945,00.html

Farewell to Arms?:    2011 was also a record year of deaths of famous people world wide, including those who passed on either shortly before or during the holidays. Among them include Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who led the revolution of Czechoslovakia (a.k.a. Velvet Revolution) in 1989 and granted a Velvet Divorce from Slovakia in 1993. He was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 at the time of the Velvet Divorce and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He died on 18 December at the age of 75.  Dutch actor Johannes Heesters, a popular figure in the German film industry famous for Die Fledermaus (the Bat), Bel-Ami, and the Otto series passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 108. And Kim Jong Il of North Korea died on 17 December after a long illness at the age of 70. He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong un as leader of the country and hope is still there for the country to lay down its arms and hostility and embrace peace, although it still remains many kilometers apart. All three figures were controversial in one way or another because of political spats that were considered inappropriate in the public’s eyes, yet deep down realized that peace was important and to a certain degree have set the precident for the next one to enusre that peace and prosperity dominate the global playing field for the next generation.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6683647,00.html (Havel)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Heesters (Heesters)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il

 

The Drive to End Nationalism in Germany: In response to the recent terrorist attacks by the right wing extremists in central and eastern Germany, the drive to consider the prohibition of the NPD in Germany is gaining steam, even though critics consider this futile and will fail at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. It is unclear if and when this will happen, but in order to successfully ban the party, one might want to consider rewriting the constitution, written while Konrad Adenauer was in power in the 1950s, and state that all parties that stress the importance of xenophobism, nationalism or nazisim are forbidden, and that law enforcement should be reinforced to ensure that the law is kept. A discussion on this can be found here:

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15597828,00.html

 

Lowest Unemployment in 20 Years in Germany: Despite the Euro-Crisis, Germany had a record year as far as employment is concerned. During all of 2011, an average of 2.7 million Germans were unemployed, an average percentage of 8%.  Of which, 10.5% came from the eastern half of the country and 5.6% from the western half. This is the lowest since 1991, the first year of a reunited Germany.  Despite a slight increase of 67,000 people in December, the total number for the last month was 2,78 million. In addition, the Gross Domestic Product rose by 3% for the whole year, making it one of the most productive countries in the world. Unfortunately, despite the rosy numbers, dangers lurk for 2012 as the crisis in Europe may eventually drag Germany down thanks to cuts in programs and the country’s budget and companies’ planning on laying off employees, which could result in an increase in the number of unemployed. This was already announced by Chancellor Merkel during her Christmas Eve address, televised on German TV. It is unclear whether she will be right on her predictions or if Germany will buck the trend.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642176,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/alos100.html

 

Double Storm to pummelt Europe: For those wanting to celebrate Epiphany this weekend and take down the Christmas tree, one will have to calculate Ulli and Andrea crashing the party and leaving a mess for Europeans to clean up. On Tuesday, Ulli produced winds as high as 150 kmph (75 mph) in places along the North Sea coast and the Harz Mountain region in northern Thuringia and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and creating traffic chaos. Thursday and Friday, the storm’s sister will wreak havoc on the region with much higher wind gusts, combined with hail and snow in many areas, making it one of the strongest storms since Kyrill invaded Europe in 2007. More information will come soon.

Link: http://www.ndr.de/regional/wetter327.html

 

 

Striving for high quality and excellence in education: The Frauentag Demonstrations in eastern Germany


Erfurt City Hall: The Starting Point for the Demonstrations

It was a perfect day out in the small market square called Fischmarkt (Fish Market) in Erfurt, the state capital of Thuringia in central Germany. All was quiet for the entire day- that was until 3:00 in the afternoon on the 6th of March, when the square was filled to the brim with people dressed in red and white, green and black, and neon yellow vests with a red, black and white warning sign that says Soziale Schieflage (Social Inequality) on the back. While there are many specialty restaurants and ice cream parlors surrounding the square, these people were not at Fischmarkt to eat and socialize. They were lining up in front of the historic Erfurt City Hall, a gothic style building dating back to the Renaissance Era, which lights up in shades of orange at night. And while they were celebrating International Women’s Day, honoring the millions of women in the world who contribute their time and energy in their work either in the public or private sector, the gathering went beyond honoring the women carrying the pink and red roses they received in their honor.

Soziale Schieflage (Social Inequality)
Flowers in their honor- Happy Frauentag, Ladies.

Oh no, this went well beyond that. On this day, at least 2,500 demonstrators gathered to march on the Staatskanzlei (State Chancellery Office) to demand better pay and working conditions. This not only consisted of those who teach at various education institutions, like the public schools and universities, but also those working in the forestry, police department, and other public works facilities. Every single union representing each sector was on hand to deliver one message to the politicians in Thuringia and all of Germany, which was “we want a pay increase of 3% plus an additional 50 Euros in our wallets,” and “we want unlimited contracts so that we can settle down in our jobs and not roam around like nomads,” and “we want to have a family friendly environment so that we can establish our existence,” and “we are not willing to go to the western part to work,” and lastly “we want to be paid just as much as our counterparts in the western parts of Germany!” The writing was on the wall, the sidewalks at the Staatskanzlei and Fischmarkt, and on the faces of many who were disgruntled that the debate over reforming the public sector and the pay has been dragging on for over four years and now the agreement must be settled before the end of the week at the absolute latest. Should it not be settled beforehand, it is possible that strikes could take place before the end of the month at the earliest, with the hardest hit area being the educational sectors, where the teachers could walk off the job, leaving the students without someone in front of the blackboard to teach.

The writing is on the sidewalk.

As the people march toward the Staatskanzlei to present the demands, one has to think of how well off Germany has been in terms of its economy in the past year and a half, with a growth in the gross domestic product of 2.3% for all of last year and the constant decline in the unemployment rate since Angela Merkel took over as chancellor in 2004- that is minus the slight decline during the financial crisis of 2008-09. Yet still, cuts in financial support for the public sector, including the universities, have been in the works for over a year, with the purpose of reducing the inflation rate to comply with the standards introduced by the European Union in 1999. This has sparked protests that have been ongoing since the middle of last year throughout all of Germany, including the state of Thuringia, where a massive protest involving over 7,000 students took place in November in Erfurt, demanding that the state not slash the budget by 20% and sack employees at the same time. While the budget cuts were passed anyway, the working conditions of those working in the public sector were now the top agenda for the following reasons: The workers were getting less pay, some sectors had to shed people (including the police force), universities are offering only limited contracts forcing many to emigrate to other regions should they run out, and the population is aging rapidly- the babyboomer generation is retiring, and there are not enough positions to fill due to poor pay in the eastern part in comparison with the western part. Furthermore, the distribution of wealth between the private and public sectors has been uneven for a long time, with the public sector receiving the lesser end of the stick. Henceforth, the march on the Staatskanzlei was deemed a necessity, in order to guarantee better pay and working conditions before the agreement on reforming the public sector is settled.

The percussion leading the way....

And as the Bonga, Conga, and Madal players lead the pack of demonstrators across the City Hall Bridge, one could also imagine what the situation would look like if Germany was like the United States at the moment, where talks of abolishing the collective bargaining deals with the unions in Wisconsin might play out throughout the rest of the country, and how students and pupils may suffer from it, if they have teachers, professors, and other lecturers standing in front of the classroom knowing that they are being paid less, having to use that money to pay for health insurance and other social expenses where it is automatically taken out and in a really small percentage of our paychecks in Germany, and knowing that their institutions are using teaching materials dating back to 20 years ago, as they cannot afford to buy up-to-date material- something that is unheard of in Germany and other places in Europe and the rest of the world. But yet the countries still look to the US as a role model for cutting back on the budget for the purpose of increasing consumption; something that is foreign to many who believe that this is short term thinking and would decrease their standard of living, something that is noticeable in the US no matter where you go.  Should these cuts continue, then there is a danger that only a small elite few will receive the education that is usually provided to everyone from kindergarten up until college, this leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Then there is the danger, which social padagogue Pestalozzi claimed that the uneducated will become beasts who cannot be controlled. Therefore, he claims that it is important to teach the children as early as possible so that they become civilized as adults. Apart from the basics (like reading, writing and mathematics), his includes the introduction of social sciences, as it is important to know about one’s country and background in order to know onesself better, and sciences to allow those who want to develop new products and scientific theories to do so.  The question is how effective are these cuts? According to scholars and writers, like Fareed Zakaria, they do nothing but hinder the success of the countries in comparison to those, like the ones in Scandinavia Southeast Asia and the Benelux Region who have ranked in the top ten for the past decade. As for the US and the rest, they’re slipping to the 15-25th ranking in sciences, mathematics, reading, writing and humanities. With this danger, the question is whether this concept is efficient or should a person look at other alternatives? In the eyes of the demonstrators, scholars, students, and teachers, those who demand a higher quality of education and something in return for what they are providing to those wanting to learn something interesting and important, this cost cutting concept is not working.

Crossing the City Hall Bridge enroute to the Staatskanzlei

As the protesters finally arrived at the Thuringian Staatskanzlei, located about a kilometer from the starting point of the demonstration at Fischmarkt, the number of demonstrators picked up and the motivation grew as they demanded an explanation from the politicians and the state employers of why they cannot get a 3% increase in their salary plus additional money to deal with the increasing costs, while at the same time the economy is expanding and businesses are hiring people. But unlike the November demonstrations in front of the state parliament building south of the train station, no politician came to answer the questions that were posed by the union leaders, let alone listen to the demands and the reasons for them. Were they away on business or were they unwilling to listen? One may never know. But one fact is for sure and that is the longer the state ignores the pleas of those working in the public sector, the more voices demaning change will grow until the demands are met. This is the mentality that has worked well with unionized workers in many sectors, including the locomotive drivers who went on strike many times for higher incomes, and actually received at least a lion’s share of the demands by the German Railways and other private railway companies. Can this work for the public sector and especially in the education sector, as the students need some stability in a teacher who stays for longer than two years and is paid just as much as his counterpart in the western part? The question will be answered in the coming days, as union leaders and the state will sit down and come up with a good bargain that everyone will be happy with. At the moment, there is an impasse, but it cannot last forever.

Thuringian Staatskanzlei
The demonstrators listen as the union leaders speak

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thuringia was not the only state that took to the streets to protest for equal and better pay plus better working conditions. On this day, almost all of the eastern states- Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania experienced similar demonstrations in their capitals (Dresden, Magdeburg, Potsdam, and Rostock) but in the tens of thousands. In Dreden alone, over 20,000- mostly educators on all levels- marched onto the capital complex and protested all afternoon, effectively shutting down schools for the day. At the present time, negotiations between the finance minister of Lower Saxony and chief negotiator of the public sector of Germany Hartmut Möllring and the labor unions representing the education sector, public service (police, street maintenance, forest service, etc.), the public health sector, the finance sectors, and other institutions belonging to the public sector. The hardest hit areas are in the public health and education sectors due to the aging population and lack of opportunities for the younger generations because of poor pay. Both sides claim that the offers brought to the table are unrealistic, however Möllring believes that a compromise can be brought up before the debate comes to a close.

INTERESTING FACT I: The Public Sector, consisting of over 4.5 million state-owned employees, is the largest employer in Germany and covers the above mentioned sectors. This includes those working at Germany’s 370 universities, 9 of them are located in Thuringia.  The debate over unequal pay between the west and east has been a key issue since German reunification in 1990 as workers in the eastern part are being paid less than their western counterparts. Furthermore, the demand for structural reforms in the pay system has been on the table as well, as many claim that the old system, which the east adopted from the west is outdated.  The plan is to equal the pay between west and east and modernize the system so that everyone has the right to work in the public sector and stay there for a longer period of time because of improved working conditions.

INTERESTING FACT II: In connection with the budget cuts and the need to disable and even eliminate unions, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to eliminate collective bargaining between the public sector and the employees and labor unions in order save money. The state, like almost every state in the union has a budget deficit in the billions of dollars. This has prompted Democratic senators, opposed to voting on the bill, to flee the state in exile, as the Republicans have the majority of the state congress (House of Representatives and the Senate). This has effectively and perpetually delayed any attempts to vote on the measure, which some fear will result in the union being disbanded and the public sector doing with the employees what they please, which would include eliminating health care benefits, pay cuts, and even layoffs. The governor has threatened massive layoffs in the public sector, should the Democrats not return to the capital to vote on the measure, and the people- many of whom have been protesting in the hundreds of thousands outside the state capital building in Madison- are getting the ball rolling for recall elections of many Republican politicians and even the governor. Other states, including California, are watching this closely as they might mull this possibility to trim their debts as well. Germany has not gone that far, but anything is possible in the world of free enterprise and consumption at the expense of some of the basics we need in order to function as a society: education, health and human services, and all means to provide care and safety for the public.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

Links:

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/8319911.html (Info in German only)

http://www.thueringer-allgemeine.de/startseite/detail/-/specific/Lehrer-demonstrieren-in-Erfurt-Bessere-Bezahlung-gefordert-1076764199 (Video clip)

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/npr.php?id=134340952 (Links to Scott Walker’s plan is also here)

Education: Profit at a Price?

EN Translation: Education dies because stupidity rules. Photo taken at Erfurt Railway Station

Johann Friedrich Pestalozzi, a famous Swiss pedagogic theorist and educator once mentioned that it is of utmost importance to educate the population in a way that they become civilized experts who can pass their knowledge onto others. Failure to provide the very basics in education can result in the population becoming animals- not being able to control themselves in society and throwing it off balance. Education is the key to new dimensions in the life of a human being, as they serve as the steps from becoming a person who dreams of making something happen to one who made it happen, practically. However, in today’s society, it seems that the path to practicality in the lives of the students is being threatened, as many are being forced to give up their dreams and try alternatives in order to make money and provide food on the table. Or in the case of being a teacher or professor, it is becoming more and more difficult to get a permanent post, let alone settling down to have a healthy balance between a family life and a career.

The education system in Germany is a complex system, where the country has several different forms of higher education, ranging from the typical university, to the institutions that provide science and technology programs for students. The tuition varies from state to state, where some fees can range as high as 300- 500 Euros per month, which is far less than the tuition at even public American universities. Normally, with a Diploma degree, you would need five years to complete your studies, but this degree- equivalent to the American Bachelor and Master’s in one was replaced with the Bachelor and Master system in 2007, which means students can complete their Bachelor’s in 3-4 years and their Master’s in 2 years. Yet still, the education system does have one thing in common with the American counterpart: it is being underfunded by the state and federal governments, with more cuts on the way.

Marching down Juri Gagarin Ring to the Landtag

Take the state of Thuringia for example. The state is planning on cutting aid to the universities by up to $21 million, which would result in programs being cut, staff being laid off, and students losing more options to study, let alone teachers who can help them. In response to the plan to save money to balance the state budget, as many as 3,500 students and teachers from universities in Erfurt, Jena, Nordhausen, and Schmalkalden (just to name a few), as well as members of various workers’ unions and other organizations, took to the streets in protest this past Tuesday (23 November), to address this plan in protest at the State Parliamentary Building (Landtag) in the south of Erfurt. With loud whistles and horns, posters and sheets with signatures over three kilometers long, the march started at the Erfurt Railway Station and made its way to the governmental district where the Landtag was located, over an hour later. It would not take longer than 30 minutes until the Minister of Culture and Education, Christoph Matschie (SPD) showed up to address the audience, while dealing with the boos and geers at the same time. Matschie’s plan, according to his statement at the demonstration, was to compensate the losses with a supplemental fund from the Hochschulpakt 2020 (an agreement with universities where funding would be available up to 2020), while at the same time, expand and reinforce the university structure with additional support.

To sum up the reaction of the audience, many of the 3,500 were not amused with the plan and even received support from oppositional parties, including the Greens and the socialist party Die Linke, both of whom encouraged the continuation of the protests even if it means turning it up a notch further with more voices and louder whistles. Since the Elections of 2009, they have served as the oppostition to the Grand Coalition, consisting of the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democrats (CDU), the same party where Germany’s current chalcellor, Angela Merkel presides in Berlin. Christine Lieberknecht, who is the Prime Minister of Thuringia, also comes from that party. The students and unions have every right to protest the cuts as that has been the general plan since the beginning of this year. Some of the other cuts planned include reducing the funding for primary education (elementary, middle and high schools) as well as nursery schools, plus consolidating the high school and university structures to resemble an American educational model. This includes Matschie’s concept of having the University of Thuringia, which would consist of consolidating every kind of university into one, making it resemble something like a State University with over a dozen campuses in one of the US states, like Minnesota, where the author originates from.

Minister of Culture and Education Christoph Matschie speaks- and takes the heat from the crowd. Photo taken at Landtag

These cuts in education spending in Thuringia are part of the plan that was passed by the German Cabinet under Merkel to save up to 80 billion Euros in four years and rein in the national budget, in accordance to the policies implemented by the European Union. The eastern part of Germany, where Thuringia is located has been especially hit the hardest by these cuts, mainly in part because of the high amount of unemployment in that region and the social welfare support the region has been receiving since the German Reunification in 1990. However, as many members of the unions and student groups have mentioned already, the universities have saved as much as it can and can no longer cut any further. This is an understatement as many universities, like the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena have dealt with overcrowded seminar rooms, lack of access to research areas, problems registering for classes, and a very high student to professor ratio resulting in the professors being overburdened with obligations and requests and students not receiving the help needed to succeed in their studies. The author of this article can testify to that problem in particular with a couple departments on campus during his Master’s studies between late 2003 and 2007.  However, are cuts to the education system, like the universities in Thuringia really the way to go? And what about the future of the students, who want to have a high quality education without having to pay high tuition (something that may happen if the cuts are not through)?  Apparently, after receiving rolls upon rolls of signatures from students who petitioned to the state parliament, there is some reconsideration that will have to take place in order for Matschie to save his face and the politicians to avoid taking more heat than they received through this demonstration. The good part is that the budget for 2011 in Thuringia has not yet been completely etched in stone and that another demostration is scheduled to take place on 8 December with the goal that the parliament (and in particular, Matschie) will keep to the plan of not reducing the funding for universities and come up with alternatives.

Doubt has its limitations, but this poster..... Photo taken on the way to the Landtag
The crowd in front of the gates of the Landtag.
Petitions presented to Matschie at the Landtag
Candle of Hope for the future of the students of tomorrow? Photo taken at Landtag

The Flensburg Files will continue to keep you posted on the situation with the education system in Germany and the US as events unfold. In the meantime, enjoy the photos provided by the author as he took part in the demonstrations and took some pics of the events.

Useful sources:

http://www.otz.de/web/zgt/suche/detail/-/specific/Sparplaene-treffen-den-Osten-haerter-2049407950 (Deutsch)

http://www.otz.de/web/zgt/suche/detail/-/specific/Studenten-wehren-sich-gegen-Kuerzungsplaene-des-Landes-953077867 (Deutsch)

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international-business/Germany-approves-deep-spending-cuts-in-budget/articleshow/6480600.cms