Roger Karapin


On his book Protest Politics in Germany: Movements on the Left and Right since the 1960s

Cover Interview of July 15, 2009


I think the book shows that the relationships that political actors form with other actors can make a difference for the course of movement politics.  There should be more attention on how those relationships initially develop, how they may objectively function in ways that may differ from subjective perceptions or public claims about those relationships, and the extent to which they can change or else tend to remain fixed once they settle into a certain pattern.

Another implication of the book is that local and state politics, in relatively decentralized systems like Germany or the U.S., can be more important than they are often thought to be.  Important innovations in protest methods, new political relationships, and policy solutions to public problems often begin at the local or regional level and trickle upward.

For example, opposition to the demolition of entire neighborhoods in Germany led to more sensible and humane approaches to urban planning, in which apartments and whole neighborhoods were renewed for the existing residents.  Opposition to nuclear power plants helped give birth to the green parties (plural because they were local and regional before there was a national party), with profound effects on the German party system.  Local alliances in Kreuzberg foreshadowed the sometimes strained alliances between the Social Democrats and Greens at higher levels in later years.

Finally, the patterns of protest politics show that German politics is rooted in the past, in ways that make protest ambivalent for democracy.  A politics of exclusion and violence has often been reproduced, as seen in the case studies of Brokdorf, Kreuzberg, Hoyerswerda, and Rostock.  But this is not inevitable, as seen in the contrasting cases with which each of them is paired in the book.  The Wyhl site occupation, and to a lesser extent the broadly supported squatter movements in Kreuzberg and Hanover-Linden, also show that a politics of creative nonviolent disruption has been gaining ground in Germany.

© 2009 Roger Karapin