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In the Badisches Tagblatt, I comment in an article on the question of how suddenly the change in German foreign and security policy came about and point out that the increased defense budget may lead to greater inequality. Here is the article as an image, here as a pdf and below as blog text.

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Not the first turning point in time.

How drastic events turn societal beliefs upside down.

By BT Editor Nadine Fissl Tübingen/Freiburg - Discussions about compulsory military service and 100 billion for the Bundeswehr: the world is a different place today than it was just weeks ago. With the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has set a ball rolling in Germany as well - and reignited old discussions. But how can it be that individual events turn the collective attitude of an entire population upside down?

“If agreement can be reached on what the problem is, then suddenly things can be done that seemed impossible before,” explains Ewald Frie, professor of modern history at the University of Tübingen. In the Collaborative Research Center “Threatened Orders,” he deals with precisely such situations.

When people lose confidence in familiar processes, the actions of their fellow human beings and the belief in a secure future, they react emotionally, talk more about the threat and look for solutions. “Social groups are suddenly under high pressure and have the feeling: now they have to do something,” Frie explains. At the same time, little else is talked about, he adds. “Normally, there’s competition for different topics, and they also pop up and down quite quickly.” Once the focus is set, however, “such situations have enormous potential to bring about change.”

A look at the past shows: This is not a new phenomenon. There are enough examples from German history. July 1870: In Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden, there is great resistance to joining the German nation-state. “Then comes the French declaration of war and opinion tilts within days,” recalls Frie.

July 1914, the start of World War I: The SPD organizes mass demonstrations against the impending arms race, and two days later it approves war credits. And the attacks on September 11, 2001 also result in the formula of “unrestricted solidarity,” which would probably not have existed in this form under other circumstances.

Questioning decisions

“That’s when something really changes permanently in a very short time,” Frie says, emphasizing: “It’s not inconsequential. You can’t reverse this jarring shift.” So, he says, it is the responsibility of political actors to be aware that their decision holds an instrument of enormous force in their hands - it can be used for good or bad.

This makes it all the more important to question the decisions made at the appropriate time. Initially, action is taken, but in the days that follow, in a functioning democracy, the consequences must be weighed as well, says Frie.

Decisions made in haste cannot take sufficient account of secondary consequences. It must therefore also be possible to change them again. In any case, it should not be exploited, the community, “which otherwise could not have been created.

But why does it exist now of all times? Why didn’t the annexation of Crimea already have this effect? “It’s quite difficult to predict,” Frie says, “and not in a way that you can say: A certain level automatically leads to a certain reaction.” In the conflict with Russia, he says, the invasion of Ukraine was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Nowadays, images in particular would play a big role in this. They show: The people involved wear similar clothes, drive the same cars, the cities resemble each other - “That could be us, too.” Images can have an enormous impact on society’s reaction.

As an example, Frie cites the photos and videos showing trucks in Bergamo at the beginning of the Corona crisis. “With these images in mind, Germans were willing to endure harsh Corona measures, even though there was still no evidence at all in Germany itself that everyone could feel in their everyday lives.”

But: images also did not function automatically, but always in social contexts, the historian emphasizes. In Germany, for example, it is much easier to create currency panics than in other countries, he says. “That has to do with the inflation experiences from the 20th century.” But above all, he says, it remains a task of democratic politics to deal responsibly with images.

As Karsten Schubert, a political scientist at the University of Freiburg, points out, it is just as much a task of politics these days not to further deepen the divide between rich and poor through increased military spending: “Because otherwise our own democracy will be further destabilized in the long term.” That’s why it’s all the more important, he said, that wealth tax be reintroduced and inheritance tax be increased to finance future programs, and that social security systems not be burdened.

Gradual habituation process

Schubert also points out that a political turnaround is usually not as sudden as it may seem. Usually, he says, there is a long development behind it, as in this case. “In Germany, after World War II, a basic anti-militarist attitude prevailed in civil society and also in politics.” Foreign and security policy, he said, has focused primarily on economic cooperation and has also used it as a means of political pressure, through economic sanctions, as in the case of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but also to exert direct influence, for example to get African states to prevent people from fleeing to Europe. “This foreign policy, which did not rely on military strength, worked as long as the Western alliance was stable.”

With developments in recent years, however, he said, voices have grown louder calling for Germany to become more militarily operational and self-reliant. “This problematization was already there, the old discourse was still stable but already fragile.”

On closer inspection, he says, the paradigm shift had already been announced over a longer period of time. So Schubert, too, describes the invasion of Ukraine as the last straw that broke the camel’s back. “It was a question of time when a situation would arise that would favor this paradigm shift, so that there would be majorities for it.”

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