A dog whistle is a curious thing. You can blow it as hard as you want, but unless those around you are canine they won’t hear it. The person blowing it can pretend they didn’t make a noise. But the dogs hear it loud and clear.
Stunned by the success of the far-right AfD, some leading German politicians made a choice: rather than standing up for a free society, they have pulled out the whistle instead. They choose their words wisely so they can play innocent – but the xenophobes out there hear what they are saying.
Jens Spahn, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), is a minister in the new German government. You might remember him - he’s the one who was upset about English-speaking waiters in Berlin restaurants. He repeats the far-right lie about a “failing state“ – and average Germans believe him. How many of them noticed that the crime rate dropped by 10% last year?
Alexander Dobrindt, a senior member of the governing Christian Social Union (CSU), is angry that refugees have the same right as every other person to defend themselves in court.
And now Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), has proclaimed that every German has a “right“ to know that the person who “looks different“ next to him in the bakery is not ”illegal“. He says that the best way to fight xenophobia is to make sure there are no “illegal immigrants“ in our country.
But in saying so he threatened a fundamental right - and you might not even have noticed. The foundation of the rule of law is “innocent until proven guilty.” The social contract of German society is the same: “I assume that you are a decent person until you prove otherwise.”
Lindner tore this social contract to pieces. He used the example of a bakery visit to make clear: if you are a person who “looks different“ then the state needs to guarantee you are not a danger to good Germans.
Just like that, you became a second class citizen.
Why you need to speak up
I have been involved in politics for most of my life. Believe me, it’s never a majority that changes the world - it’s always a small group who push the majority their way.
It’s time to stand up!
All of us who are “different“ need to fight for our rights now. Some 20 million people in Germany have roots in other parts of the world; 40% of children under five have an “immigration background“.
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But politicians don’t pay them any attention. Why? Because racists are visible everywhere and scream out their demands. Immigrants, Europeans and people who have become German through merit are largely invisible. We don’t raise our voices.
That’s why politicians pander to racists. Because you don’t speak up. You don’t vote. You don’t count.
But if you follow my advice, then they might start to listen.
Christian Lindner. Photo: DPA
What should be our first goal?
Have you noticed the rationalization that “AfD voters aren’t racist, they’re angry that they are ignored”?
How should we feel about this? We pay taxes and contribute to society - but many of us are not even allowed to vote.
"No taxation without representation.” This should be our first demand. Everyone who lives in Germany for an extended period of time, obeys the laws, feeds his own family and pays his taxes should have a say in how our country is run.
We should have the right to become German citizens, to vote and run for office – without having to cut out half of our heart. It’s time to finally allow dual citizenship for all.
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And in the long term: We should develop the European Union into a European Republic. Where the power lies with us citizens, through the European Parliament - not with national governments who make decisions behind the closed doors of the European Council.
Not only will we be able to deal with the challenges and promises of this connected, digital age, we will also overcome the unhealthy idea of “natives” versus “foreigners”.
Put politicians on a short leash
This is how we can build a society that respects every person as an individual.
Pay attention. The danger of dog whistle communication is that it hides behind innocent words. If you want to find out what a politician is really talking about, check which topics he addresses over and over again. Which phrases does he use? Who are his cheerleaders?
Christian Lindner is all “hurt innocence“ if you call him out on his dog whistle strategy. But the bakery incident is only the last in a long line of statements that portray foreigners as a danger, a burden, or in the best case a "resource." He is more popular among AfD voters than their leader, Alexander Gauland. What does this tell you?
Politicians don’t care if you present them with 100,000 signatures. This is what I learned from a friend who is a member of the CDU faction in the Bundestag (German parliament).
What they care about are people in their constituency, because the citizens in their constituency get them re-elected. Want to have an appointment with your local MP? Get a few dozen voters in his constituency to get loud about your topic and put pressure on him. He’ll be dying to talk to you then.
Chris Pyak works as an employment consultant for foreign job seekers and is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
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