New Actors in German Civil Society: How the Refugee Crisis Is Transforming German Politics

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 250 (University of Glasgow)
Sarah Wiliarty , Wesleyan University
Germany has long been considered a country with a civil society marked by
widespread organizations, especially at the local level. Many scholars of
civil society expect that a lively associational life can be a major
contributor to democratic outcomes. In the
German case, however, the role of social organizations has been more
complicated, as these associations proved sometimes vulnerable to
takeover by fascist or Communist actors.

In the wake of the ongoing refugee crisis, hundreds of thousands of
migrants are arriving in Germany with mixed reactions. The dramatic rise
of the new populist party, Alternative for Germany, campaigning on an
anti-refugee platform shows the high level of fear among German voters.
Pegida is a far-right political movement with violent tendencies that
frequently protests the presence of the refugees. On the other hand,
countless new locally-based groups across Germany have emerged with the
goal of helping the refugees with anything from language lessons to
finding and furnishing apartments to accompanying the newcomers on visits
to the various bureaucratic offices.  In addition to direct aid to refugees, the
pro-refugee groups sometimes sponsor demonstrations or
counter-demonstrations in support of the refugee population and of the
open door policy welcoming them to Germany.

This paper examines these two oppositional movements that are emerging in
response to the refugee crisis. It asks how and why anti- and pro-refugee
groups differ in terms of their political opportunities, the “repertoires”
they use to organize their followers, and their success in affecting
political outcomes.