Democracy and Society

For a number of years Germany has been witnessing a strengthening of anti-democratic forces, an increase in right-wing violence and, by no means least, the election of right-wing populist parties to the Bundestag. The values on which our coexistence is based are being increasingly called into question. Yet at the same time we are seeing an increased sensitivity to issues of equality and access, a rise in civic involvement and an increased politicization of young people. We find ourselves in conflicts about the negotiation of social and political participation in an increasingly diverse but also increasingly unequal society. Allegiances are being renegotiated, increasingly outside familiar right-left or east-west patterns. Instead we are witnessing a growing polarization in topical debates, reinforced by social media, where the culture of debate relies more on emotions and resentment than on the sharing of arguments.

These social transformation processes are leading to questions about social cohesion and equal coexistence – and they bring with them not only dangers but also opportunities for the future of democracy. The Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung aims to accompany this democratic change critically and constructively – picking up on Schmidt’s conviction that democracy is not a state but a process.

In the “Democracy and society” subprogramme, we tackle the fundamental questions of democracy and social cohesion. We ask questions and look for answers to the consequences of shifting debate to the digital sphere, to how to deal with anti-pluralist and anti-democratic forces, and on future conflict fault lines. We look at phenomena not only in their current context but also in the context of contemporary history. In order to do justice to the complexity and interwoven nature of socio-political themes, we set great store by bringing together representatives from different disciplines, politicians and representatives of civil society and well as activists and figures from the arts and culture scene. By using innovative, participatory formats we seek to find new access to familiar problems so as to live out our democratic change rather than just analysing it.

Management: Dr. Nina-Kathrin Wienkoop

In addition to heading up the subprogramme, Dr Nina-Kathrin Wienkoop is an associate of the Institut für Protest- und Bewegungsforschung (Institute for the Study of Protest and Social Movements) in Berlin and the Deutsches Zentrum für Integrations- und Migrationsforschung (German Centre for Integration and Migration Research). At the latter, she previously headed a research project on participation in youth activism and commitment. She publishes, works as a consultant, researches and teaches on topics such as the resilience of democracies, domestic and international democracy promotion, youth engagement, non-violent resistance, diversity and protest, the culture of debate, and diversity-conscious organizational development in civil society. Her approach is actor-oriented and sensitive to diversity.