Friday, February 25, 2011

Bannmeile

With great interest I follow the hefty altercation in the State of Wisconsin about budget cuts that has resulted in a showdown between the Governor and state employees. The day before yesterday even Freiburg's local newspaper Badische Zeitung published an article about the social unrest in Madison.


Without being able to judge the situation and refraining from comments about the affair two side issues that have occupied my thoughts. There apparently are subtle differences in the understanding of democracy in the States and in Germany. I saw masses of protesters holding up panels with various slogans inside Madison's Capitol Building. It must have been physically difficult for senators to reach their chamber not to mention the psychological effect such protesters certainly have on legislators.

That protesting crowds invade the building of a state parliament or the Bundestag in Berlin is unthinkable in Germany. While parliaments are in session protesters are not allowed within a defined perimeter around the building such that deputies may exercise their debates and votes undisturbed. The map taken from the German Wikipedia shows the perimeter around the Reichstag building in Berlin called Bannmeile. It is not called kilometer but mile based on the measure of distance used in the various German territories before Germany's unification in 1871. The Second Reich not only adopted the (French) metric system such that all people should use the same measure for distances and weight but introduced a common currency, the Reichsmark, as well. Not even being a mile the Bannmeile around the Reichstag is just a few hundred meters wide. Inside the perimeter you find buildings where rooms for committee meetings are located too. The Bannmeile is valid only during scheduled sessions of the Bundestag.

In Germany protests are frequent and after all considered a serious business because in principle authorities must be informed before and authorize the protest. Nevertheless you find authorized and un-authorized protesters everywhere. Sometimes I have the impression some of the participants are professionals traveling from protest to protest all over Germany. Authorized protests even are protected by the police against anti-protesters. There is a continuous protest in Freiburg each first Monday of the month against Hartz IV, a bundle of social laws that way back in history the Schröder government had passed. It is heart-warming to watch the lonely policeman walking along the marching half-dozen people until they settle on Freiburg's Rathausplatz but only allowed when our city parliament is not in session.

The other minor difference between our democracies is that apparently in the States deputies can be forced to be present for voting. In Germany deputies simply walk out of their respective parliaments unhampered to the point that the quorum is no longer reached. In the States it seems that Wisconsin senators not willing to vote crossed the State boundary to be safe against the intervention by whom? Does the governor? call in the State troopers? to take senators having left the chamber back to their working place, hand-cuffed? That is what I would call a forced democracy. Next week I would like to learn more about these procedures when I am in Madison.

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