What country do we want to be?

Hans-Otto-Theater, Welches Land wollen wir sein? Bürgergespräche und Statements von Susan Neiman, Ingo Schulze und Harald Welzer

The refugee issue and the threat of terrorism both raise the same question. A nationwide debate was set off on the 27th November 2015 that is seeking answers in all the larger cities in Germany.

Two paradigm-shifting events have come together in autumn 2015: Islamist terrorist attacks and the global movement of refugees. Both have an impact on Europe and its individual states and their understandings of themselves and their identities. For us this means: What society do we want to be? Which stance might prove suitable for successfully dealing with the challenges with which we are faced?

Despite all the problems with organisation, provision, and accommodation of the refugees, unbowed solidarity and willingness to help are visible in Germany. A huge number of people are getting personally involved and are glad both to help and to be able to view their country as open, humane, and conscious of its responsibilities. Even following the anti-civilisational attacks in Paris, the position of the majority remains: freedom is the core of our way of life and society.

The question of what country we want to be is too important to be weighed down by party-political calculus. We need to lead the debate: do we want to be an open society, guided by ideals of freedom and human rights, or an exclusive society that seeks to secure its identity in the face of perceived threats from without? And if we want to be an open society, what are we prepared to do for that? This debate has thus far not been addressed in the public discourse.

A society debates its identity, offline, face to face

A nationwide debate on the question “What country do we want to be” began on 27th November 2015, discussed by the usual protagonists on talk shows, Twitter, and Facebook.

For the first time, having begun in late November, an entire society has been debating this fundamental question, analogue, on location, in theatres in all the large cities in Germany. Starting in January, this expanded to include sport clubs, trade unions, associations, churches, and concert organisers in other locations. Speakers open the discussions with short statements, followed by open discussions with the public, moderated by a professional, on a level playing field. 

Media partners, including Deutschlandradio Kultur, and multiple daily newspapers are accompanying the debates and airing the full diversity of opinions, questions, ideas, expectations, and desires. In spring, the debates will be evaluated, condensed, and directed back into politics via the media and other formats: questioning, informing, illuminating, encouraging, challenging.

Alexander Carius, co-founder and head of adelphi, and Harald Welzer, founder and director of FUTURZWEI, initiated "Offene Gesellschaft" (“Open Society”) as a joing project of the two institutions.

All dates and further information on the initiative can be found at www.die-offene-gesellschaft.de.