Kategorie-Archiv: ENGLISH ARTICLES

Emotion Award – A Prize for women who inspire

By Monika Griefahn  (photographs: Franziska Krug/Getty Images for Emotion.award)

Dr. Alexandra Widmer? Heike Langguth? Annette Pascoe? None of them are names necessarily known to everyone. And yet all of these women have recently received the Emotion Award in Germany. It’s an award that recognised women who inspire others. For instance, the category „Women in Leadership“ is given to women who „promote a special corporate culture and redefine employee development as well as to women who managed to made a name for themselves in a male domain, thereby paving the way for other women.“ In general, any female company director is eligible, and it is for this reason that I am especially happy for the lesser known laureates. For the award means that they are being creative and achieve a lot in their respective areas of responsibility without being the subject of much publicity.

However, the special award was given to a woman whose name has been known for decades in German politics: Rita Süssmuth. I worked with her for years in the Interparliamentary Union and therefore I know that she has always lobbied for equality. In her party, the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she fought for a women’s quota, which for the longest time must have been a rather frustrating debate within the party. In the 1980s she was the Federal Minister for Family Affairs and the President of the Bundestag for ten years. Now she is 80 years old and she is as committed as ever.

And there is another beautiful aspect to the award: while it’s all about women it’s not a purely female event. Around one fifth of the audience consisted of men, and men also were part of the jury deciding whom to honour with the awards. The presenters of the awards included GErman television personalies Johannes B. Kerner and Jörg Thadeusz. It’s great because it illustrates that more and more men are ready to honour the lifetime achievements of women and that individual and strong women’s biographies are becoming more and more mainstream. The fact that the magazine „emotion“ is keeping women’s issues at the forefront of the public debate, even though it currently may not be in very great demand, is very important.

Apart from the „Women in Leadership“ category – which, among others, was given to Heike Langguth, director of the riot police of the federal state of Thuringia – the Emotion Award is also awarded in the categories „Social Values“, „Special Team Award Hand in Hand“, „Entrepreneurs/Founders“, „Woman of the Hour“ and „Lifetime Achievement“ (Rita Süssmuth). It’s a worthwhile endeavour to read up on the 19 laureates, which anyone can do on the Emotion Award’s web site (in German).

Utopian ideas and clear outlines against political disillusionment

By Monika Griefahn


Already, the campaign for this year’s parliamentary elections in Germany is looming. In order to inspire citizens, and especially young people, to get involved with politics (again) the Friedrich Ebert foundation and our local Member of Parliament, Svenja Stadler from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), decided to organize an alternative talk show. The subject: “Talking to each other instead of complaining about one another – an alternative talk show on political disillusionment.“

Both the headline and the question of what exactly would be alternative about the event made me curious, so I decided to attend. The concept, as it turned out, was similar to that of the popular German television chat show “Hard But Fair”. The discussion, in the northern German town of Buchholz, was streamed live to the Internet, with viewers being able to contribute to the debate. However, the interconnection between the actual live debate and the online chat didn’t work out very well – the high number of verbal contributions on stage almost drowned out the live chat, all but turning the two into separate events.

Nevertheless, the discussion itself proved informative: Dr Matthias Micus of the Göttingen Institute for Democracy Research took the disillusionment of many citizens with politics, parties or politicians seriously. The dynamic, he said, had hollowed out the political parties as the most important pillar of the political system in Germany. As a result fewer and fewer eligible voters decided to lend their electoral support to the major people’s parties.

“Participation”, Micus said, “depends on interest, which in turn depends on the perceived effectiveness of one’s own actions.” Whenever people lost the belief that they could change or influence things, he added, participation waned. Although the overall level of voluntary engagement was on the rise, those who had already been sidelined could no longer be reached, even through new and unconventional instruments of participation. The resulting gap, Micus warned, was widening. On those occasions where people did end their personal passivity and were politically reactivated, they tended to do so in a pessimistic and distrustful manner. Micus then formulated a demand: “The established forces must better defend the political parties because they are filters against populism.”

In order to inspire people to become invested in politics again, Micus believes, political parties have to reach out to them and initially kindle their interest with non-political offerings and without any self-interest, thereby lowering psychological barriers. This, he said, could eventually pave the way towards more political engagement. At the same time Micus called on the major people’s parties to offer more utopias and visions: “Mobilisation is a result of clear political profiles and distinctiveness.”

So, how disillusioned is the population with regard to politics? The youngest member of the panel, Sophie Röhse from Buchholz youth council, said: “I do believe that there’s an interest in politics. But although it is very relevant to young people, they don’t tend to feel represented.” Even if this is the case, it means that there must be young people who actively get involved – otherwise, who will represent young people?

Indeed some participants of the discussion were not perceived as much as they could have been and also didn’t take part much in the debate – which, after all, is exactly what we don’t want. Young Sophie Röhse for example was hardly included in the conversation, and local politician Martin Gerdau also didn’t get the opportunity to contribute much. As mentioned above, the online chat also didn’t figure very prominently, and didn’t remain accessible for later reference.

The idea of an alternative chat show is a good one, and the concept may indeed become highly participative. However, the actual realisation is something that requires some more work.

Trees don’t listen to McKinsey

By Petra Reinken


The Austrian Erwin Thoma is in his mid-fifties and a forester as well as an economist by trade. He owns a company that builds homes from solid wood – without any screws or glue. Thoma is also an author, and he has the following message: be like the spruce tree!

“The spruce is the least skilled tree there is”, Erwin Thoma said during an entertaining talk in Hollenstedt, which the local carpentry firm Holzbau Mojen had organised at the Weinkonzept winery in the town’s commercial district. Several hundred listeners came to learn more about the wonderful worlds of trees and solid wood construction. They also found out a little something about how they themselves could become a bit more like the spruce, the unskilled tree. “Spruce wood is flexible”, Thoma said. “The tree is rather narrow and its shallow roots leave room in the ground for others.” Still, the spruce has managed to assert itself virtually everywhere. “How is that possible?”

The answer to this question Thoma then went on to provide himself: “Everybody likes a spruce tree in the neighbourhood. It doesn’t hurt anyone, it is willing to share and it is tolerated by all. And that’s how it gets further than the competition.” It’s this willingness to cooperate that has become the creed for Thoma’s own life. Publishing his knowledge about forests, trees and solid wood construction in books, and thereby sharing it with others, has paid off in the form of many commissions, some from as far afield as Japan. „Trees don’t listen to McKinsey“, Thoma summarises – a dig at all the management consultants who propagate an elbow mentality.

In his poignant talk Thoma let his listeners experience parts of his family history, and especially the fact that he started his business together with his grandfather who always said: „You must use wood when it’s at its best – harvest it during a waning moon only.“ Thoma was sceptical – he had to be convinced to heed his grandfather’s advice. Today however, he says in his thick Austrian twang: „It’s crazy, the kind of stuff grandpa knew!“ His „moon trees“ have proven to be much more resilient against fungi and insects than trees that weren’t harvested during a waning moon. They also do not require chemical treatment, which transforms wood from a natural resource into hazardous waste.

Wood is also at its best when it is solid. Thoma has developed a method for solid wood construction that mortises individual layers and doesn’t require any screws or bolts made of metal. At the same time the material retains its outstanding properties regarding insulation, fire resistance and temperature consistency. During his career as a businessman Thoma has had to prove all these characteristics time and again in order to secure building permits. In cooperation with the medical professional Maximilian Moser he also proved that living in homes made of wood has many benefits for human health. It strengthens the immune and the nervous systems and ensures deeper sleep. The heartbeat slows down. Thoma himself seems perfect proof: At 55 years of age he is a man with boundless energy. His lecture continues to have an effect long after the evening itself has passed. It only really leaves one question unanswered: what to do with the brick house in which one lives?

And the award (quite literally) goes to…

By Monika Griefahn

The winner of the most recent Right Livelihood Award („Alternative Nobel Prize“) was announced back in November 2016. However, as the laureate, Mozn Hassan, was not allowed to travel outside of her native Egypt she wasn’t able to participate in the awards ceremony in Stockholm. But now the award has come to her. A delegation from our foundation, accompanied by members of  the German, Swedish and European parliaments, visited Cairo at the end of March in order to honour the work of the women’s right activist, Mozn Hassan, and her group, Nazra, and to present her with the award in person.

In doing so we are hoping to be able to amplify Mozn’s voice and to give strength to her and her fellow activists. For their situation is difficult. Because of its commitment to the equality of men and women the organisation is under constant threat of being shut down. Its accounts have already been frozen so that wages and rents can no longer be paid. With the help of a new law concerning NGOs the new Egyptian government is attempting to silence everyone in the country who doesn’t share its opinions. The law also makes it illegal to accept foreign funding for civil society work in Egypt. Even during the award presentation fear was a constant companion. But Mozn Hassan remained courageous and unthreatened. She joins our award’s long list of laureates who address the most pressing issues of our time – even if it poses a threat to their very lives.

For our delegation the trip to Egypt was an opportunity to experience first-hand the fragile situation in the country. At first it wasn’t clear at all whether we’d even be allowed to enter the country, or whether we’d really be able to use the room we’d rented for the ceremony. There were other, similar uncertainties. In the end everything worked out well and many committed individuals from Egypt’s civil society attended the evening’s celebration. Many felt encouraged simply by the fact that the Right Livelihood Foundation notices and honours them.

Unfortunately we cannot know how long the ostensible calm will last. The day after we visited Nazra’s offices the secret police showed up. How long the organisation will be able to continue its operations under such difficult conditions is unclear.

The following is the press release distributed by our foundation on the occasion of the awards presentation.

Egyptian women rights defender Mozn Hassan, who is barred from international travel and is facing a possible 25-year jail sentence, received her Right Livelihood Award at a private ceremony in Cairo earlier today.

Mozn Hassan shared the 2016 Swedish prize, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel’, with her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies “for asserting the equality and rights of women in circumstances where they are subject to ongoing violence, abuse and discrimination”.

Hassan could not attend the award ceremony in Stockholm last November due to a travel ban imposed on her and other prominent activists by Egyptian authorities. Her and Nazra’s assets are frozen as part of an ongoing investigation targeting several Egyptian NGOs that received foreign funding.

In her acceptance speech, Hassan stated: “The decision of the Right Livelihood Award to hold this ceremony in Cairo is truly significant as it means that appreciation and solidarity can reach you despite travel bans. Today, we feel that the work of Egyptian feminists, especially after 2011, is seen and valued by different actors around the world.”

The event, held aboard Le Pacha, was attended by some 150 guests, including leaders of Egyptian civil society, European and Egyptian parliamentarians, fellow laureates, diplomats and other dignitaries.

Presenting the prize, Monika Griefahn, Chair of the Board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, said: “Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies embody the latest in a long line of leaders in the Egyptian feminist movement who have played an incredibly important role in shaping the nation’s progress towards gender equality.”

“The current sanctions against Mozn Hassan and Nazra are not only unjust, but they also make it more difficult for them to accomplish their important mission of empowering women in Egypt and the wider Middle East region,” Griefahn added, calling for all charges against Mozn Hassan to be dropped.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Lynn Boylan, Member of the European Parliament representing Sinn Féin, said “Across the world those who feel threatened by strong vocal women often try to dismiss them, to insult them. Feminism can never be defeated; each generation will continue to produce strong brave women until full gender equality is achieved.”

Cecilia Magnusson, a Member of the Swedish parliament, said: “There is work still to be done in Sweden regarding equality but it´s important that we who have accomplished a lot stand up for those who fight in countries where there is still much to do.”

Bärbel Höhn, Member of the German Bundestag, said: “In Germany, we have also had to fight hard for our rights. It needed a change in society, a change in the men’s minds, who were unwilling to give up their power. But it is a fact: a society that does not use the abilities of half of its citizens, the women, such a society cannot achieve the best results and is wasting opportunities.”

Mozn Hassan and Nazra are the third Right Livelihood Award Laureate from Egypt, after Hassan Fathy, known as ‘architect for the poor’, who received the inaugural prize in 1980, and development initiative SEKEM and its founder Ibrahim Abouleish, recognised in 2003.

Environmental activists from around the world debate Cradle to Cradle

By Monika Griefahn

At this year’s meeting of environmental award winners from all over the world in the southern German city of Freiburg, participants from Brazil, China, India and other countries showed a lot of interest in the Cradle to Cradle design concept. After the introductory talk on the subject a lively and fruitful discussion took place.

The meeting of international environmental award winners is organised every year by the European Environment Foundation. Participants get a chance to meet each other and, ideally, to initiate co-operations across national borders. Around 100 activists take part every year. Life isn’t always easy for them in their home countries – the annual meeting gives like-minded people an opportunity to gather strength for the challenges associated with their daily activities. The fact that life as an environmentalist can be very dangerous has been gravely underlined by the case of Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in her own home in Honduras in 2016 because she fought against illegal construction projects. With this firmly in mind the award winners formulated a final declaration at the conference urging an end of the suppression of environmental activists (see pdf file at the end of this article).

The participants of my workshop about Cradle to Cradle outbid each other with questions and contributions to the discussion. Two topics that arose during the debate were of particular interest to me: One was the question of whether C2C production necessarily had to be more costly than conventional means of manufacturing. My answer was no – oftentimes the transformation of a product into one that conforms to C2C specifications comes with a reduction of components. While the decoding of the old formula and the development of a new one may be more costly the new product itself can however be less expensive than the old one.

Participants also argued that C2C products should come with a dedicated label in order to advertise their inherent value. Of course Cradle to Cradle already does offer a possibility to undergo a process of certification. In gradual steps from basic to platinum it shows how much a manufacturer has already analysed his product: how well does he know its components, has he replaced problematic components, has he developed and deployed a functioning returns system? In the end however, it’s all about transparency, which ideally should be attainable without a label. Certification processes make products more expensive after all. However, as labels seem to increase credibility, certainly in an international context, each and every enterprise must consider for itself whether certification makes sense. Participants at the workshop tended to feel that a label was important to provide a degree of orientation.

I am glad to have been able to make Cradle to Cradle better known internationally. Now I hope the attendees will spread the idea around in their respective home countries by telling colleagues at NGOs, companies and in their communities. For one thing is clear: Sufficient stimulation to do so certainly wasn’t lacking at the meeting.

Environmental laureates‘ call to end repression against environmental defenders

Video of Cradle to Cradle masterclass

 

„Inside Fukushima“

By Monika Griefahn (Photo: Andreas Conradt)


It’s very important that we all remind ourselves of the following: on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima power plant in Japan the literature festival “Reading without Nuclear Power” took up a topic that’s all but forgotten – the plight of “disposable workers” at nuclear power plants. The discussion panel in Hamburg, which I chaired, featured a number of high-profile participants: the Japanese journalist Tomohiko Suzuki presented his book “Inside Fukushima”, which had been published in German only a few days earlier. For his research he worked covertly in the damaged power plant so it was an obvious choice to also invite the German investigative journalist and author Günter Wallraff onto the podium. In the 1980s he also went undercover to expose the recruitment structures for power plants within the nuclear industry. The actress Anna Thalbach read from “Inside Fukushima” to stunning effect while Sebastian Pflugbeil, an expert on the nuclear lobby and the President of the German Society for Radiation Protection (GSS) revealed a wealth of detailed information from national and international regulation authorities. If the topic wasn’t so depressing and the experiences of the undercover researchers so terrible – and terribly similar – the 500 members of the audience, as well as myself, could have returned home with a spring in our steps.

However, what we heard was truly sobering: Suzuki described his colleagues from his time undercover as ordinary people who need money. Recruitment, he said, was the responsibility of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, whose members were recognised people well-grounded in society.

Günter Wallraff recounted similar findings from 1980s Germany. He said those responsible for the recruitment of staff for especially dangerous tasks in nuclear power stations had been well-connected “human traffickers” who were acknowledged by local political actors. He added that even homeless persons had been recruited because the maximum radiation dose for workers at the time was reached very quickly and therefore many people were needed. It’s not for nothing that critics call these people “disposable workers”.

Indeed, nuclear expert and critic Sebastian Pflugbeil supports these claims on the basis of publicly available data. According to a 2011 answer by the federal government in response to a parliamentary query by the Left party in 2009 roughly 6,000 regular employees worked and were being monitored for radiation exposure in 17 nuclear power plants across Germany. In contrast, more than 24,000 subcontract staff also worked there and were being monitored. “Specialists on permanent contracts are too expensive to be exposed to high dosages of radiation because it makes them unusable too quickly”, Pflugbeil summarized matter-of-factly.

He rates as strange the way Japan treats nuclear power. In spite of the experiences the country made at the end of the Second World War, when nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese liked to repress the topic, he said. He added that institutions of higher education were afraid to deal with the issue and that projects that made the danger more visible were redacted.

Suzuki confirmed this. He said the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami had not been as dramatic as had initially been feared, which had led many to believe that the accident didn’t compromise everyday life and that the nuclear energy issue could somehow be brought under control. Nevertheless, Suzuki is convinced that one day there will be no more nuclear power plants on the planet. Maybe his book will play a small part in reaching this goal.

Information about the book

Festival „Reading without Nuclear Power“

Nothing is lost! Cradle to Cradle pioneers from the garment sector debate

By Cradle to Cradle e.V. – slightly amended, slightly shortened and with many thanks!


After having served its intended purpose for several years a well-loved denim jacket is laid to rest as compost, thereby remaining in the natural cycle in the form of nutrients. The metallic buttons meanwhile are repurposed as a new raw material in the technical cycle – nothing is lost!

This is what the future of our clothes could look like under the Cradle to Cradle concept. Successes that the concept can already take credit for in the garment sector, innovative ideas that only wait for their realisation and stumbling blocks that still remain – those were the topics at the expert forum #2 „textiles – cycles – procurement – supply chains“ at the Sarah Wiener Restaurant in Berlin. It was one of a series of industry-specific events that aim to bring together practitioners from society, business as well as politics.

Experts from fields including the garment industry, fashion design, politics, consulting and research debated topics such as healthy textiles, material cycles and transparent supply chains. The challenges surrounding homogenous separation of natural and artificial materials as well as their return to the natural and the technical cycles were on the agenda, as was the basic application of healthy materials. Opening the meeting, Monika Griefahn stressed the significance of the garment sector as it is a daily part of everyone’s lives. Cradle to Cradle, she said, stood for health, quality and especially for cycles.

Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary at Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, said the textile industry was one of the industries with the highest turnovers and outlined the German government’s political objectives: by the year 2020 half of all textiles procured for the public sector must adhere to sustainability standards. She emphasised the public sector’s special function as a role model in this regard.

Designer Friederike von Wedel-Parlow described the poignant experiences she made at the Paris Fashion Week, which inspired her to come up with new concepts for create clothes. Once she came upon the Cradle to Cradle idea, she began realising it in creative ways with her master students in her role as professor for a course in „Sustainable Design Strategies“ at the ESMOD Berlin International Academy of Fashion. In the autumn of 2016 she founded the „Beneficial Design Institute“ where together with different companies she’s been working to achieve market maturity for different Cradle to Cradle products. She said it was the responsibility of future consumers to learn how to pass the garments on to the appropriate recipients.

Albin Kälin, founder and director of EPEA Switzerland GmbH, brought several practical examples from his work for different companies from the garment industry. For instance he used a bra to demonstrate the necessity of rethinking textiles because, he said, „with its different components a bra is a cocktail of chemicals.“ He added that it was a challenge to find healthy alternatives to the materials used previously and to feed them back into their respective cycles homogenously. He said the Wolford products for 2018 that had recently been unveiled in Paris were a step in the right direction.

Volker Steidel, executive partner at Lauffenmühle, a manufacturer of yarns and fabrics, used the story of his product infinito to show how much creative effort can go into developing materials that represent real solutions. Already Infinito, a polymer fibre that is biologically recyclable, could be used to make great products that would adhere to Cradle to Cradle standards. Steidel also stressed the importance of transparency „from the fibre to the final product“. He said the work clothes used in his own company were produced under Cradle to Cradle criteria and were especially suitable for being recycled.

After the debate the guests engaged in another important activity – enjoy dinner and continue the discussion in direct conversation. Company representatives met individual attendees including staff from the Federal Ministry for Development and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, designers, representatives of several different C2C enterprises as well as decision-makers from various institutions and companies.

A third expert forum is already being planned, which, on a forthcoming date in the summer, will likely focus on the topic of packaging.

Sustainability and property: energy efficiency – and then?

By Petra Reinken

Slowly but surely those in the German real estate industry – and possibly some day also those responsible for federal subsidy policy – seem to realise that, while not requiring a lot of energy, a well-insulated building still comes with its own difficulties: bad room air, elaborate ventilation solutions in order to avoid mildew and other related issues. At the ECE sustainability congress in Hamburg this was reflected in the central questions of the day: What will buildings as well as entire districts look like in the future and how will city planning be approached? During the day’s ultimate panel discussion Professor Kunibert Lennerts of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) captured the entire issue in a nutshell: he said he hoped that the house of the future would be so designed that its residents can simply open a window if they so desire. With surprising clarity most participants of the panel identified federal subsidy policies as the biggest stumbling block for the sensible and sustainable redevelopment of property.

The panel largely agreed that especially with regard to existing real estate not all buildings could be lumped together. At the same time individual solutions are difficult to realise because of the high degree of regulation in the building sector. Another problem is that federal subsidies are almost entirely spent on new construction although the greatest potential lies in the renovation of existing buildings. According to the panel the 2016 tightening of the German energy saving regulation (EnEV), which is aimed at new construction, achieves almost no CO2 savings while increasing the cost of new construction by eight per cent.

At least the German Property Federation (ZIA), the lobbying organisation for the German real estate sector, is already much further advanced. It argues that districts must be considered in their entirety. According to the ZIA it must be possible to find the most suitable kind of energy supply for each individual location, energy advice to tenants must be included and craftspeople must be trained for complex technical heating solutions. To my own delight, and entirely in agreement with the Cradle to Cradle concept, their ideas for district planning even include planting concepts and social spaces.

Bernd Schwarzfeld of BZE-Ökoplan contributed the most radical ideas: He called for a complete ban on newly installed heating systems for inner city renovation and conversion projects. Instead, he argued, creative solutions to cover their heating requirements must be found by looking for excess energy in the surrounding area. Whether such a concept would be feasible in every case may be questionable. However, it certainly is a goal that could initiate technical innovation beyond the existing mainstream concepts.

On the whole however, the panels and presentations yielded rather few contributions that strayed too far from the gospel of efficiency policy. Unfortunately part of the reason for this – and this could be heard time and again – is that topics like healthy room air, building materials or social aspects are seldom addressed by residential and commercial tenants or customers. However, investors and landlords should beware of passing the blame. If – as became clear during a number of conversations – a considerable portion of participants travel to a sustainability congress by plane from cities that offer perfectly good rail links, a lot remains to be done on one’s own doorstep.

War without rules: Syria’s White Helmets between recognition and bitter reality

By Monika Griefahn

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As a way of sending out a message against the war in Syria the Right Livelihood Award Foundation this year gave one of its four Right Livelihood Awards – also often referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prizes – to the Syrian White Helmets. What courageous people! In this war, which has been raging for several years and in which all rules seem to have been thrown overboard, the White Helmets rescue those who have been injured or buried alive from destroyed buildings and from the debris of their lives. Watching footage of their work gives me goose bumps. And then, only one day after the awards were announced, a large portion of their equipment was destroyed in the relentless bombing in Aleppo. I am helpless with rage.

The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, are a group of around 3,000 volunteers who have been risking their lives since 2013 in order to save others. They’ve been able to save tens of thousands of people from the rubble of war, regardless of their religion or their political views. They also attempt to reconstruct damaged infrastructure and to educate people about safety measures so that they learn how to better protect themselves. The war turned tailors, teachers and merchants alike into fire fighters and emergency relief workers. Many of them have been killed in the most recent fighting. We mourn for them all!

It is good to know that even in times of such dramatic circumstances as we currently witness them in Syria humanity can persevere. It’s good that the barbarism of others won’t rub off on those who believe in the good. I hope that being honoured with an Alternative Nobel Prize will help the White Helmets in Syria to not lose their courage.

Ahmad al-Youssef is a member of the Syrian Civil Defence. He travelled to Stockholm for the awards ceremony and, at the end of November, also spoke before the newly founded parliamentary group „Alternative Nobel Prize“ in the German Bundestag. Afterwards, the MP Michael Brand read al-Youssef’s speech before the parliament. Many thanks for that.

Ahmad al-Youssef’s speech:

„My name is Ahmad al-Youssef. I am from Syria and I am here to represent the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as White Helmets, the only organisation dedicated to rescuing civilians who are victims of the daily bombings in Syria. We have approximately 3,000 volunteers spread across 120 bases who have decided to put their lives on the line in order to save human lives in one of the most dangerous places on earth where the morals of the world have disappeared in the face of barbarism and the organised crime that is being perpetrated against not only the Syrian people but against all of mankind. To be completely frank, I am at a complete loss – I am standing helplessly before you as well as before my relatives in Syria – and especially before those in the eastern region of Ghuta near Damascus as well as in Aleppo. Aleppo, where the world is watching today how people are being slaughtered, and where the world is watching how entire cities are being destroyed.

To be honest I hesitated before agreeing to come here. I remember my comrades, my 150 comrades of the Civil Defence, who, when performing their work attempting to save human lives, were killed themselves. I have spoken to many of them and I have left them behind. They are looking death in the eye and I don’t know what message I should take back to them.

We appreciate greatly the fact that you have decided to bestow this award upon us. We are thankful for all awards because they are messages of solidarity that give us hope. We are also thankful for the ambulances and fire engines that you send us and that help us rescue civilians before they’re bombed by Syrian and Russian planes. At the same time I feel embarrassed to accept these awards while our relatives in Syria are being killed on a daily basis.

At this very moment while I am speaking to you civilians in eastern Aleppo are being made homeless. They escape from catastrophe. They walk through rubble looking for shelter. Meanwhile the injured are bleeding to death in the face of the doctors‘ inability to offer them medications or treatment after Syrian and Russian planes have destroyed all hospitals and clinics. Image for once how dramatic this situation is. What’s happening in Syria is an indescribable and unbelievable horror, and the incapability of the world to initiate steps in order to end all this is just as unbelievable! What will come of all this, the tragedies, the pain and the hatred is also unbelievable.

We carry the message of life to our people and into the world. Where are our partners? Who is prepared to aid us in Syria in the face of death and to accompany us on the path of life? Stand by us, ladies and gentlemen! Stand by us! Stand by humanity!“

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Speech of Michael Brand in the German parliament.

More about the Syrian White Helmets.

To those under 40: Fight for your future!

Von Monika Griefahn

For the second time within the space of only a few weeks the young generation has given away a victory to those they would normally reject. First, many neglected to go to the polls when the people of Britain voted in the Brexit referendum over whether the country should remain a member of the European Union and then couldn’t believe their eyes when the result came out. Later, in the United States presidential elections, young voters could have brought about a different result – had they voted. Among the millennials – those who are between the ages of 21 and 42 – a majority voted for Hillary Clinton. However, only half of young people turned out to cast their vote. The electoral map would look completely different if only the young had voted (Source: Survey Monkey).

millennial_voters1

It’s the second time that the „winner takes all“ electoral system in the US has given the victory to the Republican Party. In the 2000 presidential election the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, received a larger share of the popular vote than his Republican opponent, George W. Bush. However, he had less electoral votes than Bush and therefore lost an election that he should have won.

What does that tell us?

If people turn away from democracy and from the political institutions – or are simply too phlegmatic – we have to shout at them: fight for democracy! Fight for freedom, for freedom and a plurality of opinion, fight for future issues and don’t let those win who want to take us back to the 1950s! Because instead of freedom and democracy what we will have now are particularism, nationalism, more power for the arms lobby, more electricity from coal and an exit from the climate negotiations. Is that really in the interest of young people? Going out and demonstrating against climate change but not bothering to go out and vote won’t work. For decisions are made at the political level – it’s what the political institutions are there for.

It doesn’t make sense to attack those politicians who are making an effort, to weigh every word and to target shit storms at those who want to act. Instead, it’s important to get involved, to act and to try and solve things for one’s own future. It’s about not being opposed to everything but instead to be for certain things. That applies to every situation in life: work, school, institutions and also politics! And we need to show respect to those who get involved. Most of them do it because they want to change the world for the better and because they have goals for this planet.

When I see that the republicans are in the majority in the US House of Representatives as well as in the Senate, that Viktor Orban can govern unchecked, that Erdogan can advance his antidemocratic policies without any scruples, that the next French president may be Marine Le Pen or the next Dutch prime minister may be Geert Wilders I feel physically sick. Who is it that helps those people gain power? Yes, it is those who don’t get involved and only complain instead of actually doing something. It’s those who are phlegmatic and apolitical and those who cast their votes as a supposed form of protest without thinking.

So, dear readers: be interested. Be informed. Be involved. Take part in democratic processes. And think of your future. Accept the tedium of politics. Especially we Europeans have fought long and hard for democracy. We have been trying for centuries to improve the achievements enlightenment has given us. That is in great danger at the moment. Let’s not accept it.

About the US elections:
Find more information about the voting behaviour of the young generation here.
Find more information about non-voters here.
Find the graphic depiction of the election results of young voters here.