The German government has resolved to phase out coal-fired power plants at the latest by 2038. The coal exit will inevitably mean the end of lignite mining in Lusatia, a central economic sector that has played a major role in shaping the region’s identity. However, against the backdrop of the worsening climate crisis, lignite is a hotly contested political issue. Although there are many people in Lusatia who reject the coal exit by 2038, lignite is not uncontroversial here either. (see Bischoff et. al. 2021). At the same time, in recent years the right-wing populist and to some extent radical right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained mass appeal among some of the Lusatian population. With their right-wing populist orientation and simplistic friend-foe argumentation, the AfD is driving social polarisation. The party rails against the coal exit, sheds doubt on man-made climate change and, more recently, has sought proximity to pandemic deniers. But why exactly is right-wing populism so popular in Lusatia? Why does this success pose a threat to structural change in the region? And how might we remove the breeding ground for right-wing populism and counteract social polarisation? This Discussion Paper addresses these questions and develops three approaches for countering social polarisation so that the coming structural change in Lusatia can be successful.
Acknowledge diversity Lusatia is often presented as a homogeneous area with a homogeneous population. This in no way reflects the social reality on the ground. The population in Upper and Lower Lusatia is very heterogeneous in terms of their origins, political views, and religious beliefs. This diversity must be acknowledged and viewed as a resource for the region.
Establish a culture of immigration Since 2000 alone, the population in Lusatia has declined by about 20 per cent, from 1.4 million to 1.1 million, and the average age has increased significantly (WRL 2019, 27). For the future, it is imperative to establish a culture of immigration to make the region attractive both for people who left as young adults and for people from other parts of Germany and abroad.
Take fears about the future seriously, but do not exacerbate them The massive economic and social changes of the 1990s have stirred fear of change in the region. For this reason, it is important to establish spaces where dialogue can take place on what the future might look like without strengthening vague fears stemming from past experiences.
- RIFS Discussion Paper und RIFS Working Paper
Haas, T., & Staemmler, J. (2021). Dead end: Right-wing populism Recognising diversity and immigration culture in Lusatia. IASS Discussion Paper, November 2021.
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