Opinion: The myth of a divided German society | Reviews | DW

Compulsory vaccination – these words could well be two of the most controversial of 2021. But so controversial that they could divide German society?

Right now, he certainly feels that way. The fact that vaccination against COVID-19 may well become mandatory next year in Germany has sparked much heated debate.

But before you start making matters worse by slamming the bias into a gut reaction, it’s worth pausing and listening.

Listening, for example, to what the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said about the day he was elected about the vaccination that is the cause of the so-called social divide. “I don’t think much about this outlook,” he said, noting that most citizens have been vaccinated.

And he’s right. As of December 10, nearly 70% had received the full dose of the vaccine. “And a lot of others think it’s good or at least not bad in principle,” Scholz added. This is also true.

A vocal minority

But he really hit the mark with this line: “We shouldn’t assume that the whole of society is divided just because a vocal minority is extremely radical in its behavior.” Well said, Mr. Chancellor! If anyone doubts his words, they should take a closer look at the studies on polarization and populism. There are many, and their conclusions are clear: social cohesion is much greater than many people think.

Marcel Fürstenau from DW

In a study conducted for the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Jochen Roose, who studies elections and society, wrote: “At the start of 2019, two-thirds of the population believed that there was little or no cohesion in society. This perception of polarization has diminished during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreement with the statement “In our society, people are irreparably opposed to each other” has increased from 41% before the pandemic to 31% during the pandemic. “

It should be noted that this is how the Germans themselves assess the situation.

The Bertelsmann Populism Barometer also contains reassuring statements: “Currently, only around two in 10 eligible voters in Germany (20.9%) remain populist in their views. This is 11.8 percentage points, or just over a third, lower than in November 2018 (32.8%). “

It also contradicts the widely held perception of an increasingly divided society.

Social networks dominate the debate

Why then are we talking so much about division, polarization and conspiracy theories? One explanation is that we live in a so-called media democracy. What’s good about the digital age is that anyone can, in theory, have their say on anything at any time, thanks to social media. But the negative side of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like is their potential for unbridled buzz. And this is where the age-old reflexes come in: the louder and more agitated a person, the more attention they attract.

According to a study by public broadcasters, only a minority of people use social media in Germany. In 2020, 26% were active on Facebook, 20% on Instagram and only 5% on Twitter. However, there are people in certain sectors who are particularly active: politicians, activists of all stripes and journalists.

All of them want – and must – get their messages out to the public, and it is unthinkable to do so today without social media platforms since those who ignore these platforms are no longer heard and seen. Tweets and other social media posts have become the fastest way to spread an opinion without asking for one. Most of these opinion-givers would remain among themselves if it weren’t for the other people and channels who broadcast their views. As it stands, however, they can sometimes reach millions of people through more traditional media platforms, especially TV talk shows.

A heated debate is democracy in action

In the never-ending competition for ratings, ratings and clicks, sensational headlines and hype are part of the trade. A debate on the pros and cons of compulsory vaccination can quickly give the impression of a divided society.

But here, too, Olaf Scholz had something sane to say: “Of course this can be fiercely debated. And that’s not a problem at all. This is democracy.

To conclude, let’s take a look at an award-winning essay titled “Wrath and Worldview” by Paula Köhler from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. The author maintains that Germany is not experiencing so much a polarization of society as a whole as a debate which is increasingly personalized to it.

“A small part of the population (political elites and opinion makers) [is] bombarded with hatred and slander by an equally unrepresentative small part of the population (angry online trolls), ”she writes. And that, in turn, she says, has an impact on the culture of the larger debate.

Unfortunately, she is there.

This article has been translated from German.

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