Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author Falko Blumenthal.
They are calling themselves non-citizens. Refugees, displaced persons, asylum-seekers: They are exactly that by the standards of Germany as nation-state or member of the EU. Furthermore, they are non-citizens by any definition offered by the history of political ideas. The foreigner without means is the foreigner lacking self-sufficiency of the Aristotelean polis. She is the social opposite of the Arendtian citizen who is independent enough to act freely, i.e. politically. A number of refugees turned this radical state of total exclusion (and physical dependency) into a mean of social struggle, and thus of political action.
On June 22, a group of 95 people with pending applications for political asylum in Germany gathered in Munich old town and declared an open-ended hunger strike. The non-citizens built up a camp on Rindermarkt, just a few steps from town hall. Represented by an refugee and member of the communist opposition to the Iranian government, they presented their demands to the Bavarian state and Munich municipal authorities: The strikers demanded recognition as refugees from political persecution. They demanded grants for asylum for themselves and their immediate families. The protest gained a direct political quality, when they publicized their manifesto of refugee rights. It included the end to forced dormitory housing as well as to deportations and the right to seek employment alongside speedier processing of asylum applications. After failed talks to the Bavarian government the camp members went on “dry” hunger strike, meaning no intake of fluids. About half of the initial group had to be hospitalized in the course of the week-long strike. Late in evening of the last day, a former Lord Mayer of Munich and a former member of Bavarian Landtag met with the non-citizens’ speaker offering to meet some of the refugees’ demands after massive media visibility of the protests less than three months to elections. On June 30, a massive police action broke up the camp. Several refugees, including their speaker, as well as a number of their local supporters were arrested.
The Munich non-citizen camp is part of a large-scale politicization of asylum-seekers in Germany. Since March 2012 numerous demonstrations and squatter camps fill headlines in southern Germany and in Berlin. The demonstrators and strikers are flanked by support groups made up of human rights activists, anti-capitalist dissidents, and a wider loose networks of women bringing blankets or students re-charging phone batteries.
Firstly, these non-citizens become a visible element of the urban movements, as analyzed by Sassen and Castells (or, more recently, by Harvey in Rebel Cities). Here political (urban) sociology gains an object of analysis of the theoretical truth that in developed capitalism in the network society, the disenfranchised periphery becomes geographically co-located with the global cities, the main nodes of financial and knowledge networks: Munich Rindermarkt is about a thousand meters distant from Siemens international headquarters.
Secondly, on a more fundamental level, the non-citizens challenge the Western European liberal conception of government. The mode of territorial exclusion of poverty and of the poor conceptualized by Festung Europa and exercised by Frontex is not sufficient anymore in Europe as a network state. Stuck between humanitarian standards and Realpolitik, governance is swaying from shows of force (police units in riot gear on the streets), conciliatory strategies towards the hunger strikers blackmailing the mediatized public and their humanitarian sensibilities (meetings and negotiations on high levels), and attacks on the credibility of the strike in general (claims of political strategizing on the side of the dissident local supporters and the refugees’ ringleaders). The radically excluded Homo Sacer can not be trade-unionized and social-democratized, can not be factored into a Lipset-style diagram of socio-political cleavages. By de-politicizing administrative procedures under the rule of law through inserting the chance of death – collective suicide not by victims but by conscious actors – the organized action of the non-citizens introduces a new form of input force to the political system. Politics gain a new arena, in which the Arendtian “political” is not a result and function of liberty, nor of revolutionary violence as propaganda of action. Politics in the network society have to start dealing with survivalist violence as a de facto source of political power.
Image Source: Initiative “Refugee Protestmarch to Berlin”, location: Rindermarkt, Munich, June 2013