Apathy in Action

Politics and religion. If there ever was a recipe for friction and dissent, these two would be at the top of the ingredients list. Children and education would have to come a close third.

So what happens when you have a major city split down religious lines, about to cast votes in a political contest to see just how religion stacks  up in education circles?

You have the potential for a major showdown and an opportunity for social unrest and anarchistic agitation. Here is a reference article from the Spiegel International website.

And so we set the scene for this high-noon thriller. Berlin, April 2009. The city is about to vote on whether Ethics should be replaced by Religion as a core subject at schools.

“Berlin has a long secular tradition, and 60 percent of Berliners are not members of any church. In 2006, ethics classes became a compulsory subject for Berlin students between grade 7 and grade 10, with religion being an optional extra class, after the “honor killing” of a Turkish woman murdered by her brother.” (from Spiegel Online:  http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,621281,00.html)

So the question being posed was whether it should be the case that the city “…allowed students to choose between ethics and religion courses, which would have seen Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism taught separately.” (same article).

All the usual suspects resumed their positions behind their ideological barricades.

The “pro-religious” group included such notables as “…Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the churches. Archbishop Robert Zollitch, the head of the Catholic German Bishops Conference”.

The “pro-ethics” group included the ruling coalition, along with union groups and various notables of the community.

However, it may be a little trite to say that all the usual suspects were behind the appropriately labelled barriers. This truly was an issue that divided a city.

The referendum had been called following the agitation of a group who collected thousands of signatures calling for the replacement of Ethics with Religion.  Christians and Muslims were unlikely allies on one side of the barrier, only to find that they were competing with Christians and Muslims on the facing barriers.

All that was required for a particular side to win was to exceed the City legislature thresholds. However, under rules for referendums in the city, they also need at least one-quarter of all those eligible to vote in Berlin, that’s about 610,000 votes. (quote from article again).

And so the fateful day of the referendum came and went.

What happened?

Basically, Berliners failed to show. Here is the result…

In the end, only 14.2 percent of all eligible voters in Berlin cast their ballots on Sunday in support of the “Pro Reli” proposal, which was well short of the 25 percent — or 611,422 votes — needed to effect the change. A total of 713,228 (29.2 percent) of Berlin’s 2.45 million eligible voters cast their ballot, 51.3 percent of which opposed and 48.5 percent of which supported the proposal.


Maybe Australia’s Greatest Asset has already been passed on by a few laggard Aussie tourists slowly drinking their way across Germany?

Or maybe that great horde of Armchair Anarchists found a way to express themselves loudly and clearly, without the need to alter habits and actually leave the comfort of their armchair?

Either way, damn fine outcome.



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