Antonia Heil is the Leader and founder of the Young Greens in Rosenheim, and the Leader of the Green party of Rosenheim in Rosenheim, Bavaria, Germany.
Interview conducted and condensed on December 6th 2020 by Fajr Alsayed
Voting and Elections
Q. Both in the last 2019 and 2017 elections, the Green party has made impressive progress in Germany. The only other party who is rising this way is the AFD. The two parties have entirely different ethics and agendas. Do you think that Germany has entered a severe phase of polarization?
“It is five before Twelve for action”
A. Yes, to some extent. People realized that the traditional parties, like the conservatives, are not up to date. Their programs don’t tackle some serious issues we are facing today, such as climate change. At the same time, Germany is witnessing a growth in populism, and conspiracy theory believers, who sometimes don’t believe in the whole existing world system. These trends were already increasing in Germany before the pandemic, so now they are growing more and more. On the other hand, many people have realized that now is the time and is our last chance for action in regards to climate change, as we say here in Germany, “it is five before Twelve for action”.
“Germany is witnessing a growth in populism, and conspiracy theory believers, who sometimes don’t believe in the whole existing world system.“
Q. Germany is witnessing significant changes in voting trends. Traditional parties, like the SPD and CDU
, are losing more votes every day for new parties and movements like the Green party. Do you think that the pandemic has positively affected the party’s popularity?
A. I don’t think so, because during the pandemic the topic of climate change became, for many people, their second topic of importance. In the beginning, people were afraid of getting sick, and in Germany, we are not directly affected by the climate changes, but the pandemic had a direct impact on people’s lives. Also, the Green party is in the opposition right now. So, we are not governing at the moment. The conservatives, who are in government, actually got some credit points back because people saw that they managed this crisis really well compared to other countries around us. For example, Austria was not as good as Germany in managing the crisis.
Q. Reaching out to people is a challenge for the green movement; however, it looks like it is something that the Green party of Rosenheim is good at. How do you speak and reach out to different age groups?
A. The Fridays For Future movement is very large in Germany. Although they declare themselves independent and not part of the greens, they spread awareness regarding climate issues, and people connect the Green party with the topic of climate change. The Green party of Germany faces many other subjects, yet this was one thing that brought us a lot of votes in last year’s elections in Rosenheim. In Rosenheim, we have also started the young greens section of the party which is like the little sister of the Green party in Germany. People who are under 28 and are interested in green topics could come together in this organization.
Q. How do you appeal to older age groups of the community, especially that Germany, according to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, has an aging population of approximately 22.2 million people aged 60 and over from 81.2 million people living in Germany?
“THE ISSUE WE ARE REALLY FACING IS DIVERSITY “
A. In fact, I am one of the youngest members of the Green party of Rosenheim. The majority of our members are older and with higher education levels, which sometimes creates some problems in the orientations and priorities within the party. The issue we are really facing is diversity since most of our party members are white. We have a problem in reaching out to people with immigrant backgrounds and people of color. However, in general, the problem with political engagement in Germany is a problem of education. Most politically engaged people are people with higher levels of education.
Q. You have been a leader of the Green party of Rosenheim for four months now. How are things going? Is there anything you plan to do differently? And what is on your agenda for 2021?
A. The Agenda for 2021 is pretty obvious. We have the Bundestag elections (elections for the German parliament), we have a really promising candidate from our city, and of course, we want to send her to Berlin. Interestingly enough about this candidate is that she is transgender, 28 years old, and we are in a conservative corner of Germany, so it is really interesting that she became a candidate at all. People voted for her. Now we have to bring her to a good position within the Green party and help her make her way to Berlin.
“WE ARE TRYING TO CONVINCE PEOPLE TO VOTE FOR HER BASED ON HER ABILITIES AND NOT ON HER IDENTITY.”
Q. So, given the conservative environment that you are in, how do you evaluate your chances?
A. I am optimistic because she has already won the Green party’s nomination in Rosenheim, but now we have to convince the rest of Bavaria. The special thing about our candidate is that she did not become political because of her identity. She is a politician with a transgender identity. She is also an engineer, and she knows a crazy lot about traffic, which is an important topic for climate change and alternative forms of mobility. We are trying to convince people to vote for her based on her abilities and not on her identity.
” THE RESTRICTIONS ARE AWFUL, because I AM SITTING AT HOME ALL DAY IN FRONT OF MY COMPUTER, BUT I BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE WORTH IT.”
Q. You used to have many social events like bike tours and tree planting. How did the pandemic affect your social work? And how do you evaluate Germany’s reaction to the virus?
A. I, personally, think that the restrictions are awful, because I am sitting at home all day in front of my computer, but I believe that they are worth it. They are important, and they make sense because we are in a pandemic! You probably have heard of the many people that are fighting the restrictions because they believe in all these kinds of nonsense theories, but at the end of the day, I think the restrictions are good. In the beginning, we were a bit lost trying to adapt to this new way of life, where you cannot go out on the streets anymore, you cannot demonstrate, and so on. Now we have adapted, and we are using online calls to stay connected. For some, it was harder to adapt than others. However, all in all, staying at home turned out to actually have some advantages as well. Even though you cannot go out, see people, and plant trees, communication became smoother. For instance, I had to take the train and travel for 2-3 hours within Bavaria to be able to join party meetings, whereas now I can just access the meeting on Zoom from the comfort of my home. So, connection and exchange of information are much easier now.
“YES EVERY LITTLE THING HAS AN IMPACT.”
Q. You once said it is not enough for young people to go on the streets every Friday and protest, but we need to act for the environment. How can young people around the world help protect the environment today? And what has changed since 2018?
A. I think it is necessary to start at the local level, and just do something about climate change. Many people realize the problem, but they don’t know how to start or just feel that they have no impact. The message I try to tell people is that, yes every little thing has an impact. So if you buy the vegetable with or without a plastic bag, you are already making a difference, if you avoid generating more trash, or try to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, you would already be making the first step. One can look around and check for people who are trying to act and come together with them. One can do some urban gardening actions or plant a tree somewhere. All these little things have an impact. So personal action has a positive impact just as demonstrations have.
Q. How satisfied are you with the school system in Germany in regard to environmental education and encouraging political involvement?
A. I think the German education system is doing a good job. I learned a lot about climate change and the risks of global warming in school. The Fridays For Future movement developed in my city from a school class. So, I think the German education system does a pretty good job in this regard. I just don’t know if the education system is efficient for all kids, that is a different topic, but I don’t know if the system where a child sits with 30 other kids from 8 in the morning to 3 in the evening every day is really successful for all the kids. Every child is different, and some children have different needs or abilities, and they end up not learning anything from their school experience.
“WHEN A PARTY IS GROWING, IT AUTOMATICALLY BECOMES MORE MAINSTREAM”
Q. Despite the growing popularity of the Green party in Germany, many green activists are increasingly speaking out against the greens and especially their governmental coalitions. One of the posts by Natalia Ortiz on Global Green News reads: many German Greens have recently “grown frustrated with a party they see as insufficiently committed to meeting Germany’s climate pledges”. Specifically, criticism is pointing out the Green party’s softening of positions regarding some of its early fundamental demands for the environment such as climate warm-up, deforestation, and motorway construction. How do you comment on that?
A. This is a question of advantages and disadvantages. When a party is growing, it automatically becomes more mainstream. In fact, the party is split in this regard. Some want to be part of the government or be the governing party and this means that the party needs to make compromises. While, the other side of the party, and I am a part of it, says we have our principles and values that people are voting for us to fight for, and we should not sell them, especially topics like climate change. The party has some other topics, that I would, maybe, be okay to discuss in order to focus on environmental topics and climate change, but when it comes to the green issues there should be no compromises. I think you are talking about the Dannenröder forest discussion where they want to build a highway. I really oppose this project because it is against everything the Green party stands for. We want green mobility, and we do not need more highways. We need better railways and trains. I believe that trains are the cleanest way of transportation compared to cars and planes, so we do not need another highway, especially not replacing a healthy forest. Of course, I see the challenges, but I think the party should not give away their values in order to get into the government. Some say maybe it is all just a part of a strategy to be in the government, but then I do not know anymore if the new green chancellor of Germany would follow these principles and get back to them if they had already sold them before.
“we have our principles and values that people are voting for us to fight for, and we should not sell them”
Q. How efficient do you believe the Green party has been with environmental issues since they entered the parliament?
A. I think the party was efficient to some extent. The presence of the greens in the parliament puts pressure on the other parties in government and parliament. I think if they were not present, environmental issues would not be consistently mentioned or discussed. At least something has happened, and if the greens were not there, we would have it worse. However, I am also not okay with selling principles once we get into parliament.
Q. Do you support staying in the opposition or being part of the government?
A. I think it highly depends on the situation of each election. For example, in the last elections in Bavaria, the conservatives won the vote and the greens came in second. So the primary discussion was to build a coalition between the conservatives and the greens, but the Green party refused and decided to establish a strong opposition. We chose to stand for our values and to criticize, and that is what I support. I hope, if we come to this position in the 2021 elections, that we choose wisely and do not become the little sister of the conservatives. I believe that once a party is a junior partner in a coalition, it loses its reputation because people see how the party is not able to force their values in decision making. That is why I believe that the opposition is the better idea.