Interview

On February 20, 2018, Annika Steinbach (FU Berlin, JFK Institute) and Dr. Branko Woischwill (FU Berlin, JFK Institute) had the chance to interview Mr. Hans Christian Ströbele on the topic of power and politics. Mr. Hans Christian Ströbele is one of the best-known and most experienced German politicians who can look back on many decades of active political influence.

Question: Power in politics: how would you define it?

Hans Christian Ströbele: Power is the ability to influence. In other words, what options do I have to make things to come true? That’s political power. There are different types, e.g. dictators or temporary power. It’s relates to the position/office you hold. For me, being a member of the German Bundestag was always the highest goal, given I – detached from superordinate structures or a special system – could achieve specific things.

Question: How do you see the topic of politic power in modern times?

Hans Christian Ströbele: No doubt, we are currently experiencing times that are particularly challenging. The level of complexity and the difficulty of the challenges is very unique. And the voters can feel that we are in a difficult phase. And if problems are not solved, serious consequences will follow.

Question: Can it be that political power can be composed of the components resources, knowledge, and networks?

Hans Christian Ströbele: One can see it that way. In the end, these three components play a vital role. It’s about specific knowledge, as you said, then about necessary resources, for example money for an election campaign, and of course, networking in politics is very important. And it certainly has always been; not just for the past 100 years. Regarding power, knowledge depends on who can do something, when and where. This is a special knowledge that is linked to networking at the same time. And the relevance of the topic of resources we were able to observe nicely during former Chancellor Kohl’s donation scandal.

Question: There is also the phrase „knowledge is power“. On the other hand, there are always politicians who have less knowledge about specific knowledge. Can you reiterate this conflict even more specifically?

Hans Christian Ströbele: When it comes to knowledge, different perspectives are possible. Expert knowledge as proficiency often means for politicians to have assistants and experts who impart this knowledge. However, apart from special questions or specialist topics, we also live in a time when you constantly need to be informed and able to inform yourself. Wherever we go, we have access to news, especially via the internet. And it is simply expected that you have already heard about certain topics. To be informed – this is also a unique pressure of our time. At the same time, this results in the opportunity to cleverly combine certain information from the well-founded knowledge of news and thus make a name for oneself in public. This is another way power can be established.

Question: Let’s look at the electoral system: In which respect is the system of the first and second votes significant in Germany?

Hans Christian Ströbele: Well, in general, I find the possibility of mixing the first and second vote interesting. Plus, of course, the point is that through the second vote, concrete parties with their majorities receive corresponding power. And: the secondary vote always surely allows certain politicians enter the Bundestag, who would otherwise have had no chance to be elected, and which are just about indispensable for parliamentary work.

Question: What role play political parties in this?

Hans Christian Ströbele: Political parties, without doubt, hold a certain regulatory function and are thus quite meaningful. But, political power establishment does not necessarily have to depend on parties. So apart from a party-democracy, there are certainly other ways. We Grüne for example, and I was a founding member, did not want to be a party in the beginning. Power and influence should come from the movements for peace, the environment, gender justice. The Grüne understood themselves as their mouthpiece in parliament.

Question: What is more difficult: political power creation or political power retention?

Hans Christian Ströbele: In my experience, gaining political power is much more difficult than maintaining political power. Especially my biography has shown this impressively: There was the improbability, to be elected, at the beginning in the first election and then there were the easier re-elections afterwards. In the general election campaign in 2002 as a direct candidate, my main opponents were the media, which wrote that unfortunately it will not work out with me. Overcoming this was and is quite difficult. Once in the mandate, it is relatively safer to succeed again. However, on Election Day, there you are always already insecure, I do not want to deny that.

Question: What role do digital worlds play in political power building?

Hans Christian Ströbele: In politics, today digital ways are simply part of the game. Digital strategies also open up interesting possibilities, and we are certainly only just at the beginning of this development. For example, I use Twitter very intensively and experience intensive feedback via Twitter. However, for a very long time I have refused to jump on that train. But, the employees in my office then convinced me, almost forced me to change my mind. It started with getting a cell phone and then I wrote a lot on Facebook until it became too much for me. So now I’m very involved with Twitter. This digitization is a revolution in communication. It is about knowledge transfer but also about direct political influence in the political will formation by digital media. Nevertheless, I see the digital ways as additional to the classic, for example demonstrations on the street. In this sense, however, digitization in politics is becoming indispensable. I generally see that in the political power question, that is, the seizure of power and the exercise of power. Trump proves it to us: Conducting the world via Twitter – to exaggerate a bit. But the digital world also brings dangers such as the spread of fake news.

Thank you for the interview Mr. Hans Christian Ströbele.