ELSE-FRENKEL-BRUNSWIK-INSTITUTE for Democracy Research in Saxony

Universität Leipzig
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POSTFACH-NR.: 348003

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Project in Saxony

Political protest in Upper Lusatia

Photo: Marcel Noack

The research project "Political Protest in Upper Lusatia" deals with various forms of civil society and political protest in Saxon regions, with the focus on Saxon Upper Lusatia. The background film is formed by specific structural features: After many parts of the state began to recover from the upheavals after 1989, Saxony is now faced with the challenges of a significant structural change due to the planned phase-out of coal in 2038. The project aims to understand the connections between current and past political crises and political protest in their local specifics, but also in their generalizable dynamics. Upper Lusatia is a reference region for research.

Due to the decision to end mining in 2019, Upper Lusatia, as one of the last three coal regions, has repeatedly become the focus of public attention. Structural breaks and transformation experiences have shaped this culturally very diverse region since 1989. Formerly the most important energy supplier for the GDR, Upper Lusatia experienced abrupt de-industrialization with the reunification with dismantling of the local coal, but also glass, steel and textile industries, loss of jobs, massive demographic migration to more urban areas and the West, as well as a general devaluation of Upper Lusatia and East German biographies. Now the region is once again facing far-reaching, albeit slower, changes. With the final phase-out of coal in 2038, a double loss threatens (cf. Retkowski, 2021): On the one hand, the loss of the economic stability anchor that lignite mining and power generation represents for the region: wages bound by collective agreements, gross income above the East German average and qualified training courses in the coal industry ensured relative prosperity and security. On the other hand, the loss of identity-forming ways of life and work associated with mining. Upper Lusatia is to develop into a "European model region for structural change" (Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, 2020) and this task - both for the economy and the population - is cushioned by structural strengthening laws. They are intended to absorb losses and create new opportunities for economic, social and ecological development. There are plans for authorities, research institutes and infrastructure (in the areas of health, transport and education) to settle there, but also for private companies.

Against the background of more than 30 years of experience of upheaval, this structural change and the choice of words to become a "model region" of an exemplary energy industry structural change met with skepticism among the population and little openness to further change in the region. The government is at least striving to help shape the transformation in participatory processes, and the importance of a lively civil society is explicitly emphasized. Against the background of the corresponding tensions, it is interesting to look at past and current civil society commitment and political protest movements in Upper Lusatia. Even if in the GDR (community-oriented) commitment took place more within the framework of state mass organizations or affiliated companies and independent forms often fell victim to restrictions (cf. Staemmler et al. 2020), it was nevertheless oppositional citizens' movements and mass protests that finally brought the GDR to an end. On the one hand, protest initiatives directly related to structural change are currently relevant: Demonstrations by the Bau Chemie Energie industrial union, which demand that the planned phase-out in 2038 not be brought forward, or citizens' initiatives, which completely reject the phase-out of coal, as well as actions by climate activists who want to prevent the mining of further lignite and call for an earlier phase-out to comply with climate targets. On the other hand, Upper Lusatia is currently the scene of protests against restrictions on fundamental rights in the corona pandemic, especially during the corona pandemic, for example as part of the so-called “silent protest” on the B96, which are also aimed specifically at the state.

Central to the project is therefore the question of the experience of (social, economic, cultural) insecurities and the transformation as well as short-term crisis events, as well as their importance for political mobilization. Of particular interest is how collectively shared experiences of region-specific conflicts, upheavals or crises and supra-regional social contradictions are processed in Upper Lusatia, what needs and motives drive political engagement there and what expectations of collective ability to act are linked to this. How are the various protest activities perceived and accompanied by the people of Upper Lusatia, what meaning is ascribed to them and what functions do they fulfill for the activists?

Within this framework, group discussions are to be carried out with people who are involved in civil society and who are part of the political protest, but also with people who are not involved and who live in Saxon Upper Lusatia, evaluated qualitatively and reconstructively and understood taking into account regional-specific conditions.


Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (2020). Eckpunkte zur Umsetzung der strukturpolitischen Empfehlungen der Kommission „Wachstum, Strukturwandel und Beschäftigung“ für ein „Strukturstärkungsgesetz Kohleregionen“. [Zugriff am 09.02.2022].

Retkowski, A. (2021). Die Lausitz als Modellregion einer nachhaltigen Transformation. Soziale Passagen, 13(1), 7-29.

Staemmler, J., Priemer, J., Gabler, J. (2020): Zivilgesellschaft im Strukturwandel. Vereine und Stiftungen in der Lausitz. - IASS Broschüre.