The keynote speaker for our conference Right here, right now! Human rights! is Daphne Büllerbach, executive director of European Alternatives. Her keynote focused on the link between democracy and human rights, the necessity of protest, the role of law and the paradox of tolerance. Daphne elaborated how people who put their trust in authoritarians slowly lose touch with the Human Rights they take for granted.
After the conference, I had the chance to briefly interview Daphne about her personal journey in advocating for human rights, ways to make change, the importance of not staying silent and the European Alternatives organisation that she helped found.
What is your personal drive about working in human rights?
I think there are probably a few aspects to it. For me it’s a very political issue and I have always been interested in politics. I remember when I was in school in Stuttgart, in the middle of the 90s there was this issue that the french government launched those atomic bomb tests and I felt really enraged about how unfair it is that they were testing something so deadly. Like who would ever want to drop an atomic bomb again? And they were testing this next to people who had nothing to do with the war the government was preparing for.
That was a moment of feeling this inequality for me. And also a moment of feeling the privilege of where I was born - a safe space, a democracy.
I have been working in Eastern Germany a lot and within Germany there a many differences between people coming from the east and people coming from the west. That triggered me to work on the issue of inequality, which does in my oppinion lie at the basis of what Human Rights stand for. They are about allowing us equal access to rights and that is something that we obviously have to fight for.
The Role of Young People
Since you are at this conference for young people, what do you see as the role of young people in the discussion and the activities of maintaining and advocating for human rights?
To some extent, I’m also still a young person, so I feel like we are all sitting in the same boat. I am glad to have the possibility of working in the area of Human Rights. Not everyone can work on something they are passionate about.
Nevertheless I feel like it is necessary to leave that thought-bubble that we are living in. Our immediate surroundings impact our way of thinking. I hope we can all realise that we will not be able to solve issues of humankind staying in our small bubble. We should also leave national context. Topics like climate changes need to be discussed accross borders. And we can only change something by working together. And people should learn that from a young age.
"I can't believe we are still protesting this shit"
You started the conference with a picture of a protest banner that said „I can’t believe we’re still protesting this shit“. How do you maintain the stamina and not get tired of it or grow apathetic? What would you say to people who do?
There are days when I am definitely pessimistic and I feel very insecure, days when I am not sure if what I do is helping at all. But then I have other moments - often it’s moments when many of us come together and where you feel an energy.
One example is a demonstration we organised in Berlin just a few weeks ago which was called „Unteilbar“ (indivisible) and it brought 250 000 people out on the streets. For me, this was a pretty amazing moment and I think everyone who’s been to a big demonstration knows how great it feels to be on the streets with people who also want to express solidarity or resistance. I was standing on the street for several hours, all these people were passing by. I felt like I share something with all of them and that was an amazing feeling. And that is something that we need to realize: We are not alone. There are people who follow the same goal.
Alternatives for Europe
Lastly, the organisation you represent is called European Alternatives. I want to focus on the word „ Alternatives“, which I notice is in plural. What is the meaning behind this?
It's good you noticed that. Margaret Thatcher shaped the idea that there is no alternative. She said "okay, we have to go down the way of neoliberal, or capitalist way of organising our society or economy" and this was really seen as the only solution or the only possibility.
That was a very broad starting point, but it's why we say that there is always another way, another option and possibly more than one. We are not saying that there’s a certain ideology that is better, but we want to engage people into a debate about what we should be doing different, because the situation that we live in today is dramatic in the sense of climate change, but also democracy.
It is a huge problem that people who try to dismantle democracy are being voted into governments. What can we do about that? What does that mean for citizens who do not agree with their governments? What rights do whe have and what alternatives can we propose. Those are difficult questions.
And that is basically why we founded European Alternatives. We want to engage people in this debate. We don’t have the answer to everything, but we want to have people engage with that. And it’s the younger people who have to engage with it specifically, because we are going be here for the longest.
Pictures: Ralph Pache, European Alternatives