In 2014, 51 million people fled from their countries – as many as there were in the Second World War. Only few managed to reach Europe, because of its increasingly sealed borders and defense strategies. Pictures from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea or the Spanish exclave Ceuta are very present, showing people dying at the EU’s external borders. Then come the images of people who reach Germany but are met with hateful chants or the fear of being mistreated by security personnel. A new phenomenon is the Pegida movement, which brings people with quite different motives out to demonstrate together in the streets. What unites them is a language of exclusion and a subtle, if not fully open, xenophobic attitude. This is where the idea of a free and secure Europe ends.
The urgent question of how we understand dignity is raised politically, socially and individually. The respect for human dignity was one of the grounding principles of the European Union and was anchored in the German constitution, as a historical response to the atrocities of the Second World War. Human dignity is universal, a status that cannot be lost, untouchable. Nevertheless, the constitution is silent on the definition of human dignity. This fact, coupled with the word's emotional connotation, makes it subject to interpretation or used as rhetoric or as a 'conversation stopper' (Birnbach).
The theologist Wilfried Härle describes human dignity as 'the entitlement of respect as a human being'. His definition includes a legal obligation that makes it possible to make a legal case for human dignity. Härle goes beyond this, as his definition emphasises the perception and appreciation of others. The educational work of the Kreisau-Initiative works in this area: We bring people to dialogue about the conditions of a dignified life, but the more important part of our work is to create spaces where people can perceive and appreciate diversity. The premise of this communication is the appreciation of the other. This competence is like a muscle, which can be trained and acts as a reflex, which responds to the hollow concept of a 'tolerant Europe'. It is because of this untrained muscle that we see these movements all over Europe – in Dresden, Paris, Ceuta, Athens, Budapest or Donetsk.
That is how our educational work is formulated: together with the young people, project partners and trainers, we work towards an accepting and respectful Europe and come closer to our vision of dignity without boundaries.