On January 27, the Aspen Institute hosted the Aspen Brown Bag Lunch on the topic “Anti-Immigration, Anti-Islam, Anti-Americanism – Is the Western ideal of the open society facing its end?“ Introductory statements were made by Dr. Alexander Gauland, the Chairman of the Alternative für Deutschland Parliamentary Group Brandenburg, and Barbara John, Chairman of the advisory committee of the federal anti-discrimination authority and ombudswoman for the families of the victims of the "National Socialist Underground".
Gauland repeatedly emphasized that immigration was changing Germany. According to him, the Pegida movement and the new party AfD were signs of protest against developments that were no longer controlled by the government. Some participants understood this as a move towards a less open society. Gauland countered that the society should definitely remain an open one, but that one would need to be careful not to overburden levels of tolerance.
John first stressed that our Western society was the most open and just society ever, even though it was still far from being perfect. She considered it the duty of open democracies to reach out to people who were born in less fortunate societies. She warned that freedom was at risk, as society had been taking it for granted and had stopped fighting for it. She furthermore explained some differences between the "Western“ models of Europe and the United States and called for an in-depth debate and reflection on our own as well as foreign values and ideas.
Both, Gauland and John shared a concern about a lack of active discussions about ideas and political positions. They concluded their speeches with a call for a comeback of a culture of lively public debate.