The Self-Centered Politics of the Greens: Hipster-izing Refugees


European Green Party’s poster on refugees. Boxhagenerstrasse, Berlin (Photo: Hisham Ashkar, 2014)

She’s young, she’s beautiful, and she’s all over Berlin.

She appears to have South European or Middle Eastern origins. Her face is calm and serene, and her brown eyes looks straight into yours. She has a simple, elegant, and discreet make-up: Dark blue mascara, and light red lipstick. Same goes to her earrings, in the shape of tree leafs, and to the several piercings she has, in the upper lobes of her ears, and in her nose and eyebrow.

Her hair is long, brown and messy. But the kind of messiness that looks intentional (that suggest youthfulness, adventure, or even sensuality, but in the same time, sobriety and poised?) The same is also reflected by her choice of clothing: A classic brown jacket, atop of her bare skin.

Moreover, “[she has] a dream. [She’s] a refugee. [She’s] Europe.”

She features on posters for the European Green Party, ahead of the coming European election.

The first thought to come to mind: Refugees are sexy!

The second thought: She looks like a militant of the Green Party!

Dessine-moi un réfugié! (Draw me a refugee!)

The woman in the poster might be a refugee, she might be a German in solidarity with the refugee struggle, but also she might be a model. But for sure she appears as an eco-friendly hipster.

Some refugees might look as the poster woman, however the overwhelming majority are not. Nowadays, most refugees are coming from war-torn Syria. The bulk of these refugees, who are present in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and other countries, do not resemble our young serene woman. They mainly originate from impoverished suburbs or rural areas, they are conservatives, they lost most of their belongings, and they are experiencing dire hardships.

We cannot know the real reasons behind the erroneous Greens’ representation of a refugee. Is it their ignorance? Is it their aspirations of what a refugee should look like? Do they want to show that a refugee is similar to us? And if so, what will happens when this refugee turns to be poor, or old, or unattractive, or wearing different clothes (a veil for example,) or having darker skin, or …

Recently, the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon exceeded the one million threshold, and that in a country of no more than four millions inhabitants. In the past months, the German government was engaged in hoisting 5,000 of them, with most of them selectively chosen (such as artists, dentists or medical doctors.) A selection that has many parallels with the Greens’ poster. So, are these the only refugees that we can recognize and accept in Europe?

A program in contrast with its title

The poster also invites us to visit:

First, the European Greens confounded between refugees and migrants, while in fact there is fundamental difference between the two groups, since the latter are forced to migrate due to economic issues, while the former because of political, social or war related actions.

The European Greens webpage on migration, which is entitled Global Solidarity, reveals further contradictions, or rather it clarifies their vision on migration. In the summary, they wrote on the need of an “Open Europe” instead of a “Fortress Europe,” of “protect[ing] people in need,” of “working for a humane, fair and just asylum system,” and for “more legal ways of migration.”

However, the body of the text addresses none of these issues, even the words refugee or migrant are non-existent.

In the European Greens text, “Global Solidarity” means that EU “should continue to play an important role in conflict prevention, civil conflict-resolution, disarmament, arms control, peace building and peacekeeping,” and “to fight for nuclear disarmament,” and to cut down arms trade.

The program also talks of a “partnership with the global south” and that “trade agreements must be fair.”

In the body of the text, there are not a single word on refugees or migrants, and that in contrast with their poster.

You can call that ignorance, lies, or whatever else you want. The clear thing is that the Greens appear to have neither the knowledge of, nor the interest in refugees. From their program, we can deduce that it’s just a campaign slogan to attract voters. All this can be summarized in the following sentence:

We are Greens, we are cool, we care about refugees, refugees are cool, vote for us.

European Greens campaign is so shallow and superficial, as it is also so self-centered.

This superficiality is best expressed in their appropriation of the famous words by Martin Luther King, “I have a dream,” and then taking it out of context, not only by applying it to some hip refugee, but also by designating Europe as the end means of this dream, rather than equality and anti-racism.

In Berlin, where the European Greens launched their electoral campaign, a recent refugee struggle has started since two and half years ago, with a refugee protest march from Southern Germany that culminated in occupying a public space in Berlin-Kreuzberg, Oranienplatz. In the beginning of april this year this camp, and the refugees, were  evicted with the complicity of the German Green Party, who is in power in Kreuzberg. Some refugees then went into hunger striker, which is still under way. The Green party does not show too much interest in the hunger strike, nor in the refugees demands.

Through their campaign, the Green party is appropriating refugees’ fight, without helping it politically to achieve its aim. And by using the slogan “I have a dream, I`m a refugee” the Greens take the glamorous surface of a political movement to use its radical chic to attract voters.

The gap between realities and Greens campaign

This poster is one of a several “official” posters by the European Greens, highlighting their vision for europe. A campaign that aim to mobilize the whole Europe, and run by one of their big guns, Joschka Fischer, with the assistance of the Berlin based agency KKLD*.


Posters for the European Green Party campaign for the European elections (source: European Green Party)

A lot can be said on this campaign and on the slogans. It is interesting to divide posters along the lines of actions/wishes in the present and in the future, as well according to nationalities.

The irony in the current actions, is that the French is claiming to create green jobs, while figures of unemployment in France are hitting record high, and that the German is claiming to make clean energy, while in Germany there is recently an increase reliance on lignite mining, one of the most polluting fossil fuel.

What is also interesting is to have a look at the agency behind the campaign, KKLD*, to be more precise at the list of their clients:

It consists of big corporations, from BMW, to Panasonic, Bayer and Vodafone … and the European Green Party!


List of KKLD* clients: Find the odd one out (source: KKLD*)

It seems evident from the campaign, that KKLD* is treating it as similar campaigns for their other clients. And it seems that the European Green Party is not aware that their products cannot be commercialized as those of BMW or Bayer. Or is it?

When a political party chooses to conduct a political campaign as a marketing campaign, it won’t be surprising that refugees are depicted at the image of this party’s clientele: hipsters.

And yes … I am Europe

I’m a dog shaped ashtray
I’m a shrugging moustache wearing a speedo tuxedo
I’m a movie with no plot, written in the back seat of a piss powered taxi
I’m an imperial armpit, sweating Chianti
I’m a toilet with no seat, flushing tradition down
I’m socialist lingerie
I’m diplomatic techno
I’m gay pastry and racist cappuccino
I’m an army on holiday in a guillotine museum
I’m a painting made of hair, on a nudist beach, eating McDonald’s
I’m a novel far too long
I’m a sentimental song
I’m a yellow tooth waltzing with wrap around shades on

Who am I?

I am Europe


Anna Schmidt contributed to this blog post.

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Follow me on Twitter: @hisham_ashkar

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4 thoughts on “The Self-Centered Politics of the Greens: Hipster-izing Refugees

  1. I think that is a wrong assessment.

    To me this post rather looks like the author is ignorant of what the green party has said and done in Germany in the last years (I dont know about their record in other countries).

    They have been among the strongest supporters of the refugee cause, their main candidate Ska Keller has been an activist connected to that topic and especially here in Berlin, the green party has facilitated refugee protests in kreuzberg for almost 2 years. This campaign sets refugees equal to all other nationalities in Europe which I thing is a very strong sign!

    I have a bias maybe and have helped hanging up these posters. I really like the european campaign as it tries to involve many european peoples, topics that are out of the mainstream (marriage equality, REFUGEE RIGHTS, green energy etc). The depiction of that refugee-lady made me wonder a bit too I admit. Though, I came to the conclusion that it is probably better to depict a normal person that creates positive feelings with bypassers than misery and try to convince people by creating guilt etc. (its pragmatic and ethically dubious, I know)

    In contrast, a communist party in Germany campaigns with a sad, almost crying black man concerning refugee rights. I find that much more demeaning.

  2. Tobi, you “came to the conclusion that it’s probably better to depict a normal person…”

    A “normal” person? really? you’re so typical!

    very good text Hisham…

    • yes, “normal” as seen from the eye of the beholder. The campaign is not trying to convince activists who are deeply invested in the cause and are well aware of the diversity of people that are being captured by the term “refugees”. No, a public campaign should show to an elderly German woman who has never come into contact with refugees that they are equally “normal” human beings like me and you who have dreams and have a right to be welcomed in our countries. Normally, all that this woman finds out in the media is that there is only misery, refugees are only connected to negative images. I think this poster tries to help creating a more positive image of refugees with the wider public.

      But as I said before, I agree that it went a bit too far in the “hipsterization” – you’re right.
      Allegations that I am so typically ignorant and whatever are unfair, you don’t know me, dont get personal please. My greatest criticism towards this article was though, that I think it is accusing the greens with ffalse information deducting from the one poster that you don’t like.

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