Democracy is in Motion is the leitmotif for an unconventional two-month art project
launched at the initiative of the Goethe Institute in Athens, and involving twelve Goethe
Institutes from south-eastern Europe, which are now participating in various ways.
The point of departure for the planning launched about two years ago was the fact that two
important German anniversaries. were upcoming at that time, and were to be commemorated
in 2009: 1949 was the founding year of both post-war German states, the Federal Republic
of Germany in the west and the German Democratic Republic in the east. Moreover, we are
celebrating sixty years of the German Constitution and, on November 9th, the twentieth
anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. With this historic event, a peaceful popular uprising
rang in the end of the Cold War, which not only made the reunification of Germany possible
and changed the map of Europe, but also had global ramifications.
In addition, the current worldwide political situation, the European debate around the
Lisbon Treaty, the world economic crisis, many wars, trouble spots, corruption scandals
and the general disenchantment with politics, all demonstrate the unchanging significance
of Democracy as an issue.
It may seem paradoxical in this context that democracy, as the overarching lead concept
of our culture, is left largely to the political parties and the functionaries, and that only a
few independent initiatives and interest groups have committed themselves to the mission
of strengthening democracy.
Democracy as a Work of Art
There were only few, in the latter part of the twentieth century, who transformed and
placed their stamp upon the world of art as strongly as did Joseph Beuys, an artist who
saw humankind as the measure of all things. His point of departure was that creativity is
an essential human characteristic; hence, he practised an expanded concept of art, which
addressed questions of culture, nature and social structures, reaching far beyond the aesthetic
dimension. With the foundation of the Organisation for Direct Democracy by Referendum,
Beuys found an equivalent for his utopian draft of a society as a “social sculpture”. For his
first grass-roots democratic campaign, Beuys used an old bus as a demonstrative symbol of
democracy, and as a symbol of the free and self-determined participation of all in the
design of community.
In 1987, shortly after Beuys’ death, a number of people came together to carry on his mission
under the name “BUS for Direct Democracy”; they called for an “itinerant school of sovereignty”.
The co-founders and partners included Brigitte Krenker and Johannes Stüttgen, a former pupil
of Joseph Beuys and one of his closest companions.
From Documenta 8, the bus drove primarily through Germany and the organisers, in the tradition
of Beuys, sought to engage in discussions with people everywhere, so as to be able to actively
participate in the design of the social sculpture. For over twenty years, it has been a forum for
meeting and discussion, an engine for many successful petitions for referendums, and a means
for the expansion of civil rights and the participation of citizens in political decision-making
With this mission of connecting politics and art, the BUS for Direct Democracy is now to take a
tour which will include stops at all Goethe Institutes in southeastern Europe, and, in accordance
with its concept, provide a venue and a platform for conversations, discussions and various cultural
activities. With the support of the European Union, the entire tour is to be recorded by a film team;
the journey can be followed virtually on the Internet.
The bus is to be integrated into the programmes of several biennial art festivals; moreover,
parliaments, museums, embassies, schools, academies and public squares are to be turned
into places for reflection on democracy.
And amongst the most deeply symbolic highlights of this journey will be the activities in Athens,
the place of origin of the idea of direct democracy. I would like here to express our gratitude to all
the many partners and supporters of this campaign, most especially however to the representatives
and members of the two sponsoring Organisations, the OMNIBUS gGmbH, a charitable company,
and the citizens’ initiative “Mehr Demokratie e.V.”, who, with great enthusiasm and great
commitment, followed our call.
Head of the Programme Department
Goethe Institute, Athens