Interview with Ralph Boes: I am being hungered
The Berlin Basic Income Activist and Hartz-IV rebel is prepared to hunger until death to move the German State to abolish the unconstitutional Sanction Practice in the German Social Security System „Hartz-IV“.
( It’s Ralph Boes’ 83rd Hunger day today. He has been at a table in front of Brandenburg Gate, inviting passers by to sit down for a chat for most weeks, Wednesday – Sunday until yesterday. His website says: „to address my dwindling strength we decided to hold the public talks no longer in front of the Adlon/Brandenburg Gate as of 23rd Sep, but in yard and flat in Spanheimstr. 11“.
Activists have nicknamed Hartz-IV „Hartz-Fear“. Recent annual figures say that 1 Million people are sanctioned each year in Germany)[*]
How have you been on this hungerstrike?
No hungerstrike. I am being starved. Hungerstrike means: I have food and starve myself to force someone else to do something. I don’t get any money, because I don’t react in conformity to the Hartz4 system. So it is the other way around – one wants to force me, to conform. That is the difference. We call it „Sanction hunger“. The miracle is that I live at all, because I have been sanctioned for three years, and for two years I haven’t been receiving any money for food, shelter or health insurance. So, by rights, I should have died a long time ago.
Where do your funds come from?
This works through grants. I have wanted the sanctions consciously, to bring the case before the constitutional court in Karlsruhe. Because then for every sanction we can file a complaint. I have broken the rules of the Hartz4 system on purpose, so the Sanctions couldn’t be overruled by the Social Court. Every lawsuit we issue with an expert evidence about the unconstitutionality and the request for the judge to pass it on to Karlsruhe. So that means, the more judges I can reach, the higher the probability, that one of them might do that. That was our thought behind this.
What is your general state of health at the moment?
It depends, it’s perforated sometimes. Sometimes I feel like I am at the gates of death. Recently I spent a week in hospital, because of heart problems and such. There’s an up and down, but this isn’t normal anymore. My whole body- and world perception is very hightened and different from what one is used to.
Your action has been called a personal crusade against Hartz4. What is your response to critics who claim, you are blackmailing the state to live off taxpayers’ money?
First off, I have been sanctioned for three years now. If there are people who say I’m a sponger or something like that, I can only say: I’m the first who’s only ever ordered sanctions and not money. I don’t blackmail the state for money. I wish for the system to be constitutional again. It is all about the the question of constitutionality and human rights, and Hartz4 is against the unconstitutional.
But back to the topic of blackmail. Me, and all receivers of Hartz-IV are being blackmailed; in fact for life or death, to do excatly what the public authorities want. There is a gigantic blackmail apparatus behind that. And if I want to do something against that system, I need to do something about my fear of death first. Because the system derives all its power from the fear of death of humans. So I said to myself that I have to get rid of my fear of death. And I have managed to do that.
Through that the blackmail the state is doing to me is getting visible. There are people who say that this isn’t a nonviolent action. Which it isn’t, but the violence comes from the state.
About using up tax money: Everyone who works gets back the same amount a Hartz-IV person gets to live on, through tax allowance and income-related expenses. So for the rest of the unemployed public, this means that the human dignity is suspended and people are treated like slaves. That is out of a just proportion.
Would you be content, if you got sanctionfree social benefits personally?
No. My whole resistence has always been against the system and my personal situation is not of interest at all. I could have easily found a quiet corner in the Hartz-IV system. They even tried not to sanction me, they stopped sending me „Eingliederungsvereinbarungen“ (the „contracts“ everyone receiving Hartz-IV has to sign)[*]. Once I even received one that read: „Mr Boes obligates himself to all demands society makes of him and to answer all requests, that come to him from his own personal and inner life, in full, in free choice and in free manner.“ That means, I was allowed to do what I want. As long as their „obligations“ box was ticked. And if I didn’t do that, I would be sanctions. They have tried to free me of that in every way possible, but I declined, because that would have been an exception just for me.
What has to happen for you to stop the Sanction Hunger?
The answer is money from the state, for once. I cannot end it myself, because I am sanctioned. I could only end it, if I bury my dignity and live out of a bin. A Hunger strike I could end, but because I receive nothing, I am being hungered.
So that answers that question for me.
What do the ministeries say at present? Who talked to you?
No one from the ministeries has been in touch so far. Katja Kipping from Die Linke (one of the minority opposition factions in parliament)[*] has contacted me and has also spoken in Parliament about me. As has Wolfgang Strengmann-Kuhn from Die Grünen (the other opposition faction)[*] who announced that one wanted to do something about it. And Gesine Schwan(member of ethics committee of government party SPD)[*] was here. Otherwise I talk to the people who pass here, also public officers from dole offices are among those.
3 years ago you have gone into a hunger strike before, but only for 1 month. What is different this time and why this form of protest?
That was also a Sanction Hunger back then, because one didn’t give me any money and I didn’t have any food. It was the same reason, but then I stopped, because each and every sanction against me had been unlawful, even within the framework of Hartz-IV, and they had to withdraw them.
So you stopped, as soon as sanctions were lifted?
Yes, but because I have been sanctioned further for 3 years now, there were three more big hunger phases. This is the fourth.
The first lastet 26 days, until the sanctions had to be withdrawn. The second hunger phase hooked on to that with a small delay, because the sanctions had to be built up again. Then I hungered for 43 days and was in very bad health then. So friends came and offered to hunger for me for a while and give me the food that was freed by their action. I engaged with that and we called it „Relay Hunger“. A great sense of solidarity was created from many people joining for quite a while, each one hungering for one or two weeks. That was an important sign for me and I thought, this way every initiative could free people for maximum pressure, because no one has to fear the sanctions that way. I was very disappointed, that no other initiative took up this idea.
Then we decided that I go on a tour through German giving talks. So I was moving around Germany for one year, by which I always had shelter and food. During that time I didn’t have to hunger, that puffered the hunger phase. Now I am in the fourth phase.
Would you encourage other activists to do the same?
With the Relay Hunger I thought so, because it seemed a non dangerous method, to put one to the front, secured, to ask the really hard questions. Because that person then isn’t in a life threatening situation, because that is always the problem. But no one came forward for that.
Apart from that everyone has to decide for themselves. I have prepared four years for this action, not for today, I mean for the start of the action 3 years ago. I ensured that I live alone and that I don’t have any debts, because they explode immediately, once there is no income.
Because, when it is a question of life or death, and once I make the final decision to go until death, everything has to be in order. You can also not just go to your friends and tell them you will risk your life. I wouldn’t recommend that to people, but I would expect a little more of everyone, that to just see how each individual gets throuth. All the Hartz-IV support groups always worry about how to get through. We are a Basic Income Group, so there is generally a different prevailing mood.
How do you get through the hunger? Are you using certain techniques?
Yes, if you don’t prepare for that, you can’t get through it. My motto is: The state should suffer, not I’ll spare you the details, but it is not always pleasant.
When you went to hospital lately, were you force-fed?
No. I am being hungered, so there is no danger of self-harm. As soon as I get food, I’ll eat. If I had to go into hospital for a prolonged period because of a serious illness, I would eat in hospital. Because there the system would give me food without taking away my dignity. That is the point.
You have worked in health care yourself for a long time. How long is the human body able to take this?
I have absolutely no idea. It is very surprising for me, that I am still sitting here. We thought I’d last 6 weeks.
Do you have an explanation for why your body is lasting this long?
Yes. As opposed to Holger Meins (Meins was a member of the Red Army Faction and died after 58 days during his 3rd hunger strike in prison) and others I work in a context that is carrying me. And I mean completely. I have absolutely clarified the question of survival. I do not want to die, but I do not want to live at the same time. I want to live in dignitey, but everything else is totally unimportant. I have utterly come to terms with myself. I am able to take care for myself. Meaning, I can deal with the cathartic problems, and I have a team that supports me. I can make autonomous decisions and I am not dependent on anyone.
Are people interested, who are not affected themselves?
How is your perception of the debate about human dignity and sanction practice during your talks with people? Has the general perception of this topic changed?
I can’t speak about the opinions of others, but my own perception of this area has deepened considerably in various parts. I understand a lot more about very important things by now, but it would take too long to go into that in detail. All I can say is that the topic of Death in political work has put into a totally different light for me. Since I include these spheres into my thinking, completely new perspectives have opened themselves up to me. I didn’t expect that. And if we want to bring something important into the world with the Basic Income, we’ve got to look at a higher dimension.
What do you think about the word martyr?
Very awful term. Totally awful term, absolutely awful.
What’s with the red scarf?
I can hardly be without it. I used to have bad anginas and that’s why I always wear it. But by now it’s turned into a veritable symbol. I don’t go to sleep in it though, or into the shower. Only when I go out I wear it.
Would you see it as a sign of solidarity, if others wore a red scarf too?
Yes, I would like that. But really, I like yellow even better, because yellow is the colour of Basic Income. A really beautiful sunny yellow, that would be the colour of Basic Income for me.
The red of the scarf has also got something revolutionary.
What would you do with a Basic Income?
Me? Well, my area of expertise is mental education. And I would be incredibly busy. But the problem is: The people don’t have money. And that’s why I always work for free. For me it is like this, what I am doing here, is also geistige Schulung, in a sense also for myself of course, but also for others. I would have a full-time job, like now. As long as the Hartz-IV system exists, my full-time job is, to abolish it.
Do you have a message for the people? Maybe also to the younger ones?
There are a huge amount of people in Hartz-IV, who suffer. But they should always be mindful of one thing: „The suffering of one time, is the strength of another.“
Thank you very much for the interview.
- BIEN article: http://www.basicincome.org/news/2015/09/ralph-boes-hunger-strike/
- Ralph Boes campaign website English: http://wir-sind-boes.de/englisch-2.html
- Austrian Unemployed initiative writing about Ralph Boes in English language: http://www.aktive-arbeitslose.at/news/20150903_germany_ralph_boes_jobcentre_berlin_sanctions_protests_andrea_nahles.html
- Irish times: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/reform-aftershocks-still-grip-merkel-s-republic-1.2329717
- Interview by Felix from Basic Income Cologne with Diana Aman (campaign team Ralph Boes) and Gregor Gysi (chairman of faction Die Linke) – in German language (English subtitles following)
- Sascha Liebermann on Ralph Boes – German language: http://blog.freiheitstattvollbeschaeftigung.de/2015/08/18/stellungnahme-zu-ralph-boes-sanktionshunger-antwort-auf-den-offenen-brief-von-diana-aman/
- Susanne Wiest on Ralph Boes – German language: http://grundeinkommenimbundestag.blogspot.de/2015/08/ralph-boes-hungert-seit-55-tagen.html
- Filming for Change: https://soundcloud.com/ffch/ffch-21-ralph-boes
- Greek Blog: http://www.imerodromos.gr/ralph-boes/
Original Interview by Patrick Wehner for Netzwerk Grundeinkommen Germany
Ralph Boes: I am being hungered
translation and [*] comments by Manja Taylor