The referendum for expropriation in Berlin

The struggle for the right to vote of migrants

Last month the Berlin Senate gave its legal approval to the proposed referendum on the expropriation of more than 200,000 units in the hands of large real estate companies such as Deutsche Wohnen, Vonovia or Akelius. In the coming months, the social movement behind the referendum, called Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen (Expropriating Deutsche Wohnen & Co.), will face the collection of around 175,000 signatures to make the referendum a reality.

These 175,000 signatures are 7% of the electorate in Berlin entitled to participate in a referendum, which is about 2.50 million people. However, the population is much larger: a total of 3.77 million. The count excludes not only people who have not reached the legal age, but also all those who, living in Berlin and despite being adults, do not have German nationality. Currently, the number of immigrants without German nationality stands at 758,000 people, of which about 100,000 are underage. That is to say, there are about 650,000 citizens of Berlin who do not have the right to vote in a referendum.

A city-state

In geographical terms, Berlin is a city like Madrid or Barcelona. However, in administrative terms, Berlin is a Land (the equivalent in Spain of an autonomous region). Citizens of Berlin who do not have German nationality do not generally have the right to vote. That is either in communal elections (to the city’s districts such as Mitte, Neuköln or Steglitz-Zehlendorf), or in Land elections (Berlin, in this case), or in Bundestag elections (the German Parliament). In the case of EU citizens, they are entitled to vote in communal elections (equivalent to municipal elections in Spain) by virtue of the Union’s agreements.

The referendum for the expropriation of housing from large real estate companies is being held throughout Berlin. Therefore the electorate is similar to that of the Land elections, in which no foreign citizen can vote.

Transforming the economic into the political

This is where the question arises as to how far a democratic society can leave 650,000 adults out of the right to vote in a referendum (including elections), on such a fundamental issue as the right to a roof over one’s head. But what is more: are not migrants those who, among others, are particularly vulnerable to the depredation of the large real estate companies?

The requirement of a nationality, i.e. an official document that entitles us to such basic rights to vote, is a protective mechanism of the system itself. By denying fundamental rights precisely to the people most at risk of exclusion, who have the most difficulty in raising their voices, the system protects itself. Nationality becomes a conservative instrument of the State, a legalisation of xenophobia that gives more rights of citizenship by luck. Such as the right to vote, to a person because he or she was lucky or unfortunate enough to be born in a particular place (ius solis). Or, even worse, by right of inheritance (ius sanguinis), as if it were a monarchy.

We, the 3.77 million people who live in Berlin, live it, enjoy it and suffer it, whatever our origin. We suffer from the housing problems as migrants like the rest of the citizens. Or even more, because of the communication and administrative barriers. That is why we have to turn the struggle for the socialisation of housing into the struggle of migration for its political rights as well, so that hundreds of thousands of people can express themselves politically on equal terms, in a world where population movements are increasing.

This referendum may mean the struggle to undermine two of the fundamental pillars of the current bourgeois states: on the one hand, profit based on private property (in this case rentier); on the other, the nation as an element of discrimination between peoples.

This article first appeared in Spanish on the and Websites. Reproduced with the author’s permission