Freedom of expression in Germany is endangered

Observations after 70 years of German Basic Law

by Karl Müller

Observations after 70 years of German Basic Law lead to the conclusion that today’s “fight against the right” usually has nothing to do with securing democracy, nothing to do with a democracy that is able to defend itself against political extremism, but much to do with plans for a world order that remains unipolar.

Sunday night, 12 May, 8:15 p.m., ZDF, prime time. The German television film, which is referred to as “Romantic Comedy”, also views itself as a contribution by public service television against “xenophobia”. Among the main characters are a very sympathetic, sensitive and committed young woman and a Turkish family whose father runs a small, unfortunately poorly functioning garage. This garage has burned down, and some in the village, especially a regulars’ table around a rather unappealing “right-wing” local councillor, suspect the Turkish father of the family of being the arsonist and cheating on the insurance company. The family, so far reasonably well integrated in the Bavarian village, feels increasingly isolated. Unknown people smeared their house with “foreigners out!” The daughter of the house is desperate and even attempts suicide. But in the end, everything turns for the better. All families and couples portrayed in the movie have a number of interpersonal problems – all of which aren’t solved at the end of the movie either. But the above-mentioned young woman organises a protest march “against right-wing agitation”. Many villagers participate in the protest baring the messages “against the right” and “tolerance”. After sundown they protest with a kind of chain of lights. In the meantime, it turned out that it was not a case of arson at all.
No one wants to argue against this anymore.

Fiction and reality

One may ask, however, whether German reality has been truthfully portrayed here since summer 2015.
The former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution – dismissed by his employer because he insisted that events in Chemnitz in eastern Germany were misrepresented – has now made several public statements regarding the German “fight against the right”, most recently in an interview with the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” on 8 May. Hans-Georg Maassen said there, among other things:
“I see considerable risks for the security and cohesion of the state in the essentially unchanged migration policy since September 2015. It is necessary that migrants are turned away at the border. We must close the doors to those who are not politically persecuted, and we must immediately deport the approximately 240,000 foreigners who are obligated to leave the country and not let their countries of origin playing us up. We have not yet taken any precautions to stop a new, huge wave of immigrants.”

“Poison for democracy”

And, Maassen continues: “People who do not swim in the political-medial mainstream have a hard time. They are sometimes stigmatised as right-wing or right-wing populists. This is intimidating and frightening. I have repeatedly heard that people would rather say nothing than be publicly pilloried. […] It is poison for democracy, because it makes certain political positions that are not extremist taboo and remove them from democratic discourse.”
And even: “Politicians are often more loyal to their party than to the people. For example, I spoke with SPD politicians about the so-called refugee crisis. They admitted to me that asylum policy in 2015 and 2016 was a serious mistake by the government and a disaster for Germany. But this could not be said publicly, because the SPD could not once again position itself more conservatively than the Union Party, as it had done with Agenda 2010 at that time.”

Keep silent if you have a different opinion!

We do not know how Hans-Georg Maassen would judge this ZDF film, but it is certainly not an invitation to publicly criticise the migration policy of the federal government since 2015. Rather, this ZDF film is just one of countless examples of how the atmosphere in Germany is constructed. Often not with a sledgehammer, but professionally suggestive. And this is repeated again and again with a central thrust: resulting in a position that nobody can contradict. This is what happens to people at public events, at work and in their leisure time. One could also call it propaganda. Or better still, an appeal: “You’d better keep quiet if you have a different opinion!

The power of a complex of media and NGOs …

One must start by taking the statements of a former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution seriously. A country in which politically moderate citizens and politicians can no longer frankly and freely say what they think, is a country without freedom of expression – even if it is guaranteed in the constitution. As of today, official state sanctions still be the exception. A complex of media and NGOs, a new kind of “national community”, have taken over the role of issuing sanctions.
It is embarrassing for the country when almost without exception only people such as the former president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution have taken a public stand and openly maintain their opinion. But he, too, is marginalised as a “right-wing” extremist. Because those who marginalise, know that it is easy to do.
However, anyone who values democracy should sound the alarm.

… against the freedom of expression

German Basic Law, which has been in force just a few days short of 70 years, specifies in Article 5 very precisely what freedom of expression means and what the limits are.

Article 5 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany

(1) Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
(2) These rights shall find their limits in the provisions of general laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons, and in the right to personal honour.
(3) Arts and sciences, research and teaching shall be free. The freedom of teaching shall not release any person from allegiance to the constitution.

Nowhere does it say here that the publicly expressed opinions must be “politically correct”. Every citizen is called upon to correct prejudices, including of course those against foreigners living in Germany. This presupposes equivalence in dealing with and objectivity in the debate.

Expressing oneself when democracy is in danger

But every citizen is also called upon to express himself publicly when democracy is in danger. To express yourself is very important, to discourage social exclusion motivated by interests and power politics.
Like any other country, Germany would do better to discuss and master the country’s actual tasks (to build peace without weapons, to fix the economy and the finances, to solve social problems, to improve political culture, etc.).

Demand for an open and honest discourse

What would it be like if those who are counting on the dissolution of states, the erosion of freedom, the erosion of the rule of law and democracy, an even more powerful EU or even global governance – all in all: an again unipolar world order – openly and honestly argue their position instead of discrediting their opponents as “right-extremists” and talking about the “fight against the right”; when they mean something completely different. There are enemies of democracy not only in the extreme left and right spectrum (see box), not only on the side of violent Islamism. Unfortunately, enemies of democracy today there are also forces that already have a great deal of power and influence and pretend that they alone can determine how we should live together.    •

How the “anti-totalitarian consensus” continually to disappears

km. In the 1950s, the German Federal Constitutional Court in its decisions on the prohibition of the left-wing extremist Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and the right-wing extremist Socialist Reich Party (SRP) formulated clear criteria as to what is the core substance of the German constitution, the liberal-democratic basic order, and when a political party is therefore unconstitutional. In 1952 the Court had thus defined: ”The free democratic order in the sense of article 21 II German constitution can be defined as an order, which excludes any form of tyranny or arbitrariness and represents a governmental system under a rule of law, based upon  self-determination of the people as expressed by the will of the existing majority and upon freedom and equality. The fundamental principles of this order include at least: respect for the human rights given concrete form in the Basic Law, in particular for the right of a person to life and free development; popular sovereignty; separation of powers; responsibility of government; lawfulness of administration; independence of the judiciary; the multi-party principle; and equality of opportunities for all political parties including the right of constitutional formation and performance of an opposition.” (BVerfGE 2, 1 (Leitsatz 2, pp. 12 – Federal Constitutional Court 2, 1 guiding principle 2, pp. 12)
These strict criteria are unknown to most in today’s political-polemic struggle.
In an interview with the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” on 8 May, Hans-Georg Maassen also pointed out that both left-wing extremists and, more recently, right-wing extremist political forces receive support from non-extremist circles in Germany: “There never existed a clear distinction between left-wing extremism and the left-wing or left-liberal spectrum among the left. There has always been a bridge between left-wing and left-wing extremism. Since the Second World War, right-wing extremism has clearly distinguished between right-wing and right-wing extremists. This separation has increasingly disappeared in recent years. As with left-wing extremism, there now can be seen a bridge between the bourgeois spectrum and the extremists.” (Translated by Current Concerns) The “anti-totalitarian consensus” expressed in the Basic Law of 1949 is thus disappearing. The political dangers of this blurring of distinctions are great.