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“Contaminating the culture of debate”

A troubled glance on Germany

by Karl Müller

In 1952, only a few years after the war and only one year after it had taken up its work, the German Federal Constitutional Court forbade a political party for the first time in its history: the Sozialistische Reichspartei SRP (Socialist Reich Party). This party considered itself the successor to the Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party NSDAP. Four years later, in 1956, the only further party ban so far has followed, namely that of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands KPD (German Communist Party). The Federal Constitutional Court tried to correspond with these two bans to what the still young constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany predetermined in its clauses on parties (Art. 21 of the Basic Law) as fortified democracy namely that “Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional.” And: “The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality.” Especially this last clause should assure that the accusation of unconstitutionality would not become a means of election campaigning and defamation of unwanted political enemies and that the observation of unconstitutionality should be preceded by rigorous legal examination.
Many people are not aware how the Federal Constitutional Court then defined unconstitutionality and thereby especially clarified the concept of the free democratic basic order (FDGO), which is mentioned in Art. 21. Even today this definition cannot be brought to mind often enough:
“Free democratic basic order within the meaning of Art. 21 II Basic Law is an order which, excluding any rule of arbitrary force, represents a constitutional political order based on the self-determination of the people according to the will of the majority and freedom and equality. Among the basic principles of these regulations are to be expected at least: respect for the human rights specified in the Constitution, especially for the person’s right to life and free development, popular sovereignty, separation of powers, the responsibility of the government, the legality of the administration, the independence of the courts, the multiparty principle and equal opportunities for all political parties with the right to constitutional formation and execution of an opposition.” (BVerfGE 2, 1; Leitsatz 2, S. 12)
Nevertheless in the meantime in Germany it has become prevalent to label unwanted political opinions and activities as political “extremism” and therefore as unconstitutional. Had it been opportune for many decades during the Cold War to warn primarily against “left-wing extremism” and thus label many socio-critical impulses, things changed in the first years after 1990, immediately after the entry of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the territory of the West German constitution and its various disastrous economic and social consequences for the people in the east of Germany. It has happened again for some years initiated by a circle of interested people: In the years after 1990 and now again people talk about the great danger of “right-wing extremism”. And the citizens in the east of Germany are the target again.
The former president of the German Federal Parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, placed the people of eastern Germany again under general suspicion. He voiced his opinion after an event in an eastern German town where about 100 people loudly chanting “We are the people” tried to hinder the passengers to get off a bus in front of a refugee accommodation and after a planned refugee hostel was set on fire in another eastern German town. Thierse suddenly knew how to classify the events and said, the people in the east would be “more responsive to inhumane messages” and “less solidified in their democratic and moral convictions”. This is reminiscent of the 90s when violent outrages of eastern youngsters were to be explained by absurd theses which aimed first of all at one thing: to shed a negative light on the education and the schools of the former GDR.
How big the difference between external labelling and self-perception is in Eastern Germany shows a book that a participant of “Pegida” (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident) published some weeks ago (Sebastian Hennig: “Pegida. Spaziergänge über den Horizont. Eine Chronik.”) In the preface to the book we can read, “It cannot be denied: The majority of the Pegida-demonstrators are people who have already taken to the street in autumn 1989. […] The awakening of Pegida in 2014/15 is not the continuation of the revolution of 1989/90. But there are parallels: On closer examination, there is in fact an amazingly great number of parallels. Problems have accumulated, whose entire dimension cannot be expressed given the language regime of the political system in power. Those who tried first to utter the open questions in their own, down-to-the-earth language in public were defamed as Nazis by the media which were brought into line – or behaved alike. The narrow-minded reaction of the media has stimulated the protests and thereby worked as mobilisation factor. And the talk of ‘Nazi March’ even today is an expression of helplessness of the political decision makers. Their ingrained patterns of thought neither knows nor allows appropriate answers to the new reality. The first sentence of the first proclamation of the New Forum from September 1989 regains an amazing actuality: ‘In our country the communication between state and society is obviously troubled’.”
Michel Beleites, the author of the book’s preface, has after all been State Commissioner of Saxony for the Stasi-Documents for 10 years, from 2000 to 2010. Might it not be possible that many people in Eastern Germany have a distinct sensorium for lies and deception in politics and for dictatorial tendencies?
A party colleague of Wolfgang Thierse, the German minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, went even beyond. He moved all those who challenge the rightfulness of the present asylum and refugee politics close to “intellectual arsonists”. Even the former judge at the Federal Constitutional Court, Udo di Fabio, the author of a legal opinion on behalf of the Bavarian State Government, was obviously not exempted, so that even a mainstream newspaper like the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger” wrote on 15 February 2016: “The contamination of the culture of debate culminated at last in the Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, (SPD), proclaiming Di Fabio as an intellectual arsonist.” Only short attention was given to a total verbal faux pas of EU-Commissioner Günther Oettinger about the chairwoman of the party Alternative für Deutschland AfD (Alternative for Germany), Frauke Petry. In normal times, the consequence of libels like this should be a demission.
But this “contamination of the culture of debate” does not happen by accident. It aims at defaming and weakening democracy. A broad “constitutional formation and exertion of an opposition” shall be prevented. The principle is: “divide and conquer!” That can only be a consequence of the political class of a country ruling against the majority of the people and making politics by argumentation no longer possible. All this happens in a time of really great challenges. It is a fact that German politics have been in a great number of deep real crises for a long time. This is confirmed by an attentive glance in the mass media. These crises indeed are not tackled in a solution-oriented manner but they are really (and purposely?) exacerbated. Instead of looking for solutions together with the citizens of the country - solutions that the majority of the citizens could trust in - emergency situations are constructed, it is spoken about “lack of alternatives”, the executive rules ruthlessly against the citizens – all seconded by many media, but also by ostensible noble names of personalities and organisations from outside the country. One thing is already for sure: there will not be any solutions and results in the sense of the bonum commune like this.
In his book “Myths, Lies and Oil Wars” William F. Engdahl has titled one chapter “The Project Hitler”. Here he portrays how in the 20ies and 30ies of the last century circles of the US and Great Britain’s financial world did their utmost to weaken European democrats and bring dictators to power. Other books like that of the British historian Antony C. Sutton, “Wallstreet and the Rise of Hitler”, the book of the Swiss historian Walter Hofer and the US-American historian Herbert R. Reginbogin, “Hitler, the West and Switzerland 1936-45”, published in 2001 or the book of Hermann Ploppa “Hitler’s amerikanische Lehrer. Die Eliten der USA als Geburtshelfer des Nationalsozialismus”, published some years ago, reinforce and deepen the thesis of Engdahl’s book.
Today it is not necessary that a new Hitler comes, but the danger of a new dictatorship, even a renewed dictatorship in Germany, exists – this time probably with another global political direction of impact and other formulae of propaganda than in the 12 years between 1933 and 1945. What else should be the significance of the evoked chaos? Is it only lack of knowledge, ignorance and aloofness which bar the political class in Germany’s way to democracy? Or is there a plan behind this?
The following sentences by Martin Niemöller, the protestant theologian who was persecuted by the National Socialists, have survived, “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
Have these sentences become relevant again today in the light of a “contamination of the culture of debate” and the attempts of social marginalisation in Germany?    •