Monday, February 11, 2019

Berlin is not Weimar

was the title of a talk by Germany’s Nancy Pelosi. Yes, Freiburg-born Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) is president of the Bundestag, i.e., the speaker of the German parliament. As such he holds the second highest office in Germany after the federal president.

Dr. Schäuble’s political career is impressive. With his 77 years, he now is the oldest member of the Bundestag but still young compared to Wisconsin State Senator Fred Risser. Schäuble is one of the major architects of German unity. You may like to read more about Wolfgang on Wikipedia.

Knowing that the topic of Schäuble’s talk would attract many people Red Baron arrived at the university’s main auditorium one hour early only to find that the Audimax was already fully packed mostly with young people. Eventually, I found one free seat somewhere in the middle. My neighbor to the left was a freshman studying law with whom, while waiting, I had an interesting discussion whereas to my right an old mumbling man was seated.

The speaker arrives in his wheelchair
while Freiburg's young Lord Mayer is greeting those sitting in the first row.
Germany has seen three attempts to introduce a democratic constitution. The first one following the revolutionary movements of 1848 was adopted by the Frankfurt Parliament in 1849 but did not find the approval of the majority of the states forming the then German Federation. The rejection of the Frankfurt Constitution ended in the restoration of kings and princes.

On April 3, 1849, Frederick William IV of Prussia declines the imperial crown offered
to him by a delegation of the Frankfort National Assembly mocking
it as a parliamentarian dog collar having the slutty smell of revolution.
The king added that the offer was nothing else than an imaginary bait baked from dirt and clay.
The second attempt of 1919, the Weimar Constitution, was progressive* and liberal. The Minister of the Interior Eduard David called the Weimar Republic the most democratic democracy in the world although it turned out that it was a democracy without democrats. The republic was destroyed internally, crushed between left and right-wing parties within the framework of the conditions following Germany’s defeat in 1918, as there is the humiliating Treaty of Versailles blaming the country with the sole guilt of war as well as the global economic depression with its unemployment and the resulting poverty. The Weimar Republic ended in the Nazi dictatorship.
*introducing women’s suffrage. The NYT published the full text of the Weimar Constitution in an English translation.

The President of the Reich Friedrich Ebert and
the President of the National Assembly Constantin Fehrenbach, a Freiburger,
hail the promulgation of the Weimar Constitution at the balcony of the Weimar theater on
August 19, 1919: Es lebe die Republik! (Long live the Republic!).
It only lived 14 years.
The third constitution of 1949 called Grundgesetz (basic law) was the work of democrats having survived the Third Reich. They were carefully watching that the constitution of the Federal Republic not only was liberal but that the democracy was well-fortified. In 1949 the founding fathers and mothers created a Grundgesetz that unlike 1919 defends the freedom and self-determination of the individual, a basis that even the largest majority in parliament cannot eliminate.

A Federal Constitutional Court watches that the political parties at the Bundestag stick firmly and unconditionally to our constitution fully accepting the core values of our society. Since 1949 several new parties both left and right-wing had been judged as unconstitutional and were outlawed. Note that in the present Bundestag a left post-communist Die Linke and a right populist AfD are seated. Both parties nervously assure their loyalty to the Grundgesetz mantra-like while our Constitutional Court monitors their activities vigilantly.

In the first years of our Federal Republic, the political circumstances were favorable. The economic growth called the German miracle provided for a fair division of wealth so that the Grundgesetz became firmly anchored in the minds of the people.

Although objectively the prosperity was never so large as nowadays, the so-called Berlin Republic is not free from being endangered. The angst of the future with its digitalization and globalization is strong on the minds of many citizens. According to Schäuble responsible politics must slow down rapid changes and take people's anxieties with respect to the loosening of social ties seriously. Communication between people must be strengthened but on a personal base and not via social networks.

One important aspect of the Grundgesetz is that it limits the arbitrary rule of the majority and protects minorities. This requires respect for other opinions nowadays frequently disregarded in many discussions and above all on the Internet. Controversial discussions must never end in hate speech but in an appeasing compromise.

Dr. Schäuble talking to a fascinated audience in an overcrowded auditorium
In view of those “modern” trends, Schäuble reminded the predominantly student audience that without the committed support of democrats there will be no democracy. “Although during the 70 years of its existence the Federal Republic was not even near to the situation of the Weimar Republic, we must remain vigilant”, Schäuble ended his much-applauded talk.

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