Foreigners in the Land of Beethoven
Richard von Weizsäcker - While Democratic politicians accommodated violence against foreigners for months, German President Richard von Weizsäcker - "the conscience of Germany" - personally visited the homes of the harassed and harmed and spoke out against intolerance. When he tried to get the message we publish below across at a massive Berlin rally in November, he was pelted with rocks, eggs and bottles and forced from the podium by a small faction of leftists that did not want the government to change the asylum law.
Let us not fool ourselves: The events of this year are unprecedented in our postwar history. Malignancy is rife: there have been violent attacks on homes for foreigners; incitement to xenophobia and assaults on children. Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, memorials devastated in the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrueck and Ueberlingen. We are faced with violent right-wing extremism and an increasing number of attacks on the weak, both on foreigners and Germans. Arsonists and killers are on the prowl.
And what are we Germans doing about this? Playing it down? Looking the other way? Becoming accustomed to the daily atrocities? Leaving everything to the politicians and the state, with its monopoly on the use of force?
This we must never do. Our democratic state is as strong or as weak as our individual commitment to democracy.
The state's monopoly on the use of force is necessary. However, it is is not a wonder weapon that relieves us of all responsibility. It did not prevent the demise of the Weimar Republic - should never forget why that first German republic failed: not because there were too many Nazis too soon but because for too long there were too few democrats. We cannot allow that to happen again.
Of course it is not always possible to live together in complete harmony. Nevertheless, there is one crucial factor that must unite all of Germany despite out disagreements, something that must hold us together at all costs: our renunciation of violence and our commitment to the dignity of man. It is absolutely vital to our democracy that we make this common bond prevail in our day-to-day lives.
We Germans know from our own sorrowful history where coercion and dictatorship lead - invariably to the detriment of humanity. The lesson from this experience is enshrined in the first article of our constitution: "The dignity of man shall be inviolable."
Whether we base human dignity on rational arguments or whether we say as Christians that man owes his dignity to being made in God's image, we reach the same conclusion: dignity is the inalienable moral core of every person. It is the foundation of all basic rights. And we know very well who, above all others, depends on this protection: the weak who cannot help themselves, and strangers who find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.
The Basic Law stipulates that it is the duty of all state authority to respect and protect the dignity of man. However, it is only viable if each one of us regards it as a commitment. I cannot separate my neighbor's dignity from my own. I will acquire a sense of his dignity only if I learn to respect him. And if I do not help to protect his dignity, I damage his as well as my own.
Those are basic rules of human decency and the foundations of our civilization on which the viability of our democracy hinges. Without them we would relapse into barbarism.
The Dark & Light of the Past
A sympathetic understanding for everything new or foreign, and for people in need, has a strong tradition in Germany that is still alive.
No other country in Europe has given shelter to so many people from other nations as we have since the Second World War - not least, the millions of foreign workers and their families with whom we live together harmoniously and who have made a substantial contribution to the prosperity of the country.
The Free East
We must not allow anyone to put Germany at risk again. We must meet the new challenges facing us: migration and asylum on the one hand and extremist violence on the other. We must guard against mixing, or even equating, the two. Those committing acts of violence will only rub their hands in glee if we give them yet another pretext for luring youths into joining them. In t truth, it does not matter to them whom they attack. If they cannot find any asylum-seekers they look for other victims. They even assault handicapped people, as we saw in Stendahl.
Now that the Cold War is over, Europe is threatened with a new split between rich and poor countries: As the borders open, people are attempting to emigrate from the regions where poverty prevails. Though this ebb and flow of people has been occurring throughout history, today our democratic nation has a duty to treat immigrants humanely.
Since we have thus far no adequate laws for dealing with the massive influx of refugees, apart from the instrument of asylum, they all squeeze themselves through this bottleneck, which was not designed for this purpose. But surely this does not give us the right to accuse these foreigners of being bogus asylum-seekers, as often happens. Rather, we as politicians have an urgent duty to create a system that controls and limits immigration as well as protecting the true right of asylum.
In view of the dramatic situation and civil wars in Europe and in the world, we cannot expect an early, comprehensive solution. However, politicians from all parties must now summon the strength to jointly take the next step in conformity with our constitution, and they must do so without the terrible shrill tone that will not help us to make any progress, but in the final analysis, only act as grist for the mill of violent extremists.
The state has a duty to ensure that German society functions normally, that Jewish cemeteries are protected as effectively as constitutional bodies, that perpetrators of violence are made to feel the full force of the law, that we no longer stand by and watch the terrible spread of radical right-wing demagogy and that laws are tightened where necessary.
But it is not enough to wait for politicians to act. We must open our eyes to see where we ourselves, as ordinary citizens, can protect humans from violence. Citizens who show such courage also provide support for the police.
A few examples: In the large housing estate in the Lichtenhagen district of Rostock, 17 German families have promised to take in their Vietnamese neighbors if they get into difficulties again.
In Huenxe, as in other towns, neighbors have established nightly patrols to protect their homes.
Many schools, often the pupils themselves, are organizing action weeks against the violence to promote understanding between different cultures.
And there are other encouraging examples, for instance endeavors by employees and management to promote understanding among various nationalities at work and in their neighborhoods; or the joint venture of 50 publishing houses that established a new company to publish practical advice on living together in harmony.
Cooperation between groups, which in everyday life compete with one another, can be fruitful. For example when young metalworkers along with young industrialists talk together to the many isolated and insecure youths, listen to them and perhaps help them to make friends, or when the junior sections of the FDP, and SDP and CDU work together toward the same goal.
The Dignity of Man
Article 1 does not state that "The dignity of the Germans shall be inviolable," but that "the dignity of man shall be inviolable." Those who claim that they resort to violence in Germany's interest abuse our country's name. Germany is neither a slogan nor a truncheon.
We have overcome separations. We do not want new borders to emerge. We in east and west have one fate, not two. We are a community of shared responsibility. And we are today faced with serious internal difficulties. However, we know that many other people have far greater problems. We have no reason and no right to be afraid. Germany today is not the Weimar Republic.
At the same time, we should not gloss over the difficulties. For what other purpose have we learned to be democrats than to promote the idea that every man and woman must play their part in protecting our civilization from violence? This is our responsibility as free citizens.