You are surprised, ladies and gentlemen, at much of what you have heard from West Germany of late; and because you would like to know how things stand with regard to liberty and social control, to the democratic rule of law, and police repression in that part of the world, have invited me here. I am grateful to you for the interest you take in the conditions in which we find ourselves, for the more concerned you are about them the better. The Federal Republic is dependent on America. After all we are a protectorate of the United States even if it is not considered good taste to discuss this subject publicly. A single critical word spoken here in New York has, for that reason, more weight than a collection of twenty thousand signatures in Lower Saxony or West Berlin. Getting out of a plane in Hamburg or Munich you will observe that German society, thirty-five years after the end of the Nazi tyranny, makes a thoroughly civilized impression. In general you need not be afraid that you will be shouted at. In the tax offices rnd in the banks you will meet long-haired, casually dressed young people just like in New York or anywhere else. No one stands to attention. A certain
So much zeal may astonish you and you will wonder since when Germans have felt so strongly about democracy. Well, apart from isolated, courageous but quickly frustrated attempts to implement it in the nineteenth century, our country has not much experience of this form of state. The Weimar Republic lasted only fourteen years and how precarious that short life was is common knowledge. But our present basic law came into existence under the occupation of the victorious allies—malicious people have even maintained that democracy was imposed on the Germans as a punishment for losing the war. But this external pressure cannot explain why it has established itself in the course of the last decades and why it has become pleasingly familiar to the West Germans. Over and above the precursors already mentioned, Germany’s strong federal traditions have no doubt played a part. But above all the political and economic requirements of the reconstruction period favoured the growth of democracy. The Federal Republic required widely scattered, decentralized initiatives, integration with Western Europe, membership of the world market, dissipation of the suspicion of Fascism, mobility and the unhindered flow of information. Under the pressure of external and internal conditions the old-fashioned authoritarian state had to give way. If you give a child a toy and after a time try to take it away again you must be prepared for unexpectedly strong resistance. That is the case today with many German politicians—in fact it is worse, for that considerable section of the population which was able, over several decades, to convince itself of the advantages of democracy is not content simply to defend its rights. In the Sixties we saw something like a democratic offensive; in fact the point was reached where a West German head of government allowed himself to go so far as to utter the programmatic statement that the time had come ‘to risk more democracy’.
If however you read our press today you will take your head in your hands. Not a day goes by without a horrific infringement by government departments, without a scandalous judgment in the courts, without a ruse by the police; and on our television you can see and hear politicians who find not only democracy but the thought of it unbearable, indeed incomprehensible. They even insist on going on record to that effect in speeches and interviews. You will ask yourselves:
The first concerns the division of Germany. I cannot report on circumstances in the eastern half of the country and do not wish to do so. It seems to me to be superfluous in our context, for the German Democratic Republic is not a democratic state. From the first, it has consistently denied its inhabitants the civic rights and freedoms we are discussing here. The government party which has had power since the founding of the GDR has never allowed the slightest doubt about that. It is true that the East German state possess a written constitution; it also stages certain democratic rituals at regular intervals, such as general elections and ceremonial sittings of the People’s Chamber, which is the simulacrum of a parliament; but the Stalin Constitution of 1936 in the USSR, among others, has given us illuminating examples of how little the existence of such documents and institutions means. Anyway that is simply not the object of the exercise. If the East Germans are pursuing any goal at all with their constitution it has so far escaped me. My friends in East Berlin maintain that it is a case of a kind of black humour with which the regime cheers itself at their expense. I am inclined to doubt that; for in my country people either have power or a sense of humour but never both together.
I do not in any way intend by these remarks to say that sheer despotism reigns in East Germany. The opposite is the case. Society in the GDR is distinguished by an extreme degree of careful regulation. A highly developed system of rules and provisions protects the population from social and economic risks; at the same time it ensures that fundamental rights, such as freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of the press, are abolished with painstaking thoroughness and remain so. That is well known to every German, however stupid and clueless he may otherwise be, and it would be superfluous to waste words on the subject if there were not people in Germany who, on the one hand, are firm supporters of the GDR and, on the other, display a peculiar zeal when it comes to fighting against the ‘demolition of democratic rights’ in West Germany. These people are an unhappy spectacle. I find their attitude theoretically inconsistent and morally intolerable.