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Happy 60th Birthday, Grundgesetz!

Posted on May 23, 2009 at 02:52 PM

Grundgesetz

Today is a birthday as well, altough of a whole different sort. The “Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, the german constitution, turns 60 years old.

Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority. (GG §1.1)

60 years in which there has been no war in germany. 60 years of freedom and equality. 60 years of a free democratic society. 60 years in which this nation has stood for the principles laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a free - later unified - nation amongst others in Europe and the World.

Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law. (GG §2.1)

It really is reason to celebrate - which is why there have been flashmobs of people reading the Grundgesetz out loud all over germany today, and which is why I spent half of the day today walking around Karlsruhe handing out copies of the Grundgesetz to people.

Amendments to this Basic Law affecting the division of the Federation into Länder, their participation on principle in the legislative process, or the principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20 shall be inadmissible. (GG §79.3)

But not all is well. As is always the case with laws guaranteeing freedom, the Grundgesetz, too, is always under attack - despite the ”eternity clause”, GG §79.3.

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. (GG §5.3)

Some politicians, hopefully in genuinely good faith (And not for the sole reason of wanting to boost their popularity with people before the elections soon taking place), want to exchange basic freedoms for percieved security.

  • For one, there is the ”Vorratsdatenspeicherung”, mass data retention in the name of fighting terrorism, an initiative mostly backed by the german ministry if the interior.
  • More recently, family minister Ursula von der Leyen is trying to introduce a law for censoring the internet, for preventing the spread of child pornography.
The privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications shall be inviolable. (GG §10.1)

We are lucky to be a nation where, for the express purpose of preventing the slow erosion of rights, a system of checks and balances is in place to prevent just that. The german constitutional court, located here in Karlsruhe, is a court where every german can file a complaint about a law to have it checked for constitutionality. And it has done so with great diligency and care, and is generally seen as a defender of democracy and freedom in germany.

The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on constitutional complaints, which may be filed by any person alleging that one of his basic rights or one of his rights under paragraph (4) of Article 20 or under Article 33, 38, 101, 103 or 104 has been infringed by public authority. (GG §93.1.4a)

This system is deemed undemocratic by some, interestingly often the same persons who see the Grundgesetz as a hindrance of some kind. There is a grain of truth in this - after all, justices are not democratically elected - but in all those years, the constitutional court has proven time after time that it feels just as bound by the will of the people as the politicians in Bonn and Berlin, if not moreso - recently, when it declared the use of black box, paper-trail-less voting machines to be in violation of the constitution.

All Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available. (GG §20.4)

Our relatively young constitution has had to adapt over time - who could have predicted the german reunification, or a europe this close together, with a common currency - but overally, it has stood the test of time well and is still “In bester Verfassung”, as we’d say in germany. Happy 60th Birthday, Grundgesetz. I hope and I will help to make sure that you’ll stay with us for a long, long time to come.

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