When do we take others for granted?

Initiative faces of democracy Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert - "We have long taken democracy for granted"

DM: Prof. Dr. Lammert, you sat for the CDU in the Bundestag for 37 years. As “thoroughbred politicians” we would like to ask you too: How important are democracy and democratic values ​​for you personally?

Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert: I want to make that clear with a quote. In his farewell speech as President 2017, Barack Obama said the simple but concise sentence: “Democracy is always most at risk when people start to take it for granted.” At the time, he probably had no idea how quickly that would happen could also apply to his own country. For us it is certainly true. We have long taken democracy for granted. We've only had it for seventy years, but that's long enough to believe that it couldn't be anything other than democratic.

Political systems are not immortal, however. There is no guarantee of survival, neither for authoritarian nor for democratic systems. Who or what decides on the stability of a liberal basic order? In any case, not the constitutional text, but the determination of the citizens to find the stability of a democratic constitution even more important than their own political preferences. This can be seen as an imposition and in certain specific situations it is. But it is the prerequisite for sparing an entire country, an entire society and all the people who live in it from major and irreparable impositions.

The movement “Fridays for Future” has reminded the mighty of the world of their responsibility. How political are Germany's youth and how much resistance do you think democracy needs?

Our democracy only needs and allows resistance if an attempt is made to abolish the constitutional order anchored in Article 20 Paragraphs 1 to 3 of the Basic Law. The commitment of “Fridays for Future” as a democratic opposition, on the other hand, is the legitimate claim to consistent solutions to the challenges of climate change, both through changed legal frameworks and changed individual behavior.

Political activists, like the parties, must use democratic means to enforce their cause. You have to familiarize yourself with the uncomfortable, sometimes annoying requirement that in a functioning democratic state what you can organize majorities is implemented for - and not what you declare that it is definitely necessary, regardless of whether it is otherwise see that or not.

Whether hate slogans on the Internet or threats against politicians and those who think differently: the brutalization of our social norms and values ​​seems obvious. Do we need a new "culture of respect"?

In any case. The nature and extent of insults, slander and threats have long since reached such a terrifying extent, especially on social media, that I doubt that it will be sufficient. Something else seems more important to me at first: our constitutional state in the form of a politically independent judiciary has so far only met hatred and agitation very hesitantly and with astonishing generosity. In the meantime, however, public prosecutor's offices are developing projects in a number of countries to take action against hate speech and bring users to court whose statements exceed the limits of freedom of expression. The federal government also wants to set up a “central office for combating hate crime” at the Federal Criminal Police Office.

However, this presupposes that the telemedia services must in future be legally obliged to pass on user data of the suspect - name, email address and so on - to the authorities for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution, in the event of a suspected criminal offense. So far, this has not been the case - unlike for telecommunications companies, for which this obligation has long existed. In view of the specific experiences, it becomes less and less clear why other legal standards should still apply to social media.

You were President of the German Bundestag for twelve years. To what extent has the culture of discussion and debate changed since the arrival of the AfD and what happens when taboos and “right” vocabulary become routine?

Breaking taboos, provocations and extremist vocabulary must never, in any form, become “routine” in the sense that they are considered normal or generally accepted. This applies to the German Bundestag as well as to society as a whole, it applies to both the analogue and the digital world.

Our culture of debate in the Bundestag has not only changed since the arrival of the AfD. Strictly speaking, the conditions of how people communicate and debate have changed again and again both quantitatively and qualitatively significantly since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Our linguistic culture today is also not a fixed and unchangeable quantity for all time.

However, numerous studies show that the change in the culture of debate has not only increased in intensity in recent years. It cannot be overlooked that under the changed conditions of perception and the medial communication of facts, the temptation, perhaps even the necessity, has become even greater to simplify, exaggerate, dramatize, and sometimes even scandalize complex processes. The temptation has evidently become overpowering to buy the attention through polemics and exaggerations, which as a rule no longer exists for differentiated statements. Because saying something simply sensible is almost a guarantee of going unnoticed. This development is not only a cause for concern for our language and communication culture, it also damages and ultimately endangers our democracy, which is dependent on an appropriate culture of language and debate.

75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, anti-Semitism and right-wing populism are growing again in our society. In the context of our culture of remembrance, what is particularly important in order to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and well in the future?

History does not pass, but is the presupposition of the present; dealing with it shapes the future of every society. This is especially true of our history. However, the further the Holocaust moves into the past, the fewer contemporary witnesses and the more people in our society who have different cultural roots and a different socialization, the more important it becomes to maintain awareness of Germany's special historical responsibility. This is not just a task for the state, but ultimately for each individual.

The Shoah was not a natural disaster and no higher power was responsible for it. We must always remember this and find new ways to convey these crimes to future generations. We must also make it clear that those born after our country are not responsible for the terrible past. But they are responsible for dealing with this past. That is why it is an ongoing task to keep the memory of what happened in the time of National Socialism alive among the next generation.

Our history teaches us never to forget that freedom, tolerance and humanity are not taken for granted, but require the commitment of each and every one of us. That is why we are resolutely fighting hatred, intolerance, discrimination, marginalization and anti-Semitism.

Germany will take over the EU presidency in the second half of 2020. What are your expectations of Germany so that the German EU Council Presidency will also be a success for Europe?

The German Council Presidency will have to be measured by whether it succeeds in setting the right course for the further European unification process. That is a task for any Presidency, but it is now given particular weight in the context of Britain's departure. The continuation of the European unification project is even more urgent today than it was thirty years ago.

The German EU Council Presidency will not least be shaped by the negotiations on future trade relations between the EU and Great Britain. If it is possible to prevent the UK from leaving the domestic market in an unregulated manner on December 31, 2020, that would certainly be a success.

The increase in protectionist measures is weakening our multilateral world order. What is the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung's contribution to strengthening multilateralism - now and in the future?

We are convinced that the world can only solve the big questions of our time - peace and stability, migration, climate, trade, digital future - together. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung therefore initially conducts a root cause analysis. We ask why multilateralism is currently so fragile and what consequences its displacement through bilateral "deals" (US President Trump) can have for Germany and Europe. We use our more than 100 foreign offices and our international networks.

We know that a functioning multilateral world order is essential for Germany. We want to strengthen the transatlantic dialogue and involve international organizations. We will - especially through our offices at UN locations in New York, Vienna and Geneva - place an increased focus on global challenges, strategic partnerships and multilateral dialogue formats.

We are also accompanying Germany's membership in the 2019/20 UN Security Council with our activities. Because here is an opportunity to bring the “Munich Consensus” - to take on more responsibility in the world - to life. In times of many national and populist solo efforts, multilateralism needs strong legitimacy, especially in Germany.

Thank you for the interview, Prof. Dr. Lammert.


INTERVIEW Sven Lilienström, Founder of the Faces of Democracy initiative


Since it was founded in spring 2017, the Faces of Democracy initiative has been campaigning for a better understanding of democracy, strengthening multilateralism and an open, pluralistic and tolerant society. Almost 80 national and international personalities from politics, media, business and society, including numerous European heads of state and government, support the initiative - they are all the “faces of democracy”.

More information: https://www.faces-of-democracy.org