The Catholic University of America

Truth and Politics: Germany at the Beginning of the 21st Century
Address by Bernhard Vogel, Ph.D., Minister President,
Free State of Thuringia
Chairman of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung
On the occasion of the conferral of an honorary doctorate degree by
The Catholic University of America
Nov. 13, 2002

From Left: Monsignor John Wippel, Theodore Basselin Professor of Philosophy, Father O'Connell, Minister-president Vogel, the Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P., dean of the School of Philosopy, and Jude Dougherty, dean emeritus of the School of Philosophy, gather before the degree conferral.

Father O'Connell, Dean Emeritus Dougherty, Dean Pritzl, Dr. Convey, Monsignor Wippel, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I thank you deeply for the honor I received today. It is a high distinction that has special meaning for me for a number of reasons. The honorary title is given by one of the most distinguished Catholic universities with which I have many bonds and which has kindly invited me several times in recent decades.

I am especially delighted that your award is a Doctor of Law degree. My mother wished more than 50 years ago that I follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and my brother and study law. But I chose sociology, political science, history and economics and earned a Doctor of Philosophy. But today, you fulfilled my mother's wish.

It is a great honor that I share the award from this university with renowned German scientists, some of whom are closely connected to me. I would like to mention Josef Pieper and Hans-Georg Gadamer, who were my teachers, but also Cardinal Karl Lehmann, with whom I share a long-standing friendship. I am particularly honored that you chose me as the first German politician to receive this award.

Above all, I am pleased that it is an American university that is awarding me, a German, this honorary degree. I have a strong affinity with your country and its ideals. Yours is a country that has a more than 200-year unbroken democratic tradition, whose citizens unite around their love of freedom, patriotism, and devotion to the Constitution.

I met American citizens for the first time in 1945. They were victorious soldiers in a conquered land. Yet they were friendly toward me and the German people. During my service as minister of culture and minister president of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, I had responsibility for a West German state that had more American soldiers living there at times than in several of the less populous American states. The votes of more than 175,000 American citizens living in Rhineland-Palatinate would have been enough to send two senators to Congress.

Today, I come to you as the chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. In the spirit of Adenauer - who made the Christian Democratic movement the strongest political force in Germany and who led Germany back into the community of free nations - the Adenauer Foundation devotes itself intensively to promoting German-American friendship. As part of this effort, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation has for decades been working closely with this university in an atmosphere of mutual trust.

But I also come to you as the Minister President of the free state of Thuringia, which was part of East Germany before reunification. Thuringia was liberated by American soldiers in 1945, along with Buchenwald, one of the concentration camps on German soil which the Nazis built a scant stone's throw from Weimar, the city of Goethe, Schiller, Wieland and Herder.

Most Thuringians were shocked that the American soldiers left their land after only a few weeks. Thuringia then became part of the Soviet occupation zone so that the Western powers could take possession of West Berlin as agreed upon by the Allies who planned the division of Germany into zones of occupation.

Fifty years ago, Thuringia - a land that was already a kingdom in the 5th century - was abolished as a state by an arbitrary act of the ruling power. It would not have been reborn in 1990 if America, if President George Bush Sr. and his administration had not supported German reunification unconditionally.

In the meantime, Thuringia has worked itself to the top position among the new German states, not least because American investors like General Motors have shown once more a pioneering spirit and from the start had more faith than others in a new beginning for our state.

Anyone speaking in November 2002 as a German in the United States about "Truth and Politics: Germany at the Beginning of the 21st Century" must start by stating that Germany has much to be grateful for. After our experience with the totalitarianism of the National Socialists and Communists, we largely owe our new beginning, the "second chance" as Fritz Stern termed it, to the United States.

For people of my generation, the arrival of the first Care packages and the Hoover food relief was the initial sign of human solidarity and hope. My generation has not forgotten that Marshall rather than Morgenthau prevailed in shaping American policy and that there was an airlift. Berliners called the engine noise of the airplanes landing in Tempelhof at intervals of minutes the "song of freedom."

We have not forgotten that in an hour of greatest danger John F. Kennedy assured us of America's commitment to us by declaring "Ich bin ein Berliner." Nor have we forgotten Ronald Reagan's exhortation: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Without the support of the United States, without the friendship between George Bush and Helmut Kohl, the third of October, the date of German reunification, would not have been possible. From Harry S. Truman on through George Bush, Senior, all American presidents have faithfully supported the goal of a Germany united in freedom.

This support deserves gratitude and recognition in the new century as in the past. What the United States has done for us must not be forgotten. That is for us Germans above all a duty toward ourselves.

The dream of liberty, which the fathers of the U.S. Constitution turned into reality, is universal. The United States saw to it that it took hold in Germany. George Washington asserted that liberty, once it has taken root, is a plant that grows fast. But in Germany we needed a gardener.

Thomas Mann - who returned to Germany after the war as a U.S. citizen and shared the hope of many emigrants that Germany might turn itself into a democracy - identified the reason why Germany had such difficulties with freedom and democracy. He pointed to the typically German disconnect between the nation and liberty, a phenomenon that did not manifest itself for the first time in the 20th century but goes back to the middle of the 19th at the latest. For most Germans, the nation was defined by birthright or, at best, by a common culture. All the while, a supposed dichotomy was posited between German culture and Western civilization.

Today, the Federal Republic of Germany and its constitution, its Basic Law, are more than 50 years old. At the beginning of the 21st century, Germany is a stable democracy. Acceptance of democracy is high, faith in democratic institutions is strong, as polls show consistently. Voter participation in parliamentary elections stand in Germany at roughly 80 percent, an impressive figure, which shows our commitment to the democratic process.

"Bonn Is Not Weimar" was a much-cited book title. Fritz Stern once wrote: "The original Federal Republic has achieved something that was impossible in preceding decades-it overcame the old internal conflicts." Berlin, too, is not Weimar. Our constitutional law has made the same move from the former to the present capital-strengthened by the experience of a peaceful and successful revolution against the Communist dictatorship in East Germany. According to Kurt Sontheimer, "The new Germany . . . after reunification is . . . still a civil republic that has permanently left Germany's historically fateful special way-this indeed is a Germany that has never existed before."

The faith in democracy and freedom manifests itself in the election results: Right-wing extremist parties had no chance in the parliamentary elections, and the post-communist socialist party (PDS) is no longer represented in the newly elected Federal Parliament. Nevertheless, the unified Germany has a number of problems whose significance should not be underestimated. In the light of day, Oct. 3, 1990 ushered in not only the end of the division of Germany but also the start of a new difficult era. We had a false notion of the condition and productivity of the East German economy. We only learned after 1990 how decrepit it was. Productivity was much lower than surmised, and full employment was a myth rather than reality. While many people had a job, they had in fact no work.

Add to this that the Soviet Union collapsed shortly after reunification and that the export markets for East German products vanished as a result. The socialist planned economy of the new states is in ruins, and it took enormous efforts to create a new economic system. These efforts were made the more difficult by the necessity of restructuring the entire political system, to align the public administration with West Germany's, and to democratize public education, to name some examples of the enormous tasks we had to take on.

Much has happened since reunification. A democratic polity has come into being. But some problems persist: We continue to have high unemployment, economic improvement has been much slower than people had hoped, and the infrastructure of the "new" states will not be comparable to that of the western states for a long time to come.

Although the federal government and the old states have transferred considerable amounts of economic aid, the new states will be dependent on their subsidies for years and years. Scarcely half of Thuringia's budget is covered by internal tax revenues. The rail and road network still demand immense investments. While the overall conditions for economic development have improved significantly, they are in large part far less positive in many of the new states than in the old ones.

These problems would be easier to solve if the economic situation in Germany as a whole were better. At the moment, Germany occupies the bottom rung in economic growth within the European Union- a reality that fills me with great concern. The reasons are essentially domestic-despite the impact of the global economy.

And we also suffer from the perfectionism that has been justly attributed to us. The German administrative system at the beginning of the 21st century is such a complex structure that many citizens see it as a bureaucratic jungle. Less would be more! In Germany's system, it is a reality that investors have to deal with as many as 27 agencies in some states before they can make an investment. The realization that such hurdles must be eliminated is dawning only slowly.

At the beginning of the 21st century, there is an urgent need for reform in Germany, a need that grows out of the necessity to adapt to international challenges. The keyword then is globalization.

Dr. Franz-Josef Bode, Bishop of Osnabrück, has assured me with what I find to be justified confidence "that the Christian social ethic and Catholic social teachings are the guideposts for society building that are able to withstand the potential earthquakes of the future." There is no alternative: We have to shape our future so that it is quake-proof.

Globalization turns out to be a seismic tremor, even if it does not come as a surprise. It is a development that proceeds with great speed but that is neither an accident nor a mishap of history. According to the former Federal President Roman Herzog, "[Globalization] is the result of a policy favoring political and economic freedom, scientific and technological progress, open markets and worldwide cooperation. It has led to an increasing interdependence of [the world's] economies and people." Globalization is not a frightful specter but an opportunity for stability, security, prosperity and peace if together we protect ourselves from its risks.

The enlarged Germany does not carry responsibility for itself alone. It must accept that reunification has created a new situation because the latter was the decisive step to end the bipolar world order that posed a constant threat with its Cold War and nuclear armament.

Bronislav Geremek, one of the architects of a free Poland, once stated that "liberation from the rule of the nonsensical does not automatically lead to a sensible world." The year 1989 was not the end of history but in many ways its beginning. The world has changed. As a result, we Germans must play a more active role in improving political cooperation in Europe and securing and maintaining peace in the world.

The French philosopher André Glucksmann-ironically but aptly-compared Germany's behavior to that of the figure created by Günter Grass, the German recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. His novel's protagonist, the dwarfish boy Oskar Matzerath, does not want to grow up. "The conduct of Germans abroad . . . is comparable to Oskar Matzerath's in The Tin Drum by Günter Grass: The small wild drummer screams hysterically at every injustice in the world, but stubbornly resists growing up and assuming responsibility."

Germany has the duty to accept responsibility. For example, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the next two years, we should make an appropriate contribution to our common security and to peace in the world. And we must actively engage in combating international terrorism with commitment and determination.

If we do not resolutely combat terrorism, we will share responsibility for the next terrorist attack which, as we have learned from the terrible events in Bali, may not only strike America but Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich. It is a question of international solidarity whether the alliance against terrorism holds together and is successful.

Who would doubt that the fight of the Allies against Nazi Germany was a matter of common defense and self-defense? Who seriously contests that NATO's intervention to halt the ethnically driven madness in the former Yugoslavia was necessary? Who would deny that it is justified to go anywhere in the world after the agents of the terrorist strikes against America? And who would question that Iraq under its dictator Saddam Hussein-a murderer of millions-poses a real threat?

Another honoree of this university, former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, had it right when he said that "no smart or courageous person lies down on the tracks of history and waits for the train of history to run him over."

History shows that the battle against the denial of freedom, against oppression, against terrorist threats, against inhumanity and racism is particularly successful if it is waged not only with determination but also, most importantly, with united forces. We must act as one against the threat to peace. That is why I am convinced that there should only be agreed-upon multilateral actions within the framework of the United Nations rather than go-it-alone attempts and unilateralist courses of action.

We in Germany bear responsibility for making sure that each justified warning given the United States not to go it alone and each foreign policy action is framed in a way that cannot be instrumentalized by Baghdad and misinterpreted as a sign of a faltering will to forge an alliance.

Konrad Adenauer has said, "We stand on the side of freedom." It was a recognition by the first German Chancellor of the reality that the larger part of Germany was permitted to live in freedom because America stood by us. In the same spirit we must today, after September 11, declare, "We stand on the side of the United States of America."

Germany cannot do without its American friends. It needs friends - in Europe, in the Atlantic community and in the entire world. Given the experience of the last century, there can and must be nothing but European, transatlantic, and international solidarity for us. There cannot and must not be a "special German way", a "German Sonderweg!"

For Germany, the German-American friendship is of supreme importance. It was American soldiers who secured the freedom of the largest part of Germany over decades. And it was the European integration initiative that greatly advanced peace and reconciliation in Europe.

With the impending expansion of the European Union, the way is cleared for a Europe that will be larger than any Roman, Carolingian or imperial Europe. What is truly important is the reconciliation of Europe rather than its enlargement. With the enlargement of the European Union, the Iron Curtain has come down forever and with it the separation of not only Germans from Germans but also of Europeans from Europeans. It had unnaturally excluded Poles and Czechs, Slovaks and Slovenes, Hungarians and the Baltic peoples from the European family.

As we speak, the European Union is convening to hammer out agreement on the constitution for this new Europe with the participation of the accession candidates. But anyone who expects a "Miracle at Philadelphia," where in 1787 it took only four months to create a constitution, fails to take account of European history and reality. In Philadelphia, a completely new era was born.

The 13 colonies became the United States of America. Only now - after centuries of bitter confrontations - does Europe have a chance for real cooperation and an end to thinking in terms of the nation state. Germany, as Europe's heartland and its strongest, most populous economic power, has a heightened responsibility toward the European Union.

It has fulfilled that responsibility over the last 12 years in a number of instances: Germany is the father of the EURO and the father of the eastward expansion of the European Union. We support the admittance of countries who have helped pave the way for reunification, not only out of gratitude but because we want to have the same close and stable friendly relationship with our eastern neighbors as with our western neighbors.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in his "Xenien" that America is luckier than his, the old continent. In fact, the myth surrounding the creation of the United States, the sense of awe at the achievement in Philadelphia, the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution still resonate powerfully today. As one of the first German politicians to visit Washington after the terrible crimes of September 11, I experienced first-hand how the people in the Washington area, in New York and throughout America stood together and gave one another aid and comfort.

Although the European Union and the United States differ in a number of respects, I wish we had more of the American feeling of solidarity and unity in Europe. More of the determination to speak with one voice in the spirit of the motto "E pluribus unum." Not to lament problems but to emphasize communalities, set common goals and meet the challenges with great determination.

No special way for Germany! But I am committed to the need for the reunited Germany to maintain a special relationship to one country, namely Israel. Konrad Adenauer stated that it is the highest duty of the German people to resurrect the spirit of true humanity and make it flourish in its relations with the state of Israel and the Jews. Fifty years ago Konrad Adenauer and David Ben Gurion laid the foundation for the German-Israeli relationship, which still holds. The free German democracy has taken responsibility on behalf of Germany for the genocide of German and European Jews. From it springs our special obligation to stand up for Israel's right to exist and to be secure.

Given this firm foundation, it goes without saying that Germans may criticize Israeli policies. But after what was done in the name of Germany, every critic must choose his or her words carefully lest the suspicion arises that the lack of sensitivity was intended. Anti-Semitism, no matter how subtly or grossly it manifests itself, must find no place in Germany. This is precisely the reason why the Konrad Adenauer Foundation places special value on our close cooperation with American Jewish organizations.

The American media have dwelled in recent years on the anti-Semitic or anti-foreigner acts of violence committed by right-wing extremists. This, unfortunately, is also part of Germany's reality: There is indeed a small minority that is incorrigible. Its emergence and actions are intolerable and are roundly condemned by all democratic groups.

Even if right-wing extremism is a relatively minor phenomenon in Germany in comparison to other European countries, we are only too aware that we Germans are especially challenged. Let us fight the beginnings of anti-Semitism! It is a charge that holds for future generations as well

But that cannot be fulfilled enduringly unless the actors stand on a firm moral foundation.

As far as I am concerned, the New Testament is not a textbook for the state, nor do the Gospels announce a political philosophy. There is no "Christian politics" predicated on conversion to such a political philosophy.

But there are Christian politicians. Here in the United States and in Germany we have politicians who align their actions with their Christian belief and Christian value system, or at least make the effort to do so. Hardly anyone has better identified the guideline for political action in service of the people and future generations than Hannah Arendt: "Politics is applied Love of Thy Neighbor!" Her statement is provocative but to the point.

One of the greatest challenges for Christian politicians on either side of the Atlantic are the astounding advances in the areas of gene technology and biomedicine, advances that will revolutionize the potential for curing diseases. The research itself is not objectionable. What is reprehensible is the misuse of research results.

The freedom of science and research stops at the point where human selection by gene-based diagnostic means is planned and where genetic data are used to stigmatize human beings. It stops where selective interventions in the human embryo and the cloning of humans are contemplated.

Anyone not willing to say, "so far and no further" is guilty of contributing to the erosion of our society's fundamental bearings with regard to ethical and legal questions. It is a development that frightens an ever-increasing number of people.

The victory of freedom and human dignity over oppression and dictatorship was also a victory of the Rerum Novarum over the Communist Manifesto, a victory of Pope Leo XIII over Karl Marx, and a victory of the free market system over the socialist planned economy.

I am especially proud that the awarded honorary degree now connects me to a university that feels itself bound to Catholic social teachings as only a few other universities in the world do. By the way, Pope Leo XIII was also instrumental in the founding of this university.

In his social encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891, he laid out the foundation for Catholic social teachings. It was an encyclical that set standards and whose importance for positing compatibility of free markets with social justice has hardly lost any currency.

Both Catholic social teaching and Protestant social ethics have materially influenced the foundation of our country, namely our constitutional law, but their power to illuminate has been dimming.

This may well be a function of the declining number of Christians in Germany. No doubt, the Catholic Church no longer plays the role in Germany that it had when the Federal Republic was founded. Catholic Social Teaching is no longer the natural pillar of social policy. But even today, one of the two large political parties in its very name confirms the program of the Christian Democratic movement.

There are hopeful signs: 10 years after reunification the reason for the dwindling numbers is no longer the conscious turning away from the church but the prevailing demographics in Germany. The situation is worrisome nevertheless: Roughly 65 percent of the population in the new states do not belong to a Christian church.

Former Cardinal Volk of Mainz once said, "Don't complain, act!" The churches in the new German states are acting in this spirit: They are not in retreat. On the contrary, they are very much on the scene. Even non-Christians expect that the churches weigh in on the pressing questions of the day. We constantly observe that even non-Christians participate in church services.

In Erfurt, Thuringia's capital, and in many other cities of the new states the churches were overflowing on 9/11 and immediately thereafter.

With the help of our American friends, we have experienced a rebirth of freedom in Germany. Now it is our turn to assume responsibility for freedom and democracy in the world and, together with the United States, support close and confident cooperation.

Just as the architect of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, the Thuringian August Röbeling, left the Hanseatic city of Mühlhausen to cross the Atlantic to America in order to build one of America's most famous bridges, so we must figuratively continue to build new bridges.

The awarding of an honorary degree by this university obligates me to make a contribution, however modest, to the building of said bridges. I thank you once again from my heart for the honor you have bestowed upon me.