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GERMANY: The Radicals Issue

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DEAR GOD, MAKE ME COWER SO THAT I CAN GET INTO THE PUBLIC SERVICE. So proclaimed banners carried through the streets of Bonn last week by some of the 15,000 long-haired, jeans-clad students who had poured into the capital for a peaceful protest against a variety of university and government measures. The target of those particular banners was a four-year-old government decree aimed at keeping potential subversives out of public service jobs. Universally known as the Radikalenerlass (radicals’ decree), its tough guidelines have actually barred a mere 428 job applicants out of a total of 496,000. Even though other European democracies —notably France—have taken equally stringent actions to protect themselves from internal subversion, the decree has recently triggered mounting outrage both within and outside Germany.

Student Unrest. The decree originally was a response to the student unrest and terrorism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although West German law already required all civil servants to defend and uphold the constitution, it was argued that new guidelines were required to specifically define “disloyalty.” In January 1972, the then Chancellor Willy Brandt endorsed the decree, which barred people from public jobs if they were “members of organizations pursuing anticonstitutional aims.”

Radical unrest has largely subsided in West Germany, but the decree still technically covers all of the country’s 3.5 million public service job holders, including railway workers, garbage men and even gravediggers as well as bureaucrats and school teachers.

One notable victim of the decree was Silvia Gingold, 29, a public school teacher in Hesse, who was denied civil servant status a year ago because she was a Communist Party member. Germans were outraged when Hesse authorities refused to take into account Silvia’s special circumstances: her Jewish parents had fled from Nazi Germany into France, where they joined the Communist-led Resistance.

The Gingold ruling was eventually declared unlawful by the courts, but the case continued to attract attention. Outside the Federal Republic, there were accusations of neofascism and worries about a new generation of “ugly Germans.” In Paris, Sorbonne Political Scientist Alfred Grosser, a moderate leftist, deplored West Germany’s “atmosphere of intolerance, surveillance, snooping and denunciation.” A Swedish television report blasted the “socalled radicals’ decree and its implications.” French Socialist Leader François Mitterrand even set up a Committee for the Defense of Civic and Professional Rights in West Germany.

Hard to Take. The commotion over the decree indicates how sensitive Bonn’s neighbors are to any possible sign of new authoritarianism in Germany. The uproar further betrays a European envy of Germany’s healthy economy and stable politics and an annoyance with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s penchant for lecturing other countries about their internal problems. Observed Luxembourg’s liberal Premier Gaston Thorn: “One looks at West Germany, and one recalls that this was the country that started two world wars, lost both, and is now ‘No. 1’ in Western Europe; this can be very hard for some to take.”

Within Germany few deny that the constitution must be shielded from subversion, and most would agree with the argument, voiced by officials, that West Germany’s proximity to the Communist bloc states requires special internal vigilance. Nonetheless, most Germans also argue that the radicals’ decree has imposed too high a price by encouraging prying by authorities and conformity by job applicants. Leftist Nobel Laureate Heinrich Boll deplores the “new generation of hypocrites, toadies, opportunists, cowards and intimidated individuals who possibly will be more obedient than the Hitler Youth.” The Social Democratic leadership now wishes that it had never heard of the measure, and has sponsored new, more liberal guidelines. Admits a chastened Brandt: “I erred at the time … There have been gross deviations and grotesque abuses.”

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