The Basic Law is adopted on 23. May 60th anniversary. In an interview with the Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur in Bonn, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, described his personal memories of the post-war period and at the same time paid tribute to the Verfang of the Federal Republic of Germany.
CBA: Archbishop, what were you doing 60 years ago??
Zollitsch: 60 years ago I was a pupil in a small Franconian village to which our family had moved at that time. Since we had no books after the Second World War, my father, who came home from war captivity that year, often gave me the newspaper. Because I read it with curiosity, it always gave rise to political conversations. I still remember the election to the Parliamentary Council in 1948 and the adoption of the Basic Law in 1949. It was then that I realized: Things are moving forward again, things are looking up again. Even though we painfully felt: The Soviet occupation zone – as the later GDR was called at the time – was not there. But Germany again bore its own responsibility and was a separate state. We also read the Basic Law in our school days and, after the experiences of National Socialism, we knew even then what it meant to be allowed to build a free state. This is what got us young people excited.
CBA: 60 years of the Basic Law. A success story and a reason to celebrate?
Zollitsch: I am grateful and think our basic law is great, even if it has shortcomings like any other catch. Our Basic Law has helped to build a state in which human rights are at the forefront, in which the freedom of the citizen is guaranteed, especially religious freedom. The Basic Law also shows how people can and should deal with each other. The history of the Federal Republic is actually a success story for me.
CBA: SPD leader Franz Muntefering has started a debate on the treaty. Do you think it makes sense?
Zollitsch: I was surprised about the proposal. Perhaps he only wanted to accommodate the new states, which joined the Federal Republic 20 years ago – as provided for in the Basic Law. However, I doubt that a new Verfangs discussion would take us any further. We should appreciate that for 60 years it has helped people to live in security, freedom and a socially balanced situation.
CBA: Again and again there is a desire for more direct citizen participation. Do you think more plebiscitary elements make sense?
Zollitsch: We have a very different model than, for example, our southern neighbors in Switzerland, where there are very many referendums. When I see their voter turnout, I ask myself whether the multitude of votes would not also make people in Germany tired and only individuals could try to push through their special interests. I therefore do not miss referendums and would not introduce them either. For the most part, they do not take into account the complexity of political decision-making due to a high degree of emotionalization. It is crucial that the elected members of parliament exercise their respective mandates responsibly. We are a great country, where first of all the elected representatives should ame their responsibility.
CBA: Others fear that the Basic Law could be undermined by the increasing cession of national rights to the European Union. Do you share such fears?
Zollitsch: I understand the people who express such fears. When we look at the many regulations that are made from Brussels, we should ask ourselves if every regulation is necessary for the whole of Europe. What we know in Germany in terms of federalism and subsidiarity should also apply accordingly in the EU. In fact, Brussels has also begun with certain deregulation steps.
CBA: Ten years ago, your predecessor as chairman of the Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, together with the then head of the EKD, President Manfred Kock, evaluated the Basic Law as a reliable framework for the coexistence of Christians, people of other confessions and non-believers. You have recently warned against tendencies to overemphasize negative religious freedom and to banish religious confession from the public sphere. What is the state-church relationship like??
Zollitsch: The Basic Law has taken over the church articles of the Weimar Constitution. That was a good decision. Church and state are clearly separated, but they work together. For example, we are glad that churches and religious communities have the option of becoming public corporations or that we can provide pastoral care in hospitals, prisons and in the German armed forces. We also consider the possibility of teaching religion, which is anchored in the Basic Law, to be valuable. In this way, we can reinforce values on which society essentially lives. When I look at decisions that ban religious symbols from public spaces, I have to ask myself whether the freedom to believe and to show this in public is not being curtailed.
CBA: Directly connected with the Basic Law for 60 years is the Federal Constitutional Court as guardian and lord of the Verfang. How do you see the work of the court?
Zollitsch: It is a great step forward that the Basic Law has provided for a Federal Constitutional Court. In the Weimar Verfang, the Reich President was the only guarantor of the Verfang. We need a body independent of politics to make a decision on controversial ies. The Federal Constitutional Court is a blessing for us.
CBA: What is the contribution of the churches to the celebrations of the 60th anniversary?
Zollitsch: On 22. May there will be an ecumenical service in the Berlin Cathedral. In this way, we churches want to show that we pray for our country, which is essentially shaped by the Basic Law. We also want to play an active role in bringing the Basic Law to life. On 30. There will be another ecumenical service in May in Bonn, the place where the Basic Law was adopted.