West Germany: Censorship and Repression in the Model State

West Germany: Censorship and Repression in the Model State

In West Germany, repression is now 'democratically' sanctioned and seen as a model for other countries to adopt.

By Mario Cutajar

Last September, Nappo and Kunkel, two Frankfurt actors who play the part of clowns on a well-known TV show for West German children, decided to go out for a snack. Since the filming session was scheduled to continue they kept their full costumes on. They hadn't finished their meal when 20 policemen carrying drawn machine pistols swooped down on them. Somebody had phoned saying there were “suspicious characters” lurking about. Identity papers revealed the obvious. But the police didn't waste time on apologies. Instead they commended the people of Frankfurt for being “so suspicious”.

This is what is referred to in Europe as the Model State, a description Germany first started to enjoy in the days of Bismarck. The difference between now and then is that today there is no embarrassing Kaiser to poison the admiration felt by other governments for the “strong” state. The descendants of the Social Democrats which Bismarck suppressed are now in power suppressing today's Red menace, and doing a better job of it. They no longer do things autocratically in Germany because repression is “democratically” sanctioned.

The most notorious example of democratic repression is the Berufsverbot. Passed in 1972 this law (literally a "profession ban") is designed to exclude from the public service all those suspected of disloyalty to the Constitution. Since then 4,000 people have either lost their jobs or been refused employment because of it. More important, however, is the intimidating effect these 4,000 cases have had on the rest of the civil service and on those looking for a job. (There are almost one and a half million unemployed in West Germany). In one case a Munich student was refused employment as a grammar school teacher because he supported the "medium-term" political platform of the Social Democratic Party (SPD)! According to the student the Bavarian Ministry regarded the term "class society" as applied to West Germany in the programme as "anti-constitutional". Suspicions that the Berufsverbot was being used exclusively against the left were not allayed when the Mannheim administrative court ruled that the aims of the neo-fascist National Democratic Party are not anti-constitutional. This is just as well since any ban on fascists in the public service would have seriously debilitated the civil service which, after the Second World War, absorbed the bureaucracy of the Third Reich intact.

There are currently 15 "intelligence" services protecting the West German constitution. What information they collect is their own business: it could be your signature on an anti-Berufsverbbte petition, your membership in Amnesty International or a commune or simply the fact that you seem to read a lot of left-wing books. German librarians recently complained that the "intelligence services seem to be unusually preoccupied with library borrowing lists. However, unlike our own RCMP, the German secret police don't have to step outside the law or even to keep their disruptive operations secret.

This is partly true in the area of radical publications. Legislation passed two years ago (paragraphs 88a and 126) makes punishable by a sentence of up to three years the (i) distribution, (ii) displaying or making accessible in an way, (iii) producing, subscribing, delivering, storing, offering, or announcing material that recommends any of seven categories of unlawful acts. These acts range from disturbing the peace in special cases, to murder and sabotage. This law becomes even more draconian when coupled with paragraph 129 which threatens the founders of "criminal organizations " with up to five years imprisonment.

These laws had hardly been passed when the police started raiding left-wing bookstores. Ten bookstores in five cities were raided. The ostensible reason for the raids was that these stores supported a criminal organization (para, 129) by selling copies of Revolutionarer Zorn (para. 88a), a newspaper put out by the underground Revolutionary Cells and sent anonymously to various left-bookshops. However, during the raids the police seized not only this paper but also 30 different titles, none of which is officially forbidden. As well all the apartments and shops that were raided were sketched and photographed, samples of typewriter script were made and, most ominous of all, subscription lists, correspondence and publisher files were seized. Readers will notice the similarity between these tactics and "our own" Body Politic raid.

In an even more blatant case, Gerd Schnepel, the bookseller and ex-manager of a left publishing house, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for his part in the publication of The Struggle Against Annihilation Imprisonment. Though a largely documentary book on the practice of isolation, imprisonment and sensory deprivation in West German jails, the court concluded that this book "insults" the state and the judiciary system and "poisons" the political atmosphere in West Germany. Following the verdict, the court explained that "political opinion" was not the issue. Significantly, the law here existed even before paras. 88a and 126 came into effect. It would appear, in fact, that the USSR is far from being the only country where you can go to jail for "anti-state" activities.

In another case the printers of a newspaper called Info-BUG (Info Berliner Undogmatischer Gruppen) were arrested for printing a "megaphone for terrorist organizations." Yet of the 400 articles that appeared in the period referred to by the public prosecution, only 12 were statements from illegal groups and these appeared in a paper that had often criticized the politics of these organizations. Moreover, AGIT publishing-house, which prints Info-BUG, has done jobs for groups as varied as the Postal Workers' Union and the Protestant Church.

Nor is it just the printers and sellers of "poisonous" material that are threatened. One truck driver was arrested for transporting books and letters from West Berlin to West Germany. In each case, what is important is not the actual arrest but the self-censorship each arrest teaches other people. Because, as Rheinland-Pfaltz prime minister Vogel put it, a terrorist sympathizer can be anyone "who simply says 'Baaader-Meinhof Group' instead of 'Gang'".

The extent of the censorship being sought may be glimpsed from the actions of the police. As Pastor Ensslin found out after he stated that his daughter's death in Stammheim prison looked more like murder than suicide, the German State doesn't like its version of the Truth questioned, let alone contradicted. After Ensslin made his statement the public prosecutor in Stuttgart started prosecution on the grounds of "defaming the state" and "injurious slander".

The Stammheim deaths highlighted two other aspects of the current wave of repression: the cooperation of the press with the police, and the ability of the police to obtain whatever laws they deem necessary. When Baader, Raspe and Ensslin were found dead in their cells the German press immediately pronounced "suicide" as the verdict, this, despite any confirmation whatsoever of the allegation. Later they followed with a stream of sensational and often contradictory findings. During the Schleyer kidnapping Der Spiegel even bragged about the co-operation of the press with the government. "That the chancellor and his government feel so close to their subjects is certainly thanks to the understanding commentary on their actions by the German press." The police for their part are quite conscious of their relations with the press. Writing in the professional magazine Die Polizei, a high ranking officer explained that cultivating good contacts with universities and academies and "especially the cultivating of good connections to the press" is part of the "field work". Other field work: confusing demonstrators "by spreading rumours" and "telephone calls to irritate certain groups of disturbers".

The police must also have "good contacts" with the federal parliament. All measures resorted to are either already law or else pass into law sometime after they are used. A good example of the latter was the Kontaktsperregesetz (Contact Barrier) Law, making it legal to deny a prisoner all contact with the outside world (no newspapers, no radio, television or letters, no visitors by either relatives or lawyers and no contact with other prisoners) when there is danger to life or freedom from a "terrorist organization". This law was passed in Parliament within a record three days. At that time, it had already been in effect for a month, i.e. from the time that Martin Schleyer was kidnapped.

These aspects of the situation in Germany were illustrated in conjunction with each other at the massive Kalkar demonstration which took place at the end of last September. The demonstration, described by its organizers as a "festival with stands and games" was called to protest the building of a fast-breeder reactor." Though it was destined to become the largest demonstration held in Germany since the War, this was despite the combined efforts of the press and the police. The press, for example, predicted a bloody confrontation a month before the demonstration. The government helped by spreading rumours that "some groups" planned a violent confrontation, Not surpringly therefore, "the largest possible show of police" was to be mobilized. Four days before the demonstration, the township director announced special restrictions which included the prohibition of articles of camouflage (scarves and masks) and a ban on vehicles of all kinds (including sanitary vehicles) accompanying the march. Meanwhile, the SPD (the majority party in North Rhine Westphalia) formally prohibited members of its youth organization from taking part, warning that the Young Socialists could not be "so naive as to think that they can make peaceful citizens out of political criminals." Likewise the German union federation called on its members not to attend.

On the day of the demonstration the police had so many road blocks that it took 17 hours to drive 300 miles. All participants (more than 50,000) were searched, some more than once. They were photographed both from close up and on Videotape. Plastic raincoats, scarves, gloves, lipsticks, screw drivers, first aid kits, note books, snacks "you pigs don't need to eat") were some: of the things the police confiscated as "passive weapons". Eventually; the march started. It was over so quick that those at the head of the march were leaving as those at the end were arriving. The press credited the police with preventing a "bloodbath" that had never been more than a media creation. Complaints against the methods used by the police were silenced by turning these methods into law. Needless to say all the pictures and information gathered at Kalkar was fed into the police computers, of which there are 30,000. In Germany today there are at least 200 pieces of information (from shopping habits to political tendencies) stored about every person living there.

As the economic and ideological crisis of Western capitalism intensifies and the "experts" put forward conflicting "solutions", the state will increasingly fall back on purely coercive measures to maintain social "peace". This process will depend on the speed with which liberal ideology disintegrates. At some point, we may have already passed it, words like "restraint' and "cooperation" cease to perform their mystifying function. Restraint is a vile term in a country where in the same period that wage controls were in effect corporations were making record profits and inflation was as uncontrollable as ever. Under such conditions "co-operation" means leaving the door open for the burglar.

Germany's example will be followed elsewhere The technology and the methods are eminently suited for export to other Western countries. Canada is already involved in a massive arms deal with West Germany. A lot of the armour being bought has little use for anything other than the control of civilians. And as the RCMP revelations have confirmed in recent months, the RCMP is quite adept at doing semi-legally what the German police nowadays do legally. Moreover, within the context in which they took place, these revelations have only strengthtened the RCMP by making more people aware of its presence, the only reply from the government being a proposal to legalize "dirty tricks". The secret police are most effective when their existence is public knowledge and their powers self-defined.

What is happening in Germany, therefore, has more immediate relevance to us than would appear at first sight. If today our press celebrates the efficiency of the German police in the months to come it will have little trouble congratulating our own force. "Our cops are tops" will then reverberate with a new and quite sinister meaning.