IS THERE freedom of speech in Germany?

HAMBURG - Germany :

Germany doesn't have a problem with free speech. It has two - or rather, it is caught between two very different conceptions of free speech -

Each of which is rooted in our inability to close the chasm that remains between eastern and western Germany, 30 years after reunification.

Simply put, the division pits one-part of the country that believes freedom of speech is on the decline against another that believes freedom of speech is going way too far.

They aren't just different concepts, rooted in two different formative national experiences - the Nazi era and the East German Communist regime.

They are also at fundamental odds with each other, meaning that the day in, day out debate over what counts as acceptable speech is driving Germans further apart.

Let's start with the Germans who believe that the freedom of speech is endangered.

Concentrated in eastern Germany, many of them experienced communism and its ''better say nothing'' atmosphere firsthand, only to be freed with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

For many eastern Germans, the revolution of 1989 held the promise that in a free country you would be able to utter any opinion, without suffering any consequences.

Instead, they complain, when they express conservative views on hot topics like immigration or multiculturalism, they are quickly labelled Nazis.

We know what it feels to live in a society where certain opinions are unacceptable, they say, and increasingly, we're feeling the same pressure.

The second group, rooted in western Germany, has a different concern, and a different historical reference point. They believe they see social norms around tolerance and diversity eroding, and fear a replay of the 1930s.

From 1933 onward, the incremental acceptance of hatred, racism and dehumanization paved the way to the Holocaust.

This group, which includes high profile journalists and celebrities, believe that hatred should not be covered by the freedom of speech.

That in itself is not a view in Germany, but recently those who hold it have ceased to draw a distinction between the broad political right and right-wing extremism.

To them, ''rechts'' - right wing - has become the new collective term for an immensely broad range of people, from conservative critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel to neo-Nazis.

We have learned our lesson, this group says, and we will ''never again'' allow intolerance and inhumanity to enter legitimate discourse.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Freedom of Speech. continues. The World Students Society thanks author Jochen Bittner.


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