′Well Fortified′ Democracy Seeks to Prevent New Dictators | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.02.2009
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'Well Fortified' Democracy Seeks to Prevent New Dictators

German democracy was born in 1945, in the wake of the catastrophe of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. At the time, its constitution was provisional, but that is no longer the case.

A text copy of the German basic law

German Basic Law was meant to be temporary, but it lasted

Germany is a country with a free democratic basic order. The laws anchored in its constitution were hard won.

Germany's Basic Law was passed in Western Germany in 1949. It was supposed to be a temporary constitution, until the other newly founded German state, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) rejoined the Federal Republic of Germany.

Konrad Adenauer signing the Basic Law

Konrad Adenauer signed the Basic Law in 1949

But since Oct. 3, 1990, there has been only one Germany, and the temporary solution has morphed into the constitution for all of Germany. It’s the basis for Germany’s free democratic basic order.

Three-level state to prevent dictators

The Basic Law protects individual freedoms, guarantees human dignity, and treats every citizen as equal under the law -- no matter their race, origin, language or religion. Moreover, a separation of powers subjects the state to strict controls. Their aim is to prevent Germany from ever again producing a dictator.

The law decrees a federal state with three levels: federal and state governments share political power and pass laws together. Local governments represent the third and lowest level.

'Well-fortified democracy'

Furthermore, barricades were built to hinder radical and undemocratic movements. The “well-fortified democracy” allows the government to ban political parties that aren't democratic. In 1952 and again in 1956, radical Communist parties were forbidden.

Justices standing at the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, announcing a verdict

Constitutional Court justices wear red robes

Moreover, not every party makes it into parliament: they first need to get 5 percent of the popular vote before they can earn a seat there. It is a rule that aims to maintain the stability of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court acts as a sentinel for the separation of powers, the Basic Law and democracy. That judicial body looks to see if the laws are in accordance with the constitution, and helps any citizen protect his or her rights and freedoms against possible breach by the state.

Constitutional court: no longer unique

For a long time, the constitutional court remained unique. But it has since been copied many times -- for example by Spain.

Germany’s political parties are responsible for debating social conflicts, and mobilizing voters to take part in local and national elections. Two main parties have emerged: the conservative CDU (in concert with its Bavarian sister party CSU), and the left-wing Social Democratic Party, or SPD. But other concepts find support in the federal and state parliaments, too. Libertarians and Greens battle for votes, and the far left is increasingly present as well.

In addition, the political system addresses social questions via the medium of associations, unions and interest groups.

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