In the United States people are always debating about what the founding fathers meant for our country when they wrote the words of America’s defining documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc.
During my integration course here in Germany, we learned about The Basic Law of Germany–essentially Germany’s constitution. It was established in 1949. Article 16a is a special article because it speaks to the topic of Asylum. It specifically states that persons persecuted on political grounds will have the right of asylum in Germany.
Germany is now facing a huge influx of asylum seekers. My first thought was, “Man, I bet the people who wrote these laws in 1949 could never have imagined a situation like this.” Followed by, “Wow, seems like the other European countries are thanking their lucky stars that they don’t have something like this written in their own constitutions.” Then I thought, “What a responsibility for Germany to bear, if only someone had thought sooner about the repercussions of such a law before they wrote it.
And then it dawned on me. Like a slap on the head—The people who wrote this law did think of this. The framers of the basic law most certainly knew about the weight and the responsibility of such a guarantee. They most certainly knew that one day people would be persecuted again and they believed that Germany should take them in, becoming the place of safe haven for those persecuted people. Better than any financial reparation is this law in redeeming Germany from its dark past, or at least in forcing the country to be the one to deal with a huge influx of people.
And so it goes. It is possible that this year up to one million asylum seekers will come to Germany and when possible they will be assimilated into German society. Generally German people seem happy to play a new role on the world’s stage. Maybe they will finally be associated with something new… And this is great opportunity —except that Germany is not very big. How can this country, with 80 million people and a land area roughly the size of Montana possibly be responsible for welcoming all the refugees and for creating a safe, healthy environment for them? I can imagine that some Germans are feeling a little bit scared.
So the questions have begun to arise—When you bring one million people all at once into a culture, and when those one million are from a completely different culture and religious fabric, does this dilute the original culture? Does the culture disappear a little bit?
These questions lead me to wonder about the intent of the framers of this basic law. It’s obvious that the framers wanted Germany to become the safe haven in Europe, but did the writers of this basic law also imagine that putting this law into action could dilute the German culture? After much of the world was decimated as a result of German Nationalism, was the intent of this law, also to allow for a decline of the existence of German culture altogether? What was the intent of the men who framed this document?
The reality is, I don’t know anyone who helped with the writing of the basic law, so it seems I will never really know the answer to this question. Just like we will never understand the hypocritical behavior of Thomas Jefferson or who it was the framers of the US Constitution considered “the people,” I don’t think we’ll ever know if the framers of Germany’s Basic Law wanted to see the culture thrive or wither.
And the good news is that you never know what kind of greatness can come out of a dreary situation. When the Marshall Plan was enacted in Europe after the war, it allowed for the preservation of the culture and a great economic and industrial growth in what was then West Germany. This boom let us see what the German people were capable of. Today’s challenge is an opportunity as well and I think the Germans are up for it.
Beyond this question of intent, however it seems interesting to note that this threat is not unlike the old threat. It is not just a few people being persecuted in Syria. This is a threat against the culture of the whole civilized world. What is also similar to the old threat is that the countries of the world still don’t seem very excited about taking in those who are fleeing or being expelled. For example: today I read that the USA, which is approximately 50 times larger than Germany, will be accepting 100,000 people per year starting in 2017. Did you read the line earlier where I said that approximately 1,000,000 people are coming to Germany? What gives? Constitutional article or not, shouldn’t we all participate in finding a solution for this problem? When we are all part of the solution, the problem becomes much smaller.
Recently about 100 asylum seekers have come to live in Forchheim. I said to Thorsten, “Our city is changing a little.” “What do you mean?” he said….”Well, now I’m not the only one in Forchheim who is becoming a Franconian.”