The order is democracy: Political foundations in Germany

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The order is democracy: Political foundations in Germany
from Prof. Dr. Marianne Kneuer, institute for social sciences, university of Hildesheim

Democracy needs democrats. This knowledge leads the young Federal Republic of Germany and characterizes her till today. One of the central teachings of German history after the Second World War was that it did not last to create a frame of democratic structures and institutes. Rather it should be procured that this frame will be filled with responsible and critical citizens that participate actively in democratic commonwealth. The allies started with their „re-education“-program that instructs Germans on the one hand to face up to the crimes of National Socialists and on the other hand to make them familiar to the democratic system.

After the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 a- perhaps worldwide exceptional- system of political education was built. Coping with the past and teaching democracy remained primary goals. Addresses are especially multipliers like teachers, professors, journalists etc. who mediate democratic attitudes and values because of their job or their public function. These persons is given the chance also after university education to study further by programs of political education institutes to work up current themes- perhaps in class- and to quarrel with new political developments (e.g. globalisation, environment protection, equality) and challenges (e.g. migration, hostility to foreigners).Political foundations constitute an essential core of German system of political education. They embody their own construction: They accomplish a public order and they were financed by public resources, because this order is of elementary importance for a working democracy and a social cohesion. They got benefits from budget according to the strength of their fraction in German parliament. Nevertheless political foundations remain autonomously and behave as independent actors with great autonomy. Political foundations are not far from politics or parties, but from state.

Moreover political foundations in Germany accommodate political pluralism and variety of social trends: The big five political foundations reflect the array of essential parties: conservative and Christian-democratic, liberal, social democratic, green and socialistic. The basic idea exits in the fact that this pluralism of political foundations gives the chance to citizens to inform themselves about the competition of ideas, interests and meanings and to position themselves; everyone can deal with political themes and views based on his political conviction. Each foundation developed a certain focus that provides an own profile: Hence the CDU-close Konrad-Adenauer-foundation distinguished itself in the region social market economy and European integration, the social democratic Friedrich-Ebert-foundation distinguished itself in the dialogue with unions and related to a social economic system. Liberals stand for freedom rights and liberal economic system, the CSU-close foundation for an independent civil society, the Greens for ecologic themes and gender equality, the left ones call themselves socialistic think-tank that comment critically on capitalism. We must not think that political foundations were extended arms of each party. Indeed they can function as initiator and idea generator. They absolutely are not subjected to any advice, above all they are not subjected to advices from the state.

Besides the party political-programmatic differences there is a broad consent of political foundations about their order that they write down in a common declaration. Common to all is the understanding to make a contribution to knowledge transfer, orientation, encouragement and ability to civil social engagement and political acting. Political education should mediate and strengthen democratic values and views and it should teach critical faculty, ability to deal with conflict and tolerance towards other views. Citizens should be able to be active in political life and to participate. Such an active political engagement is recognized as a competence that can be learned and must be supported as others. Besides education of all interested citizens political foundations contribute promotion of young and qualification of political actors. Therefor they built a variety of training institutes in whole Germany to encroach on regions and municipalities. Furthermore they are important partners in internal dialogue, they are acitvely enganged in developing countries even to support democratic values and ideas. The successful support of political foundations to the process of democratization in South Europe motivates the USA to adopt this system in 1983.

In Germany it has been shown that even in times of upheaval political education work is of great importance. After 1989 at the transformation of the former DDR especially foundations established in the 1950s or 1960s could profit from their experiences from accounting for despotism and injustice and from democratic set-up. Foundations played an important role in mediation of know-how towards teachers, multipliers and especially politicians after the political change in 1989.

But also in times of crisis in Germany and also in other democracies like loss of confidence in political order, low election turnout or populist trends, wish for more participation and transparency, another task is accomplished to political foundations: on the one hand to react the growing gap between state and citizens and on the other hand to show ways of active participation.

The foundation system proved itself for many decades and in Germany it`s not possible to imagine without it. Even crisis remain that democracy is the most liberal, but also the most challenging governmental form. And: Democracy is not self-evident. Each generation have to learn to struggle for it. The first German president, Theodor Heuss, said: “Democracy is not a guarantee of happiness, but rather the result of political education and fundamental democratic convictions”. In this education for democracy political foundations make a name of themselves as competent and independent actor of political education.


(The text was basis for an articel in the Estonian Postimees from 23.05.2012)