The Wall has fallen

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The Wall has fallen.

The Wall has fallen. Of course, it is very well known which wall is the Wall. On this day thirty years ago, people started crossing the Wall without getting shot to death. O tempora, o mores! What a victory.

But it actually was a sort of victory. Building a physical wall to represent the ideological and mental division of people had not happened so often in history. Although with no obvious reason at the time the GDR leader Walter Ulbricht declared that ‘No one has the intention to build a wall’, two months later the Wall was – built. And it lasted for almost 30 years. For three decades the Wall was a symbol and a means of a regime that did not value (or allow for) freedom. It was sold to people as protection against the Nazi west. It was Mikhail Gorbachev, pressed by the people and his own visions of the future, who enabled the Wall to be demolished. As the Wall fell, Gorbachev’s Common European home was supposed to start.

Berlin, 10th November 1989

However, it was not easy to unite Ossis and Wessis. New Germany needed a factor that could unify culturally different populations of East and West Germany. They found it in the provisions of constitutional patriotism. Constitutional patriotism was developed in after-war West Germany in order to be able to accept the Nazi past and move forward to a society that condemns this part of its history. A ‘simple’ national identity would not allow for the collective acceptance of guilt and shame, hence a supranational level of identity was to be invented.

It is considered to be a post-national concept that could be applied in order to unify the parties previously involved in the cold war. Patriotism, as understood by this concept, is considered not to be built on national grounds, but rather on norms and values of liberal democracy. In this sense, it functions in a way different than national identity. The culture is not projected onto a concept, but rather the concept provides norms and values that are projected onto society. The universalism of the norms and values is considered to be especially suitable in post-conflict societies.

Originally, the norms and values provided by constitutional patriotism were grounded in Kohlberg’s post-conventional level of moral development. That is why Habermas named it post-conventional identity. At post-conventional level of morality, individuals are considered to follow the ethical principles of justice, liberty, and life, even if they oppose the official laws of the country. A better case is that the whole systems be arranged according to these principles, and democracies are theoretically based on Social-Contract Orientation stage of Kohlberg’s theory. Constitutional patriotism is supposed to be based on the highest level of morality, the Universal-Ethical-Principal Orientation. And that is what Germany tried to do with its constitution in order to reconcile different cultural groups within its boundaries.

Photo: Tijana Karić

Although at first it was seen as a substitute for ‘proper’ national identity, it soon became a concept that was considered to be applicable to Europe as a whole. There are other countries that can be referred to as based on constitutional patriotism, such as Switzerland or the USA. The concept is not without its critique. However, it seems to have worked in Germany and led the country to integrate its brutal past and developing a society of acceptance. In times of globalization, could this be the model for the future?

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