Since the time between the first and second World Wars, Germany has been struggling with how to maintain freedom of speech.  The Third Reich was infamous for burning books, and all forms of communication including literature, music, newspapers, public events, mail and private conversations were either censored or an attempt was made to censor them.  East Germany, while under communism, censored all literature and any public news or speech protesting communism, the German Democratic Republic, or any Soviet governments.  After the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, all citizens were guaranteed the right to free speech, the press, and opinion.

Even though they promote freedom of speech and the press, Germany has passed some laws hindering this right.  Volksverhetzung, or “incitement to hatred”, is strictly banned within the country.  What this means is that certain forms of speech considered to be hateful in nature can lead one to a fine or imprisonment.  The justification of this law stems from Nazi Germany using propaganda to incite hatred against certain portions of the population, especially the Jewish community.

 

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On 30JUNE17, Germany passed a law which allows them to fine social media companies up to $57 million if they fail to remove racist, slanderous, illegal or hateful speech from their site within twenty-four hours.  Many civil rights and justice groups from around the world have spoken against the new law claiming it is only hindering a person’s freedom to express their thoughts and is unjustly punishing companies.  This is the most severe law over speech Germany has passed since reunification in 1990 and many Germans are taking to the streets in protest.

On the other hand, the country faces another issue by trying to grant freedom of speech.  According to the Thüringer Allgemeine, a regional newspaper based in Weimar, an alt-right group is planning a rally and the state is having to increase its police presence in the area.  The group is known for being neo-Nazi and holding sentiment for the Third Reich.  Instead of disallowing the group from having its concert, the country is still allowing them to meet and is even making sure enough security is placed to prevent or deescalate any potential conflict.  Another instance of this is whether to allow anti-immigrant rallies and speech to take place.  During the influx of refugees entering the country, many citizens are protesting the number of people the government is allowing to enter, and the question is being asked if they should allow these rallies or stifle them in order to keep their image as a place for everyone.

 

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Taking all of these issues into consideration, it appears the largest issue Germany is facing is trying to stay away from its past.  During the reign of the National Socialist Party from 1933 to 1945, freedom of speech was not considered a right, and speaking out against the party’s leadership was almost a guarantee to be sent to a concentration camp.  While trying to stay away from its past, Germany appears to be turning back into the regime it is trying so hard to avoid and eliminate from its past.  Although banning hate speech and making it illegal to deny the Holocaust in Germany after the atrocities of World War Two, fining companies up to $57 million and punishing those for speaking their minds seems to be something Hitler and later the German Democratic Republic would levy on companies and citizens for speaking negatively of the National Socialist Party and its police organizations.

With their elections happening later this year, German citizens will be keeping freedom of speech on their minds as they cast ballots for party representatives and which party will either regain control or become the majority.


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