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Democracy in Jeopardy (October 29, 1962)

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Maybe the Federal Prosecution Office has evidence of treasonable activities of members of the Spiegel editorial board, evidence of which we are unaware. Maybe it sees reasons for permitting such actions against an organ of the free press, actions that could only be justified to smash an extensive espionage ring and a dangerous network of secret agents. [Wolfgang] Stammberger, the responsible minister of justice, will have to answer to the public and to his constituency for this. At any rate, the incriminating article alone cannot justify such actions. It could be that it constitutes treason on strictly formal grounds. That still remains to be seen. But there is hardly a student or an apprentice who could be made to believe that this article endangered the security of the Federal Republic of Germany. In any case, nothing in it is inconsistent with the average citizen’s understanding of the current threat of a nuclear confrontation in densely populated Central Europe. Interior Minister [Hermann] Höcherl has made similar remarks to the public.

But there are strange coincidences in life. The police operation occurred almost three weeks after the article appeared but only two days after the end of the Fibag scandal in the Bundestag, which was triggered by articles published in Der Spiegel.* If, contrary to our beliefs, the article seriously threatened the security of the Federal Republic remains to be determined, whether Pankow’s agents** or rather egregious sloppiness were responsible for the failure to stop its delivery to hundreds of thousands in time. So far there have been more national traitors among public servants and officers than among journalists. But the activities of an agency or the services of a military unit have never, as far as we know, gotten caught in the gears of a police operation in the way that the editorial board of Der Spiegel has now. The only operation of similar proportions was “Operation Volcano” in the 1950s,*** but at the time it quickly became clear that many of those arrested were innocent. The federal government was disgraced – and had to pay compensation.

If the Spiegel claim is true – and we do not doubt it – that the crucial passages in this article were presented to the responsible members of the Ministry of Defense beforehand, then, as a consequence of this operation, all journalists must resolve not to write another word about the German army as long as this legal uncertainty continues. And if one presumes that there were sound legal reasons for the police action against Der Spiegel, then one must say that formal law in Germany has never failed when it came to restricting freedom.

We are appealing to all journalists and publishers, and with them the whole democratic public, and asking them to be aware of the challenge facing them as a result of the events of Friday night. Freedom in this nation is only as strong as the will of the people to defend it internally and externally. Every democracy suffers the fate that its citizens allow it to suffer. There is still time to reassert not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of the constitution of this country through a powerful demonstration by all truly liberal forces.

* Among other things, the articles stated that Minister of Defense Franz Josef Strauß had been indirectly involved in some of the dealings that profited Fibag (Finanzbau-Aktiongesellschaft). – eds.
** Reference to the East German State Security Service (Stasi). Pankow is a district in East Berlin. During the GDR, many high-ranking SED functionaries lived there. – eds.
*** The defection of an East German agent triggered Operation “Volcano,” the roundup of East German agents in the Federal Republic. – eds.

Source of original German text: Karl-Hermann Flach, “Bei Nacht und Nebel” [“With Cloak and Dagger”], in Frankfurter Rundschau, October 29, 1962; reprinted in Irmgard Wilharm, ed., Deutsche Geschichte 1962-1983. Dokumente in zwei Bänden [German History 1962-1983. Documents in Two Volumes], vol. 1. Frankfurt am Main, 1989, pp. 36-38.

Translation: Allison Brown

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