BERLIN • A row has broken out in Germany over the term “race” in the country’s Constitution as the killing of Mr George Floyd in US police custody spills over into national politics.
Paragraph three in Germany’s Basic Law states that “no person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions”.
But the Green party this week took aim at the word “race”, pushing for a change to the Constitution in place since 1949 as a bulwark against dictatorships like the Nazi regime, which championed racist politics more than seven decades ago.
“There are no ‘races’. There are human beings,” said Green party co-leader Robert Habeck, noting that a “strong sign” against racism would be to remove the term from the document.
Germany’s commissioner for combating anti-Semitism Felix Klein said: “The term race is a social construct designed to devalue and to discriminate against people.”
The far-left Linke party and the Free Democrats have lined up behind the push.
Critics called for the term to be replaced with words like “ethnic origin”.
Even Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have broken a silence on the subject to voice openness to look at the issue.
Drawn up after World War II, Germany’s Basic Law has been amended 62 times, including to take into account European integration and German reunification. But unchanging among its key tenets are the guarantees of equality before the law.
With the debate heating up, the Justice Ministry has defended the place for the term in the Constitution, noting it “clearly makes no references to the existence of different human races nor of the acceptance of this sense”. The authors of the Constitution had in fact sought to “set a clear sign against racial mania” championed by the Nazis, it added.
Adolf Hitler’s regime championed his claims on racial “purity” and purported superiority of the “Germanic race”, which he called the Aryan “master race”. In the extreme push for this, the regime branded Jews a dangerous “race”, putting in place an extermination programme that murdered six million Jews.
The far-right Alternative for Germany spoke out against amending the Constitution. “If there are races, then there should not be objections to the current version of the Basic Law, because then it rightly fits in it. If, on the other hand, there are no races, then there would be no racism,” deputy party spokesman Stephan Brandner told RND newspaper group.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he “won’t stand in the way” of opening a discussion on amending the wording. It is “much more important for us to wipe out racism”, he added.