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»THE SALT OF COMMITMENT«

WOLF-DIETER NARR (1937 TO 2019)

Wolfgang Kaleck

Wolf-Dieter Narr, a long-time comrade-in-arms of the RAV, died in October this year after a long and serious illness. He was one of the most important leftwing intellectuals of his generation and one who had combined critical theory with practice in a plethora of different movements.
Wolf-Dieter came from the undogmatic left and was co-founder of the Socialist Bureau (SB) and the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy, a long-standing partner organization of the RAV. For more than 30 years, until 2002, he taught as a political scientist at the Otto Suhr Institute of the Free University of Berlin, where he supported critical students in their work and at the same time fought for a truly free university.
His language was pictorial and ironic, he never put himself in the foreground. He stated, for example, on the civil and human rights commitment in the old federal republic: »Without the salt of this commitment, which forces authorities to legitimize themselves, which influences even judgements and behavior of a different kind, which to a certain extent ›socialized‹ the consciousness and behavior of those who on a daily basis ignore it – without this salt, life in the Federal Republic of Germany would taste different«.
Of course, he also spoke about himself. He was one who accompanied numerous movements in word and deed, be it on the conditions in psychiatric institutions, in deportation prisons or in ordinary penitentiaries – a complex of topics which today is ignored by almost everyone; he was just as active in the environmental movement as in the peace movement.
We were, of course, united by his commitment to the civil rights and human rights movement, such as the journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP and the aforementioned Grundrechte committee. His starting point was often the National Socialist tyranny, for example in one of his last books: ›Trotzdem: Menschenrechte! Attempt to explain human rights to us and others after National Socialist inhumanity‹.
And not only when he quotes Ernst Bloch, »I am. But I do not have myself. By this we eventually become«, but in many of his texts the style of the utopian socialist is recognizable. How much do his words differ from the sometimes very smooth wannabe human rights talk of today’s full-time functionaries and politicians? Note the topicality of his reference to the fact that human rights »must constantly be reinvented and regained anew« and that »human rights, like human beings, will never be complete« and »will never definitely be achieved«. It is the power critic speaking when he explicitly states that human rights are not »rights given by external or higher authorities«, but »human needs summarized in a conceptual form with the
name human rights«.
At the international RAV colloquium ›The EU-Charter of Fundamental Rights after Nice‹ in June 2001, in his lecture ›The Charter of Fundamental Rights: Towards a Constitution for Europe?‹ again he starts from his point of reference, the year 1945, describing himself as an enthusiastic European after 1945, for whom Europe meant the final farewell to the war-blooded nation-state and the unspeakable nation-state seigneurial-blinkered conflicts. From this position he criticized the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU. It is therefore possible to see oneself as an enthusiastic European and at the same time to criticize the very institutional structure, particularly because of its continuing democratic deficit. As a trained socialist, he pointed out to us European lawyers that Europe has a real constitution and that it is dominated by the top institutions of the EU and, above all, by a globally oriented, concentrated European economy. Only when one discusses the relationship
between the economy, the executive branch of European politics, democracy and human rights one can arrive at a truly democratic constitution.
The report from the event at that time would remain incomplete if I did not mention that his long pictorial explanations remained incomprehensible to the European colleagues. Him a foreign body, even among the assembled left-wing lawyers – something in no way speaking against the deceased, but rather telling us something about the narrow-mindedness and narrowness of our profession. And, to stay in his image: We will miss the unorthodox thinker and unconventional speaker Narr, not only because the salt stock of civil and human rights commitment in Germany has become a few grains smaller with his death.

Wolfgang Kaleck is a lawyer in Berlin, a specialist in criminal law and Secretary General of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR); from 2000 to 2008 he was the Chairman