October 18, 2016
This paper describes the population’s state of mind, as well as the development of the public’s awareness of the legal system in unified Germany. The paper is based on the findings of a representative survey that was conducted in the spring of 1995, along with the results of indicator questions that have been posed repeatedly for many years, bringing the changes in the population’s attitudes to light. It can be observed that Eastern and Western Germans have very different views on constitutional the system; their interpretations of key concepts such as „freedom“ or „human rights“ are completely different. Eastern Germans in particular have very little faith in the Federal Republic of Germany’s legal system. Only a small share of Eastern Germans believe that human rights are better safeguarded today than they were in the GDR. In both Eastern and Western Germany, only a small percentage of people are sufficiently familiar with the basic concepts upon which the democratic state is founded. At the same time, the Germans display a sense of justice that is in clear contrast to individual laws and various rulings by the Constitutional Court. Since the late 1960’s, there has been a significant change in the population’s grasp of legal principles in Western Germany. The disintegration of legal principles which can now also be observed in Eastern Germany is documented by means of four examples: the waning acceptance of the principle of majority rule, the diminishing inclination to abide by the law, the tendency not to punish „petty crimes“, and the readiness to accept „rechtsfreie Räume“, areas where laws are not enforced.