Yesterday was the memorial ceremony for the ten victims of the Neo-Nazi terror group NSU complete with a national minute of silence at 12 o’clock. Our school participated in the minute of silence and it went reasonably well, though minutes of silence are always tricky with children and teens, because they tend to giggle. I can’t even blame them – after all, I suffered an uncontrollable giggling fit at a minute of silence for the 1991 Iraq-Kuwait war.
More political blather and links, mostly Gauck related, under the cut
Former president Christian Wulff had organized the memorial and was supposed to give the main speech. After Wulff’s resignation, Angela Merkel gave the speech. Designated future president Joachim Gauck did attend the memorial ceremony, even though he was originally opposed to the memorial, because he thought that memorials were not helpful considering the victims has been murdered years ago. The original source of the Gauck quote with more information about the political reactions to the Neo-Nazi terror attacks is here. Though I wonder why Michael Buback is suddenly a specialist on all things terrorism, considering he has no office or official position except being the son of a Red Army Fraction victim, a fact he won’t let anybody forget almost forty years later.
While on the subject of children of terror victims, the Green Party has nominated the daughter of one of the Turkish small business owners murdered by the NeoNazi terrorist group NSU as an elector for the presidential elections. Ruhrbarone, a group blog of journalists based in the Ruhr area (some weird macho stuff on that site, but also good articles) considers it beyond the pale that the Green Party asks the daughter of a NeoNazi terror victim to vote for Joachim Gauck of all people, considering that Gauck did not view the memorial ceremony for her father necessary and has made statements supporting the racist writer and politician Thilo Sarrazin who believes that Turkish immigrants are destroying Germany. Personally, I hope that the Greens do nominate her and that she thanks them by not voting for Gauck.
At the tageszeitung a.k.a. taz, Deniz Yürgel extensively quotes and comments on Gauck’s problematic statements about the Holocaust and the Third Reich. This column so incensed Jürgen Trittin, former secretary of the environment, head of the Green Party and Gauck supporter, that he accused the editor-in-chief of the tageszeitung of practicing “swine journalism” of the sort usually known from the tabloid Bild. So criticizing Gauck now means we’re all pigs. Though if Trittin hates the sort of “swine journalism” practiced by Bild so much, then why did he nominate Joachim Gauck, the candidate most heavily pushed by Bild.
The group blog Ruhrbarone considers the vehement opposition against Gauck’s candidacy on the internet only natural, considering that political parties, the mainstream media and even the political comedians downplay and squash any potential criticism of Gauck. The blog also reminds us what happened the last time that a coalition controlled 90% of the parliament and the opinion as expressed in the mainstream media. Hint: It wasn’t pretty.
Meanwhile, the whole “Gauck has been misquoted” discussion is still going on. Here is an article on alleged misquotings of Gauck by Sascha Lobo, political blogger and the face of the nebulous “net community” in Germany, i.e. he is the guy who’s invited to every TV talkshow which even remotely concerns itself with the internet, probably his bright red mohawk is so telegenic. I would have expected better from him.
The high respected political blog Nachdenkseiten also takes on the alleged misquoting of Gauck and out-argues the deliberate pomposity of many of those who claim that Gauck was misquoted. Nachdenkseiten comes to a conclusion similar to the one I drew in my last post, namely that as a pastor and politician, Gauck is someone whose tools are words and therefore one might expect that he knows how to use them without being constantly misunderstood. So either Gauck means what he’s said or he is the worst speaker since Heinrich Lübke of “Equal goes it loose” (bad verbatim translation of “It’s going to start soon” allegedly said to the Queen) and “Ladies and gentlemen, dear negroes” (supposedly how he addressed his hosts during a state visit to Liberia, though it’s probably an urban legend) infamy (more Lübke quotes, real or invented, here). Whatever it is, it does not make him a good presidential candidate.
The political blog Feynsinn has issues with the fact that Gauck as well as two other potential presidential candidates were either priests or otherwise active church functionaries and finds it troubling that the two big Christian churches are still viewed as moral authorities, even though almost half of all Germans are not religious and not members of any church. The blog is overly polemic, but it is a fact that clergymen, children of clergymen and otherwise very religious people, whether Catholic or Lutheran, are overrepresented in German politics.
Conservative journalist Jan Fleischhauer also remarks on the many religious figures named as potential presidential candidates, though he doesn’t seem to view that as much of a problem.
What strikes me about this post as well as about the Gerhard Rein letter below is the vehement dislike for Margot Käßmann, former Lutheran bishop of Hannover and briefly head of the Lutheran church in Germany. Käßmann resigned both offices because of a “mistake”, namely being caught driving while exceeding the alcohol limit. Now drunk driving is definitely wrong, but from the vehement hatred expressed against Käßmann and the sheer nastiness of the “jokes” made by political comedians (at a time when there was a major abuse scandal in the Catholic church), you’d think that she ran over a troop of boy scouts rather than driving while over the alcohol limit late at night with not even the slightest accident. Because IMO what Käßmann did was not nearly as bad as what Wulff or Guttenberg or many others did. But Käßmann is a woman, a divorced woman and Lutheran bishop at that, and she spoke out publicly against the war in Afghanistan (Gauck is in favour, of course). As religious figures as potential presidents go, I would have vastly preferred Margot Käßmann to Joachim Gauck or Bishop Huber, because she is at least somewhat in touch with current concerns.
Gerhard Rein, a West German journalist who was correspondent in the GDR in the 1980s, has written an open letter to Joachim Gauck. There is an excerpt here, the full letter is available as a PDF file here.
The letter confirms once again that Joachim Gauck was not known as a member of the East German opposition until October 1989, i.e. one month before the fall of the Wall. What’s also interesting is that Rein reports that Gauck, who is a former Lutheran pastor after all, made derogatory remarks about West German, Hessian in this case, Protestants, because they were “too leftist” in his opinion. A pastor bashing members of his own denomination, that’s real classy.
The tageszeitung a.k.a. taz, a politically left daily paper, sums up the reactions of several genuine East German civil rights activists. Some are in favour of Gauck, some are vehemently opposed to his candidacy, no one remembers him as a member of the opposition before October 1989.
The Giessener Zeitung, a regional paper from North Rhine Westfalia, has more on Gauck and his relationship to the GDR authorities and the Ministry of State Security (Stasi). Now it was probably impossible to be a pastor in the GDR and not talk to the Stasi at some point. But the Stasi file archive which Gauck headed was always happy to persecute other people who had talked to the Stasi at some point. Without more evidence, I don’t think that Gauck did more than talk with Stasi officers and plenty of people talked to the Stasi. I’m pretty sure that I talked to Stasi agents at some point when we visited my great aunt in East Germany in the 1980s. There were at least two people we met whom I suspect were Stasi informers. I’m not angry at them or anything – they had to live there and I didn’t.
But we do have evidence that Joachim Gauck was not a opposition member prior to October 1989 and that he is not a civil rights her. The article from the Giessener Zeitung has got it right – Gauck is an opportunist. He’s far from the only East German politician who saw an opportunity in 1989/1990 and grabbed it – Angela Merkel is another example. But Angela Merkel never claimed to be a civil rights heroine either.
By the way, my maternal grandmother had a very similar lifestory to Joachim Gauck’s. Her father was imprisoned in the early years of the GDR on charges that may or may not have been questionable, just like Gauck’s father. She didn’t get along with the Communist regime herself and escaped to West Germany sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, where she made a life for herself and eventually married my grandfather. However, unlike Joachim Gauck who won’t stop talking about what happened to his father and let this determine his entire life, my grandmother never talked about what happened to her at all until towards the end of her life, when dementia made her forget that she didn’t want to talk about some issues. There are a lot of things, e.g. the imprisoned father, that I didn’t know at all until several years after her death. This is another thing that personally bothers me about Gauck. His story is not unique, many other people, including my grandmother, had similar experiences. But Gauck became embittered due to his experiences and is still embittered twenty years after the fall of the Wall. My grandmother may have been many things, but she was never embittered.
Another article from the taz examines the media phenomenon Gauck and what the supposed Gauck mania (which I for one have seen zero evidence for – the best anybody has to say about him is that they don’t mind him) says about Germany.
However, Germany has not been very lucky in its choice of presidents. The taz lists the previous embarrassing or problematic presidents, which is all of them save one. That said, Richard von Weizäcker had a very good reputation and his military record during WWII was not discussed until much later. I quite liked Johannes Rau, too. I had problems with his religiousness and the fact that he was so very keen on the job and too old as well, but he wasn’t a bad president. About on par with Christian Wulff I’d say, since both were established political figures with higher political ambitions (both wanted to be chancellor, Rau even made it to candidate) who never got further than minister president and landed the presidential office as a sort of political consolation prize. I fully expected both to be complete disasters and they turned out better than expected. Karl Carstens was a complete disaster, I never liked Köhler or Herzog and only remember Walter Scheel for his awful singing and his wife, who ran a cancer charity and would have made a fine president herself. Besides, Scheel all but disowned his daughter when she came out as lesbian, one of the first public figures to do so in Germany.
As for potential alternative candidates, there is no official alternative candidate to Joachim Gauck yet. However, a Facebook poll about possible alternatives was won by Martin Sonneborn, journalist, comedian and editor in chief of the satirical magazine Titanic. The second favourite candidate was Chuck Norris, though his candidacy would not be viable, since Chuck Norris is not a German citizen. Comedian Georg Schramm, who came close to being nominated, but declined, landed in third place.
It is telling that I consider each of those not quite serious alternative candidates a better choice than Gauck. Yes, even Chuck Norris.