Monday, March 19, 2012

Joachim Gauck, Germany's new President

Joachim Gauck was elected as the new President of Germany on Sunday. The German President is head of state and is elected indirectly through a system somewhat similar to the US Electoral College, though without a popular vote involved. Christian Wulff, who had been Chancellor Angela Merkel's handpicked candidate for the job and who functioned even as President as a loyal Angiebot, recently resigned his post due to a number of corruption investigations based on his close relationship with wealthy friends and his laxity about taking money and favors from them.

Gauck, as the articles and news videos below explain, was a democratic dissenter in Communist East Germany (DDR, from the German initials). After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gauck became the administration of the massive files from the Stasi, the East German secret police, who had demonstrated that dictatorships can be wasteful and inefficient, too, by collected massive amounts of data through surveillance and snitches on its citizens, far more than they could effectively process for specific goals, good or bad. Though their spying activities were damaging enough, spreading distrust among the population and thus making organized political opposition more difficult. But it didn't succeed in preventing it entirely.

Michael Steininge, East Germans unite: Joachim Gauck elected president Christian Science Monitor 03/18/2012

Following are two English news reports from Euronews on Gauck:

Gauck becomes new president of Germany YouTube date 03/18/2012

President Gauck, from behind Iron Curtain to Germany's centre stage YouTube date 03/18/2012:

Gauck's role as administrator of the Stasi files, which informally became known as the Gauck archives, put him in an important position to interpret the still-continuing revelations about the nature of life in the DDR and the role of the Stasi and those who agreed to become snitches for it. In that role, he became widely respected as a moral leader - he had been a Protestant pastor and theologian in the DDR. That makes him attractive as a German President, because the role is structurally weak but since it was established in 1949 has come to be seen as a larger voice for democratic integrity and for leading in a critical understanding of German history.

That's why Angie's two candidates for President during her role as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who both had to resign from office, were such an embarrassment for her. Horst Köhler, President 2004-10, had to resign for shooting off his mouth about how German troops were in Afghanistan to boost Germany's economic dealings with the world; Wulff, President 2010-12, for serious suspicious of corruption and generally for being a jerk.

Although she is still successfully imposing her destructive, disastrous austerity economics on the rest of Europe and undermining democracy in the process, her political position has weakened inside Germany, and Gauck's election is a symbol of that. Angie and the CDU supporter Gauck this time, as did the Social Democratic and Green Parties; Gauck was the losing red-green (Social Democratic/Green) candidate for the office in 2010. This time, Angie and the CDU just endorsed Gauck and made him a consensus candidate rather than go through the motions of putting up their own losing candidate.

Here is a German report from the ARD channel, Bericht aus Berlin vom 18.03.2012 YouTube date 03/19/2012, including an interview with Gauck and with the Left Party's Presidential candidate, Beate Karlsfeld.

Roland Nelles comments on the new President in Joachim Gauck Elected President: A Beautiful Sunday for Germany Spiegel International 03/19/2012:

The new president now has two choices. He can stick to his assigned role, or he can get involved in politics and shake things up. It's a safe bet that Joachim Gauck, a former East German pastor with a reputation for plain speaking, will be a president who prefers to shake things up, and maybe even wake people up. He will also annoy certain people -- and not only professional politicians, but some members of the population too. That, too, is part of his job.
We'll soon see what President Gauck as to say in his new world. We American Obama voters have gotten good at scouring Presidential addresses for hopeful signs. The text of his address is available at the Federal President's website: Dankesworte an die Bundesversammlung 03/18/2012. He spoke at length about his joy at having the right to vote after the revolution of 1989 in the DDR, saying he had finally found a homeland, identifying homeland in particular as a democratic system, not just cheering for the home team. A Jacksonian conception, I would add. He also mentioned that he would be getting involved as President in the European dimension of Germany's political life. That could just be boilerplate, and actually didn't go beyond that. But I certainly hope he raises challenges to the anti-democracy aspects of Angie's European policies.

For what it's worth, based on his history and recent statements, like in the ARD interview above, I find him generally a sympathetic figure.

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