Joachim Gauck to Step Down in 2017



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The current German president will not run for a second term in 2017 citing health reasons.

BERLIN- 2017 is expected to be the super year for German politics. The German federal elections will take place and Angela Merkel is expected to run for an unprecedented fourth term as Chancellor, despite mounting opposition from many politicians especially with regards to the refugee crisis.

2017 will also be the year of the Presidential elections in Germany.

Since yesterday, members of the German political parties have been looking for a replacement for Joachim Gauck, who announced that he will step down as German President after only one term. The reason behind his decision was due to health reasons. Gauck turned 76 years old this year and is one of the oldest active politicians to date.

When Gauck was elected in 2012, no one really knew who he was and what he stood for. Hence a summary of his life and times before 2012 can be seen here. Fast-forwarding to the present, there are a few items worth adding to his storied career which included:

Solidarity and Rememberance: Gauck will be remembered for showing solidarity to the country’s neighbors and allies. In particular, the importance of a strong European relationship with countries like France is of utmost importance, as both countries fought to near death in World Wars I and II. Gauck and French President Hollande commemorated several events in connection with these two gruelsome events serving as a reminder that war has never been an answer, and that out of the ashes comes world peace and unity, which is fragile but one that if maintained through cooperation and friendship can be eternal as the flame itself.

Refuge and Hope: Despite strong opposition from the right and the CSU, Gauck during a speech at the Intercultural Week in September 2015 was impressed at the way Germany welcomed refugees from the regions in the Middle East that are still at war. While he addressed the concerns of the resources being exhausted in Europe, his words showed that Germany always has an open door to those who seek refuge, even for a short time, because of its openness, the people’s open hearts and minds, as well as the flexibility and ideas to help the refugees feel at home. His support paved the way for new opportunities for new fields of work both for refugees as well as for those living in Germany who are looking for a job in their field, be it a German teacher or a social worker.

Champion of Human Rights: Whether it was addressing the issue at the United Nations in Geneva or boycotting the 2014 Olympics in Sochi as a way of showing political disdain to Vladimir Putin, Gauck was a champion of human rights, criticizing the policies that worked to the disadvantage of of the common public. Having a person who survived World War II and the Cold War and experiencing segregation based on his religious faith by the East German government Gauck used this experience to show that people of different backgrounds should be treated equally. This includes issues such as rights for homosexuals, people of different religions and of course, the refugees in Germany.

Great Historian: Perhaps the biggest sticking point is the acknowledgement of Germany’s recognition of the Armenian genocide in 1915-16 committed by the Ottoman Empire, which included present-day Turkey. As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed through massacres and death marches. The Armenian diaspora had been campaigning to have the event be considered genocide by other nations. Germany, which fought alongside the Ottoman Empire in the losing effort but there was no evidence indicating its involvement, recognized it thanks to efforts by Gauck and later the German government. Unfortunately it did create a sticking point for a political freezing of relations between Germany and Turkey as its president Erdogan has denied such a crime. Whether Turkey will change its mind will most likely hinge on the country’s next leader and how he will lead…

There are many more accomplishments to add but these are the key points where one can say Gauck did a great job for a man of his age and stature. That his decision to step down in 2017 may have received mixed results, but it is understandable for sometimes even the best accomplishments come in small spurts. And when it is time to quit, then it is best to quit while fit. And when he leaves Bellvue Castle in Berlin in February, he will exit with a standing ovation from people from all forms of life:


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Here are a couple questions worth thinking about:

1. How will you remember Joachim Gauck as German President?

2. What are your expectations for your next German president? (Remember: The role of German president and the US President are totally different as the former is a statesman and the latter leads the country)

Add your thoughts in the comment section as well as in the Files’ facebook page. Even if one of the two questions is answered, the Comment section is like a guest book, where you are free to write your thank yous and other comments to Herr Gauck for what he has done since taking office.

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End of the Line: The Pope steps down- a decision of historic proportions

The Catholic Church in Flensburg, Germany  Photo taken in April 2011

History has a way of creating the best out of people. When Pope Benedict XVI was nominated to take over for the deceased Pope John Paul II in 2005, he made history in Germany as the first person in over 450 years to rule the Catholic Church, the highest position in a religion that has prospered for over 2000 years. Eight years later on 11 February, 2013, he made history again- by stepping down from that same post- the first pope to do it in nearly 600 years! Another mark in the history books for both The Church as well as Germany!

The news of his spontaneous decision to call it quits caught the author by surprise, as it came in the midst of the Carnevale season where people can sin to their hearts content until Lent season arrives, which is tomorrow. There have been some mixed reactions to the news of the Pope’s resignation. Many news agencies and even the Protestant Church in Germany view his decision as a sign of respect, knowing the fact that at the age of 85 and with no strength left, it was time to call it quits. Normally when anointed the Pope of the Church, he is expected to rule in the Vatican until his very death. Records show that the Pope has ruled the Church for an average of 23 years.  Yet at the time of their deaths, the average age was 87 years.  When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, he was 85 years old, but had ruled the Vatican for 26.5 years. The longest reigning Pope however was Pope Leo XIII, who ruled for 31 years from 1878 until his death in 1903- at the age of 93! So the decision for Benedict XVI to step down for health reasons is a more logical choice, for he can retire peacefully instead of trudging through every ceremony until it was his time to die.

Yet by the same token, the Pope may have been pressured to leave by the cardinals within his own Church, as in the eight years he  was directing the Vatican, he was beset by numerous scandals that left the credibility of the Church, let alone the Catholic religion, in question. Two key clusters of scandals come to mind: First the sex abuse scandal involving hundreds of priests from churches around the world (including Germany and the USA) and three times as many victims, who have come forward to open up and in some cases, even confront the Pope during his visit. The number of cases are infinite and there are still many that have yet to be closed. The Pope’s responses have still to this day not satisfied both those affected but also the devoted ones who followed him from the start. Some have speculated that he either turned a blind eye or encouraged the priests to abuse the children.  In either case, many have turned their backs on the Church because of the scandal and it was not surprising that public outcry demanding the Pope’s resignation created tremors felt by the Vatican.

The other scandal dealt with his stance on Islam, and in particular, the speech in 2006 at the University of Regensburg, which created a stir among the Muslim community. Again, theories connected with his childhood and his service in the Nazi Army during World War II may have played a role in these comments. Yet, the comments were retracted and the Pope made tried to make peace by visiting the Islamic countries, visiting many Muslim priests and politicians from Islamic countries, and in cases of conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, areas that are dominantly Muslim, he pleaded for peace and prosperity within the region and other areas.  While the Pope opened the doors and offered peace to other religions with little or no incident, the relationship with the Muslim was perhaps the most delicate for any action by the pontiff would be watched by many around the world.

Overall, the era of Benedict XVI represented the changing times, something which despite his attempts to return Catholicism to its traditional roots in the face of modernism, had to be embraced in one way or another, regardless of the issues he had to face both within the Vatican as well as with the general public. While he won respect by many for his attempts to open the doors of the Church for people of all religions to enter, he faced so much in terms of scandals and criticism to a point where it drained every bit of energy out of him. It was even noticeable during his visit to central and southwestern Germany in October 2011, when the more energetic and open-hearted Pope passed through the city center of Erfurt, and addressed the crowd at the Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) as well as at a youth camp near Leinefelde in northwestern Thurngia. (A column on the Pope’s visit can be found here.) But when the announcement was made yesterday, he was weak, frail and at his end- similar to what had happened to Pope John Paul II in the last three years of his term before his death.  Perhaps it was high time for him to step down, for it does not pay to rule the Church in a physical state as he was in.  Yet a decision to do just that was historic, something that we will most likely see only once in our lifetime.  While he may be nearing the end of the line (he steps down on 28 February), he left the church open to the next person (most likely a younger cardinal) to take over and continue with his work of restoring the identity of the Church, while at the same time, not alienate the other religions, whether it is the Protestants, the Jews, or the Muslims.


Guttenberg Resigns- A consequence for cheating

After two weeks of being bombarded with news headlines involving his plagarism scandal, an increasing chorus of politicians, academics and even people in general demanding that he relinquishes power, and a further erosion of power among the Dream Coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) and of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s credibility for supporting him from the start, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday announced his resignation from not his post as minister, but from all political functions in Berlin.  He cited that the decision was the most painful in his career, but he claimed that his resignation was not just based on the plagarism scandal that has rocked the German parliament “Bundestag” in the past two weeks, but because he was unable to fulfill his functions any further.

The reaction was well received by those who claimed that Guttenberg was no longer a credible man at his post and that his resignation was long since overdue.  This included not only the oppositional parties of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Socialist Party (Die Linke) and the Greens, but also tens of thousands of academics at German universities, 23,000 of whom presented a petition to Chancellor Merkel demanding that he step down as soon as possible.  Even some members of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialists (CSU), lost respect for the 39-year old who was the front runner to become the next German Chancellor, if and when Merkel decides to step down. What is next for Guttenberg is unknown, but after the University of Bayreuth last week revoked his PhD title for not citing the sources in his thesis properly, it began a chain reaction where many people, including even his own supervisor  of the thesis Prof. Peter Häberle of the University of Bayreuth lost respect for Guttenberg and distanced themselves from him, joining the ranks of those who wanted him to step aside and let someone else take over.

While his resignation was not accepted by many Germans per say, according to recent polls, this was the second Bavarian politician to resign from a top post (regardless of state or national level). As mentioned in the previous column, Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber stepped down in September 2007 amid his own set of scandals and a year later, the CSU lost absolute power in the state elections for the first time in over 20 years.  With Guttenberg stepping down as defense minister in Berlin, could this happen with the Dream Coalition in the coming elections in 2013, where we have the return of the Christmas coalition, consisting of the SPD and Green parties?  This remains a distinct possibility; especially after Angela Merkel had been supporting Guttenberg from the time the scandal broke out two weeks before until he finally decided to call it quits, thus damaging her credibility as the German Chancellor, a trend that is comparable to two infamous scandals in the USA, which plagued two presidencies: the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s under the administration of President Warren G. Harding and the Watergate Scandal of 1973-4 under President Richard Nixon. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 before he could be indicted on fraud charges, while Nixon became the first president to resign in 1974, right before Congress was going to impeach him. Both scandals did damage the credibility of the Republican party to a point where in the long term, the voters turned to the Democrats as they were more credible; Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.  In this case, since plagarism is a serious crime which can result in the revocation of the title or even prison time, the “Googleberg” Affair (as many have coined the term) involving the now resigned defense minister could create a chain reaction, which could bring down the Dream Coalition in two years’ time. The only way to reverse the trend is if Merkel finds a way to win back the hearts and minds of the Germans and remove the stain, which has been caked into the fabric of Germany and will take lots of time and efforts to remove.

From my personal point of view, a person who commits a serious crime like plagarism, no matter what the excuses are, deserves to spend some time in solitary confinement, thinking about the actions and considering the situation where “sleeping up the career ladder” can produce some dire consequences for himself, the people who pampered him up the ladder, the institutions he worked for, and the people whom he hurt through cheating along the way. Once a person commits a crime like plagarism, his career is dead in the water, and he may want to think about a new career which would suit him better than the one he had. At the same time, he should learn from this experience the hardest way possible so that it is never committed ever again. The harder the labor in solitary confinement, the easier it will be to have this incident and the lesson learned from it engraved in one’s head forever.

So what will happen with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg now that he has thrown in the towel after being grilled in the Bundestag, losing his PhD title, giving the University of Bayreuth and all of Germany a bad reputation, and finally losing face to the German people? Who knows? I know the University of Bayreuth will need to clean up its reputation as a result of this mess, although speaking from my experience working there as a teacher, political games have always dominated the quality of education the students really deserve.   Germany will have to rely less on Bavaria as a role model for politics as it has been plagued way too much by scandals in recent years and needs to reexamine and revamp its political, social and education systems, in order to produce not only the best and brightest people but those who are honest, moral and earn their degree through hard work, a set of personal ethics and solidarity to others- helping those in need be just as successful. The country has 15 other states with just as good or even better politicians as those in Bavaria. The social infrastructure is just as good or even better, and there are a lot of other aspects that people like about those states and this goes beyond the stereotype of Germany: Vita Cola, Frankfurt, Thuringian Bratwurst, Flensburger Beer, CEBIT Conference in Hanover, Volkswagon, Audi, Soccer, Deutsche Bahn,  Forests, …. you get the picture.

I did have an opinion by one of my former students at the University of Bayreuth, who claimed that he will eventually become the next chancellor of Germany, despite stepping down as defense minister. I beg to differ on this for I have a question to pose to those who still support him: “Would you elect someone like Guttenberg, whose reputation has been permanently damaged beyond repair because of the plagarism scandal, to be the next German Chancellor, just because of his popularity, or would you elect someone who is unknown but has a clean record and can get the job done for the country?” Think carefully before you answer that question and go to the polls, should that be the case that Guttenberg is in the running for the highest office in Germany. Chances are, ethically speaking, who you vote for reflects on your own character and ethical values, and that will impact others who want to have the same lifestyle as you have at present….