Guttenberg Update: Germany’s Most Spectacular Resignations

Willy Brandt ans Fenster- The hotel across from the Erfurt railway station where Chancellor Willy Brandt met Erich Honecker in 1970 and spoke in front of a crowd of thousands. The champion of Ostpolitik resigned in 1974, but left a legacy that still exists today. Photo taken in March 2011

As recently as this past Saturday, there was a very intriguing article that was published by Germany’s tabloid magazine “Bild Magazin” that dealt with Germany’s 100 most spectacular resignations by some of the country’s most renowned celebrities. This was in connection with the most recent resignation of another celebrity, Germany’s most beloved politician and now former defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, which Thomas de Maiziere, the former Interior Minister has taken over his post while thousands of demonstrators throughout Germany on Saturday rallied behind the embattled CSU politician picked to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While going through the article, I was amazed at who stepped down but also the reasons for them calling it quits. Some were understandable; others were scandalous; the rest were just dumb mistakes costing them dearly or just really dumb reasons- in either case, the Germans were not impressed with that at all. I decided to disect this article and pick out the celebrities that some of you know and categorize them based on the Top 5 of the most spectacular resignations up until Guttenberg’s exit, but not including Edmund Stoiber, who was mentioned too many times already. Then I chose five honorably mentioned candidates and two wild card candidates among the German celebrities. Each of the resignations will include a small comment on the part of yours truly. So without further ado, here we go.

THE TOP FIVE RESIGNATIONS IN GERMANY:

1. Horst Köhler, German President- From the 23rd of March, 2004 until his resignation on 31 May of last year, he held the second highest post next to the German Chancellor, a post in which Johannes Rau his predecessor once held. Despite his success in bringing unity to Germany, involving the troops in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and strengthening ties with Israel, he did not get the respect that he had expected from the German population and to a certain degree, the Dream Coalition (CDU and FDP) and therefore, he stepped down in May 2010. It was too bad, as he was really good at providing families with a good fireside speech around Christmas time and on New Year’s Eve. Tough call for someone holding a prestige office, who did a good job, but dissatisfaction in a job like that because of such circumstances does call for a change in scenery, and someone like Christian Wulff, the former minister of Lower Saxony, to take over.

2. Erich Honecker, Chair of the SED Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)- now part of Germany- From 1970 until 18 October, 1989, he led East Germany, and every classroom and workplace had a portrait of the SED Party Chair for people to look at and praise. He was famous for his comments “The Berlin Wall is going to last for another 100 years,” mentioned in January 1989 and “”Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism,” an excerpt from an adage by August Bebel he used during his speech on the occasion of the GDR’s 40th Birthday on 7 October, 1989. However the progress towards democracy was too strong for East Germany to withstand and it only lasted until the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. Honecker did not even last before that as he was removed on 18 October. The official reason was his poor health. However, literary sources indicated that he was forced out thanks to influence by Michail Gorbachev, who coined his famous words, “Life punishes those who wait,” also at the 40th anniversary celebrations.  Egon Krenz took over and allowed for life to change course in the interest of both West and East Germany with the opening of the Wall and its eventual Reunification, one of the best events of all time. As for Honecker,  he eventually fled to Chile to avoid arrest and prosecution by the German government, where he died in 1994.

3. Willy Brandt, Chancellor of (West) Germany 1969-1974- Willy Brandt will always be remembered for his Ostpolitik policies, designed to improve relations between East and West Germany. This included a direct visit with Erich Honecker and a speech from the window of his hotel in front of the railway station in Erfurt in 1970, plus winning the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. Unfortunately, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Brandt’s popularity as Chancellor dropped to the floor when it was revealed that his personal assistant, Günther Guillaume was arrested for being an East German spy. Brandt resigned from his post on 6 May, 1974, with Helmut Schmidt taking over from there, but he remained as the chair of the SPD until 1987. He died five years later. Still many places in Germany and Europe are named in his memory because of the legacy he left behind. This includes the hotel in Erfurt across from the central railway station, where Brandt spoke to a large crowd in 1970 (Named Willy Brandt ans Fenster- Willy Brandt at the Window). Even the university renamed the institute of political science The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, a name that has been carried since 2009.

4. Walter Mixa, Bishop of the Augsburg (Bavaria) Cathedral- This was a classic example of a scandal involving the Catholic Church in Bavaria, which costed this gentleman his post as well as his post as the military bishop in Germany- child abuse scandal plus fraud involving taking money from an orphanage. At least a dozen scandals involving priests and bishops popped up in this traditionally Catholic state in the past two years, raising the question about the credibility of the Church in that region, plus the moral values that exist as a whole. Furthermore there are some speculations that Pope Benedict XVI may be involved, even though he has not raised this issue nor has there been enough evidence to indict him as of present. More scandals in Bavaria? To be continued…..

5. Thomas Gottschalk, actor- At 61, the person had a nice well-rounded career as an actor, was a spokesperson for the Haribo gummibears  as well as moderator of his TV show “Wetten, dass….” (I bet you that….). That was until a freak accident involving a stuntman attempting to roller blade over an oncoming car left him paralyzed and Gottschalk’s career in limbo. On 12 February, 2011, he stepped down, taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing to his audience. Perhaps he took a lesson from Clint Eastwood, when he quoted in the second Dirty Harry film: “Man’s gotta know his limitations.”

HONORABLY MENTIONED  RESIGNATIONS:

1. Margot Kässmann, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Chuch of Germany (EKD)- The 52-year old from Marburg (Hesse) had a promising future until she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2010. She resigned from both posts after that. Smooth move, wasn’t it?

2. Wolfgang Petry, folk music singer- Celebrities can be sick and tired of being a star to a point where they just want to call it quits. While we’re seeing that with the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in American football (NFL) who claims he has more than enough money that he can walk away and never play for the team again, he probably took that line from this German folk music singer. Petry suddenly stepped away from the scene in 2006 after many years of singing, claiming he had enough of the show business. What he’s doing now is unknown at present.

3. Rudi Voller, former German national soccer team head coach- Sometimes (but not always) great players make bad coaches. This was a textbook example. While Voller excelled as a soccer player for Bayer Leverkusen and helped the German national team win the World Cup in 1990, he could not convey his success as a coach to his players and resigned after Germany was eliminated in the 1st Round of the European Championship in 2004. A consolation however was the fact that the team did finish second in the World Cup, years earlier, so all was not lost for him. He now is athletic director for his former team, Leverkusen.

4. Jürgen Möllermann, Minister for Agriculture; President for the German-Arabian Society; Chair of the FDP in North Rhein-Westphalia- A problem child for the politicians, Möllemann got himself in trouble for using the ministry’s paper to apply for a job at a company of his relative’s in 1993, which costed him his post as Minister for Agriculture under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Tax evasion on various counts plus his anti-semite comments during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002 led to a legal hunt by the police and other authorities. However, before he could be arrested, he died in a tragic parachutte accident on 5 June, 2003; it is unclear whether his death was an act of sabotage, an accident, or suicide attempt. The case has not been solved as of present.

5. Axel Schulz, boxer- Having a successful career as a boxer and picked to be a heavy favorite to beat Vladimir Klitschko in 1999, everyone was expecting him to win the EM Boxing match, right? Not unless you have life insurance! Not only did Klitschko beat him romped him in the boxing ring through a technical knock-out in September 1999, but Schulz resigned right away after the match. Despite a comeback attempt in 2005, he never won any international titles, despite many attempts to win the belt in his 17 year career, counting his six year hiatus between 1999 and 2005.

WILDCARDS:

1. Gregor Gysi, Economics Minister for the City of Berlin- Resigned for using the bonus miles on his company car for private purpose in 2002. And this for a city that has been broke for years…..

2. Marlies Mosiek-Urbahn, Family Minister for the State of Hesse- Resigned from her post because she divorced her husband in 2001, and it affected her credibility as minister. Curious.

While Germany has been and is still famous for its high quality products and service, a strong health care and social welfare system, and for greats like Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, it cannot escape the scandals that have been growing by the numbers in the past two years. Regardless of whether they come from Bavaria, Hesse, or even the northern parts of Germany, they have been leaving questions about the credibility of the politicians in the Bundestag among Germans and those looking in from the outside. Yet the problem is universal, as one can see the scandals going on in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries and they are even weirder than what I mentioned here. But the question is, should we follow their lead or clean up our reputation and lead by our example. This is the question that will come up in the upcoming elections in 2013, together with another question: Do you elect someone by popularity but marred by scandal or do you go with someone unknown but gets the job done anyway?  Since the identity of the US is in question because of the number of crises that has erroded its credibility as a superpower, countries like Germany are stepping up to set an example for others to follow. But that is accompanied by these scandals that can and will potentially hinder that success. The best solution to this problem is to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly. Only then will one find out whether that decision was the right one to begin with. And that decision will affect those who look up to countries like Germany, as a role model, a teacher, and a mentor of high morals and principles….

Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14895170,00.html

(Update on the Guttenberg Scandal)

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14891914,00.html

(Demonstrations for Guttenberg’s Return to Politics)

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/05/guttenberg-bis-voeller-die-100-spektakulaerste-ruecktritte/koehler-schulz-milli-vanilli-friedmann.html

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/07/100-spektakulaere-ruecktritte-teil-zwei/karriere-enden-die-aufsehen-erregten.html

(Der Bild’s 100 most spectacular resignations in detail- and in German!)

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….

Links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/01/german-defence-minister-resigns-plagiarism

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/interaktiv/8287832-3.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/8287421.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6454809,00.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/03/01/germany.politics/index.html?hpt=T2

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/world/europe/02germany.html?_r=1&hp

Truth or Dare? The Guttenberg Story

Here’s a question worth pondering: Which of the professions in the world allows a person to lie the most and get away with it- that is as long as he is not caught doing it fearing that if so, he would face naming and shaming from the outside, ruining his career permanently? Before you read further, guess at the top three professions, have a nice look at the photo below, and then read my comments after that…..

OK, there is an explanation to me choosing this photo which I will get to in just a bit.

But let’s have a look at our answers, shall we? It is very obvious that weathermen and salesmen would be the most likely targets for being the biggest liars around. After all, weathermen predict the forecasts falsely about 75% of the time- hence the usage of modern day technology, which even then is not 100% accurate. I don’t want to get into the subject of salespeople, as there are many Willie Lowmans out in the world that deserve a door being slammed in the face for presenting products they claim are 100% flawless, when they are anything but that. I personally even slammed the door in the face of a vacuum salesman one time- after one second of looking at him and his product and telling him “NOT INTERESTED!”- but not before he yelled in desparation “….BUT YOU HAVEN’T GIVEN ME A CHANCE TO INTRODUCE MYSELF!!!”

The third profession, which I put it way at the top of my most despised profession list are the politicians. Why? Because everytime we elect someone for the post for the benefit of positive change, that person turns out to be one of those people- liars who screw us out of money and honesty, who do not have integrity and their own code of ethics, and who just talk the talk instead of walking the walk.  Honesty is a commodity that is underrated these days, yet we need it in order to have order in society. But who are the most honest people in today’s society? Definitely not the politicians!

In the United States, it is common to have scandals that can potentially destroy a career of a politician and even his own domestic life. Look at Watergate and Richard Nixon’s downfall. Look at Bill and Monica and how President Clinton was impeached- then pardoned. Look at George W. Bush and John Kerry and their behavior during the Vietnam War- one averts the draft, the other was mocked for improper conduct where he didn’t deserve the medals of honor. Then we have the infamous sex ring scandal at the Minneapolis International Airport and Senator Larry Craig’s famous statement “I am not gay and never have been!” Only to retract it a week later. And finally the Argentinian mistress scandal costed Mark Sanford his political career, let alone his own marriage.  But what about allegations involving plagarizing a doctorate thesis?

It is a foregone conclusion that plagarism is indeed a crime punishable by being stripped of his title to even prison time. This is something that Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is facing at the moment as he is the target of a plagarism scandal in Germany! That’s right, Germany, the place where high quality, hard work, and honesty are the norm and frequently asked by those who look up to the country as a role model. That is unless you are a politician and from Bavaria on top of it!  Guttenberg, who has been defense minister for Germany since the “Dream Coalition” (consisting of the Christian Democrats, Bavarian Christian Socialists as well as the Free Democrats) took power in 2009, has taken his political career, which started in Bavaria and had blossomed to date, to the tip of the iceberg. This is thanks in part to questions from the opposition involving the involvement of German troops in Afghanistan (where 23 of the 48 soldiers, who were killed since 2002, have occurred since 2009), as well as  the scandal involving a mutiny on a ship in November and other forms of misconduct involving the German army on its home turf. His downfall may occur should the state prosecutors determine that the allegations involving him plagarizing his thesis, which he wrote at the University of Bayreuth, located in Upper Franconia in northern Bavaria, an hour away by train north of Nuremberg.  The university is currently reviewing his thesis and will decide what course of action to take in the coming days.

While Guttenberg has decided to temporarily relinquish his doctorate title until the investigation is finished, he and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has his backing all the way, may find that they and even the Dream Coalition will have more to lose than meets the eye. While the majority of the German population, including even the students of the University of Bayreuth, support him, it might change should it reveal that he indeed violated the codes of conduct involving writing a thesis, including using the sources properly.. In the eyes of the opposition (consisting of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left), that would be unethical and no person without a set of morals, let alone a doctorate title should be running the post as defense minister. Guttenberg is running a parallel course to his elder Bavarian counterpart, Edmund Stoiber, who was prime minister of Bavaria and head of the Bavarian Christian Socialists until 2007, when he was forced to relinquish both his posts. Reason: Many scandals involving his opposition to Angela Merkel’s candidacy as chancellor of Germany in 2002 and 2005 respectively (because she was from the eastern part of Germany- Saxony,  to be exact), the policies of former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder between 1998 and 2005 when he lost the elections, his comments claiming that Germany should be like Bavaria, and lastly sexual harassment involving a former party member Gabriele Pauli. The last point, the harassment scandal involving Pauli, who was a representative of Furth (located near Nuremberg) at that time, resulted in the ultimatum for Stoiber: either step down or face a putsch. Fortunately, he took the first approach and left both his posts in September 2007. He is no longer active in politics.

Should the allegations involving his plagarism be substantiated, Guttenberg will set off a domino effect that would be potentially damaging to Bavaria as a whole and fatal to his political career, let alone to his Dream Coalition, and to a certain extent, Chancellor Merkel, who has been riding high on support since coming to power in 2005. Damaging to Bavaria because many states look to Bavaria as a role model because of its strictness in its institutions and policies. Some of the policies that have been introduced in other states use a similar approach that is used in Bavaria, despite the opposition. However, Bavaria has already been plagued by scandals in recent years, which has led to many to question its credibility regarding ethics, as it seems to run a double-life: say one thing but do the opposite. And this definitely includes the sex scandals involving the Catholic Church. It will be damaging to the Dream Coalition and to Chancellor Merkel as the support for the Opposition will skyrocket to a point where a change in power could occur in 2013, and many of the politicians’ careers may be over should the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats lose the majority of the parliamentary seats of the Bundestag. Part of the blame for the downfall will lie solely on Guttenberg, whose career may be in shambles. Already, many media sources and politicians have written him off as a candidate for chancellorship, should Merkel decide to call it quits. It will be most likely that he will step down as defense minister if it is revealed that he misused the sources and lied about his credibility of his thesis altogether.

The coming days will reveal whether Guttenberg will have a chance to ride out this storm of controversy or sink like the Titanic. In either case, he is walking in the shadows of danger where looking just straight ahead is no longer an option, as one can see in the photo posted here. One has to look in all directions to ensure that there is no danger lurking about. Only then will the person will reach the light and will see his own shadow from above instead of being in the shadow of uncertainty, which can be proven fatal if one makes a wrong move.

THE FLENSBURG FILES WILL KEEP YOU POSTED ON THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS ON THE GUTTENBERG PLAGARISM SCANDAL. STAY TUNED!

Useful links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14850899,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Theodor_zu_Guttenberg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Stoiber