[Marxism] The Painful Birth of a German President

David Thorstad binesi at gvtel.com
Sat Jul 3 13:56:54 MDT 2010


Victor Grossman, Berlin Bulletin: No. 12, 2010

It all began with a jolt, and hasn’t stopped jolting yet! Presidents in 
Germany are not too important; they do have a veto right, make 
occasional speeches, pin on medals and take the oaths of new cabinet 
ministers, making them a notch or two more useful than Elizabeth II. 
When President Koehler set a precedent a month ago by resigning after an 
ill-considered interview admitting far too candidly that German troops 
were sent abroad for commercial purposes, it came as a surprise but got 
hardly more attention than rougher problems like winning in a world 
soccer championships in South Africa. But the sudden decision kept 
gaining importance like a snowball setting off a minor avalanche.

A replacement was needed by June 30th. Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 
real boss, decided with her retinue (or maybe by herself) on Christian 
Wulff, 51, the minister president of Lower Saxony. He is handsome, has a 
nice family, a friendly smile and has made no major blunders in his 
conservative career as a Christian Democrat. By kicking him upstairs, 
Merkel would be rid of the last regional party leader who might threaten 
her leadership. Since her CDU and its coalition partner, the fat cat 
Free Democrats, even further to the right, had a slim but clear majority 
in the special electoral college with 1244 parliamentarians and 
delegates from all states, it all seemed cut and dried.

But then the Social Democrats and Greens, now in the opposition, had a 
great idea. As a rival candidate they nominated Joachim Gauck, 70, a 
retired East German pastor, once a leader in the victorious uprising of 
1989-1990, then for ten years head of the giant government bureau 
processing material from the GDR State Security forces, or Stasi. Using 
this material, the bureau decided the fates of countless former GDR 
citizens who were involved at some time in their lives with the Stasi, 
either snooping and spying on colleagues or friends (with similarities 
to the FBI informer network), in harmless encounters as adolescents, in 
contacts required by even minor managerial jobs and as often motivated 
by devotion to the GDR as by money or pure nastiness. Some of the 
evidence was be based on boasting or hearsay but regardless of degree or 
motivation, thousands were affected by the so-called Gauck Authority. 
Careers were wrecked, teachers, historians, linguists, surgeons, writers 
fired. Some took their own lives. Many saw Gauck as a sort of composite 
Senator Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover and a symbol of hatred and 
rejection of everything in the GDR, good or bad.

Others, especially in West Germany where the Stasi paint brush had been 
wielded most broadly, saw Gauck as a democratic hero, rather like 
Reagan. When the SPD and Greens nominated him, nearly the entire media, 
above all the Springer tabloid /Bild/, with its millions of readers, 
switched on,almost overnight, a giant hype campaign in favor of Gauck, 
even though it had in the past always supported Merkel and the Free 
Democrats against Greens and Social Democrats.

The plan was doubly masterful. On one hand, it cashed in on growing 
dissatisfaction with the government and with parties and politicians in 
general. Gauck was retired and not in any party.

The only message the granite-jawed Gauck ever conveyed was repetition of 
the words Democracy, Freedom and German Unification plus attacks against 
the horrible GDR which had oppressed him so terribly that in every 
speech, at every mention, he had to fight back the tears. He never 
mentioned that in the GDR he had studied theology at public expense, 
regularly led a congregation and been able to send his children off 
legally to studies in West Germany, causing unfriendly rumors as to the 
contacts he must have had with the Stasi to gain this rare privilege. 
Nor did he say much about political policies. It only gradually leaked 
out that he favored sending troops to Afghanistan, opposed most social 
measures, and had always felt closer to the CDU and the Free Democrats.

Yet it was the SPD and the Greens who nominated him. As the campaign 
wound down their motives became clear; this was one more attack on the 
young party, The Left. It had been winning votes and members from both 
Social Democrats and Greens; people recalled that it was these two 
parties, when they were in command, which cut aid to the unemployed, 
raised the retirement age, increased sales taxes while sharply cutting 
taxes on corporations and the wealthy, sent German troops to wars in 
Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and still supported the latter war (though 
with many Greens defecting). It seemed that they made promises, sounding 
very leftist whenever they were out of office, but only then. And the 
Social Democrats had lost disastrously in the September elections.

But if they were able to switch the subject back to the old GDR and its 
crimes, though it had been dead for twenty years, it might still be 
possible to isolate and delegitimize the Left. Did you ever or do you 
now support anything the bad GDR did? It was almost like the famous old 
lawyer’s question: Have you stopped beating your wife yet? This kind of 
campaign was just the job for Gauck!

The SPD and Greens nominated Gauck without consulting the Left, knowing 
full well that many or most of its members could not support him. But 
they insisted on just that: Support Gauck and curse the GDR in toto or 
stand condemned as supporters of intolerance, injustice, dictatorship, 

But the Left chose its own candidate, Lukrezia Jochimsen, 74, a West 
German, once a foreign correspondent in England, then the head of 
Hessian Radio-TV, who quit the Social Democrats in protest when they 
joined in bombing Serbia. Later she joined the Left. During the short 
campaign, ignored but still harried by the media, she agreed to condemn 
injustice in the GDR but refused to say the entire GDR was unjust in 
everything. Nor could she support Gauck, who favored war in Afghanistan 
and opposed humane measures for the jobless and the low-paid.

The decision came on Wednesday, with 1244 electors representing all the 
country’s legislators. To win, a candidate had to gain at least 50 
percent - 623 votes - on the first or second ballots. If no-one achieved 
that, the candidate with a plurality, the most votes, would win on the 
third ballot. Since Merkel’s two government parties had 644 electors 
they counted on a quick victory, despite hints that some members, 
disgruntled at the lack of any achievements except side-swiping in nine 
months in office, or taken by Joachim Gauck’s moving rhetoric, his tears 
or his newly-discovered smile, might desert the Merkel candidate 
Christian Wulff. And, sure enough, 44 did indeed abstain or even vote 
the wrong way, giving Wulff only 600 votes, 23 short of the required 
majority, while Gauck got 499, and Jochimsen from the Left got 126, two 
more than its number of electors.

The Social Democrats and Greens did their sums and angrily denounced the 
Left; if you had all voted for our freedom-loving Gauck, he would have 
won on the first ballot with 625 votes. The Left recalled again: despite 
its offers the others had not consulted with them beforehand on a 
mutually agreeable candidate but now demanded the Left’s votes for a man 
at least as right-wing as Christian Wulff.

The second ballot, a few hours later, did not change much. After earnest 
pep talks aimed at the anonymous deserters, Wulff had 15 more votes but 
was still 8 short of the number needed. Gauck lost 9 votes, the Left 
lost 3. Even had they joined votes this time, it would not have sufficed.

Before the third vote, where only a simple plurality was needed, the 
Left held a long secret caucus meeting. Social Democratic and Green 
bargainers made a last minute plea for Left support for Gauck. When this 
was rejected, they denounced the Left in far angrier tones than ever 
used against Wulff, their alleged opponent, whom they had carefully 
avoided attacking.

The Left and its candidate were snubbed and ignored during the entire 
campaign. Now suddenly its key role was highlighted; if it could force 
all its electors to choose Gauck , might it not by some miracle still 
sway the returns? After the final ballot was postponed for over an hour, 
a perspiring Gregor Gysi, tie awry, emerged from the Left caucus which 
he chaired to tell the journalists: Ms. Jochimsen has withdrawn her 
candidacy. Although we oppose both conservative candidates and recommend 
abstention, voting is secret and our members are free to make their own 

The attacks of the Social Democrats became truly threatening. If the 
Left refuse to support Gauck it means they have not rejected their own 
nasty history in the GDR, they have cut themselves off from the body 
politic, etc., etc. It boiled down to a threat not to join with the Left 
in coming struggles against oppressive government policies: Who, after 
all, could work with such awful people?

That caucus had decisive internal importance for the Left. If many of 
its electors were to vote for Gauck after all, while others abstained, 
this could well cause a deep split in a party which had only recently 
patched up a fragile unity, an agreement by most leaders to work 
together. It could in fact wreck the party. Just that, or at least its 
total isolation, had clearly been the main aim of the entire Gauck 
campaign, even more than the chance to embarrass Merkel and her government.

1244 electors and observers near and far waited with baited breath for 
the third, final ballot. The chairman announced the results in his 
careful, clear manner: Gauck 494 votes; Wulff 625 votes, two more than 
the now unnecessary absolute majority, and thus a total moral victory. 
Abstentions 121. Only 3 of the 124 Left electors had broken ranks to 
vote for Gauck. The party would not be split.

Wulff and Gauck both got giant ovations. The Greens and Social Democrats 
were quick to congratulate Wulff, politely and without rancor. They had 
never really been against him. But although the Left had withdrawn its 
candidate and its abstentions had no longer affected the outcome, they 
could still not refrain from further vitriolic attacks against that party.

Their plan, clever as it was, had not really worked out. It had made 
Gauck popular but had not won him victory. It had embarrassed Merkel and 
her coalition but would hardly bring it down. It had not split the Left. 
Had it weakened and isolated it, ending its slow, steady growth in East 
and West? All four older parties feared the Left not just as a 
competitor for votes, but because the miserable state of the economy and 
the harsh measures all four had enacted or endorsed were causing many in 
the East and some in the West to recall the GDR not as a model, but as a 
place with no jobless, no homeless, free medical care, child care and 
education. Maybe something could be learned from it. Alarm bells were 
sounding! Some people were thinking about both capitalism and socialism!

So the old GDR, dead for twenty years, was again disinterred, immolated 
for the umpteenth time and used as an ultimatum to weaken and split 
resistance. A few Social Democrats and some Greens rejected this policy, 
which had not paid off, and were looking for common cause - even with 
the Left - against the painful economic plans currently being hatched 
out by Merkel, her vice-chancellor Westerwelle and their whole 
government, aimed against the jobless, the low-paid, the students and 
the children. Perhaps Gauck would be forgotten and the battle rejoined. 
July 1 2010.

More information about the Marxism mailing list