Germany Calls for Guttenberg’s Return

John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

Germany Calls for Guttenberg’s Return

The resignation of Germany’s defense minister stimulates calls for his early return to Germany’s government.

Germans are rallying in their hundreds of thousands to call for the reinstatement of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to political office. Such a wave of public support for a fallen politician is unprecedented in postwar German history.

“Guttenberg is venerated as a martyr,” quipped Welt Online, commenting that “Facebook fans organize ‘We want him back’ demos” (March 2; translation ours throughout). The news site observed that while the Bild-Zeitung newspaper devoted its whole front page and three pages inside to Guttenberg in Tuesday’s edition, hundreds of thousands of Internet supporters joined in the call “We want Guttenberg back.”

The reference was to an amazing Internet-driven phenomenon involving Facebook fans calling for demonstrations in Germany’s main cities against the politically motivated attack on Guttenberg that resulted in his resignation on Monday.

The hundreds of thousands rallying support for the demonstrations are being added to hourly as the public applies pressure for the reinstatement of Baron Guttenberg to political office.

The call is for demonstrators in support of Guttenberg to rally on Saturday, March 5, by 1 p.m. at the main entrance to the Bundestag in Berlin, in the famous cathedral square in Cologne, at the Hamburg Town Hall Square, and in Munich at the Marienplatz.

But the sympathy for Guttenberg is not restricted to the German public outcry. Politicians are also staking out their support for Guttenberg and registering their calls for his early return to German politics.

The Local observed that “Almost immediately after Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned due to a plagiarism scandal, a number of conservative politicians began expressing their hopes for a comeback. They say Germany needs a political talent like Guttenberg.”

For her part, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel blasted Guttenberg’s attackers, declaring that “Germany has seldom seen so much hypocrisy and mendacity.” Referring to his “extraordinary ability,” she observed that Guttenberg’s resignation had deprived Germany’s conservatives of a politician who had “always touched the hearts of party members.”

Hans-Peter Uhl, Chancellor Merkel’s parliamentary domestic affairs spokesman, was reported as saying, “I hope that we keep him as a politician and see his return as soon as possible. There are cases of politicians who did much worse things than him and who returned to the political stage” (Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, March 3).

Welt Online mused that “Guttenberg is a phenomenon, a fascinating phenomenon. Far beyond the division of all party lines the people’s assessment is that they have lost their greatest talent. … Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was as he sees himself—a doer. … As such a pragmatist the country trusted him and probably perceived him as the future chancellor” (op. cit.).

Struggling to explain the reason for his overwhelming popularity, Welt opined, “All his actions are open to assessment. But, of themselves they don’t explain why Guttenberg should be the exceptional talent of German politics that he is. It is in fact the vision behind his actions that conveys the message, a vision of how the country should be governed, how the state and society should be organized” (ibid.).

It’s that kind of visionary yet very personable leadership that has yielded the deepest respect for Guttenberg from his most solid constituency—the Bundeswehr.

The Bild newspaper declared: “His commitment to the soldiers, his frequent visits to the bases, the clear words about the Afghanistan war brought a lot of respect to him among the troops. Many here see him as a victim of a campaign by political opponents. Others regret his decision, but accept that Guttenberg is justified by holding himself to the standards he expected of others” (March 3).

But it was the comment by one master sergeant, Stephen Roock of Hamburg, who has served 18 years with the troops, that summed up the general mood within the Bundeswehr at the loss of its highly popular leader: “I have never seen a better minister of defense. Zu Guttenberg’s successor will have a very difficult job filling his shoes” (ibid.). One Bild journalist reported, “One lieutenant who fought three times in Kunduz wrote to me: ‘Soldiers judge people by whether they would want to sit with them in the trenches. With him [Guttenberg] we have done it’” (ibid.).

Yet putting aside all the rhetoric and the sophistry that has followed in the wake of both the political attack on Guttenberg and its outfall following his resignation, it is the clamor of the people, crossing all political party boundaries, that is ringing increasingly loud and clear right up to the doorstep of the glass-domed Reichstag building in Berlin. The German public is calling for a political resurrection of its martyr.

The clamor will be loud on Saturday, March 5, when the masses collect in public squares in Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Munich to deliver an unprecedented call for their hero’s reinstatement.

Will the government listen? Can the chancellor really afford at this moment to be without Germany’s most talented, charismatic, politically articulate personality?

Noting the huge vacuum left in the wake of Guttenberg’s resignation, Welt commented, “Especially in a time of massive fiscal problems and historical upheavals in the Arab countries we need people of political talent who can give wise analysis of the current situation. Germans look for leadership in uncertain times.

“Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg gave them this feeling of strong leadership, and is even still doing so now, well after his resignation. This explains the fan-cult of Facebook. From the beginning, people have looked up to him” (March 2).

Welt also noted how something in particular made Guttenberg stand out from the crowd, his baronial, aristocratic, above-the-fray bearing. This is something German politics has not enjoyed since the days of the kaisers.

“Guttenberg acted always with the attitude of the baron, which is what he exactly is, actually. This distance, this full independence from partisan political considerations and cliques, made him so immensely popular, and now fills the voters with disappointment and a loss of confidence due to the vacuum resulting from his resignation” (ibid.).

Chancellor Merkel must now worry about how to fill that vacuum at a time of domestic and international upheaval. She can ill afford people becoming restless during an important month for triple state elections. She can also ill afford to be distracted from the heavy burdens that beset her due to the crisis of the eurozone added to the current challenges in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Will Merkel yield to the will of the masses and reinstate Guttenberg, or will she leave him waiting in the wings for his moment? That moment may even arise if the Free Democratic Party loses massively at this month’s elections leading to the demise of its highly unpopular leader, Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. We ought to be mindful that it is really foreign policy that is Guttenberg’s strength. He has been Christian Social Union party spokesman in this arena for some time.

Chancellor Merkel will be measuring the ongoing effects of the Guttenberg imbroglio as her party slips another couple of percentage points this week in the polls. If nothing else, she will at least be tempted to listen to the voice of the people in this crucial month of state elections, if not to respond to their demand for Guttenberg’s return.

Author and journalist Luigi Barzini in his classic discourse on the German nature reminds us that we ought to be regularly asking, “What is the German mood? Are they happy, as happy as human beings can reasonably be? It is when they are disconcerted and fretful that they can be most dangerous” (The Europeans).

In Germany today, with their political hero ousted, the natives are indeed restless, and at that point, as Barzini so rightly observes with an eye to German history, they become most dangerous.

Will Saturday’s rallies in Germany be peaceful? Will extremist elements seek to take advantage of the present disruption in German politics? It’s a situation worth watching.

So it is, yet again, at the risk of being repetitive, we say watch Germany. And as you do, watch for the return of Guttenberg, in the near future, to front stage and center stage in German politics!