Germany’s most popular politician, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, resigned his Defense Ministry post on March 1. Three weeks later, on March 21, he resigned from his position within the Christian Social Union as its leader in his local district of Kulmbach, Bavaria.
Only two months later, Guttenberg is already being touted as a prospect to succeed Christian Social Union Chairman Horst Seehofer at the csu congress in October.
With the dust hardly settled on the leftists’ efforts to publicize apparent plagiarizing in Baron Guttenberg’s doctoral thesis resulting in his voluntary stepping aside from all political offices, his imminent return to politics is already being forecast by the German press. He is being especially encouraged to do so by party colleagues.
The resilience of this aristocratic politician must surely have the left in Germany seething. He was touted as the “Teflon Minister” during his brief career in federal politics. This was due to his uncanny ability to emerge from multiple crises unscathed, with not only his political persona intact but with his name regularly topping all public opinion polls in Germany.
Now it seems he’s wasting no time returning to the front line of German party politics in his traditional and extremely supportive home base in Bavaria.
Three things are driving the push for the return of Guttenberg to the political limelight. One main driving force is the sheer popularity of Germany’s “royal couple,” Karl-Theodor and Stephanie zu Guttenberg. Regarding the German public’s desire for their own “royal couple” (revealing a hankering for the imperial pomp and pageantry surrounding the kaisers of old), one German newspaper commented on “the show of the royal wedding when millions of Germans become crown witnesses to Willie and Katie’s kiss. But a German Willie and a German Katie do not promise to appear. If only Karl-Theo could come back again” (Sueddeutsche, April 29; translation ours throughout).
The paper asked, “Does Germany desire a monarchy, and what does Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg have to do with it? … [T]he elegant baron from Bavaria, even in his absence from the show, manages to be the people’s idealized prototype of an anti-politician ….”
In a bid to bury Germany’s Nazi past, there is a growing desire in certain circles for a return of the pomp and pageantry that once surrounded Prussian aristocracy and the kaisers—to return to the time of Germany’s imperial greatness.
Knut Wissenbach is just one of many German monarchists who followed the buildup to Britain’s royal wedding with “a touch of jealousy. … Wissenbach is chairman of ‘Tradition und Leben’ (Tradition and Life), a group which has been campaigning for the restoration of the monarchy in Germany since 1959. His study is adorned with oil paintings of kings, Prussian uniforms and medals in glass cabinets” (Deutsche Welle, April 28).
The same source reported that “Germans are extremely interested in royal families and aristocracy. There are more scandal sheets on these subjects in Germany than in any other European country.
“‘The fascination derives from the element of the spectacular in daily life,’ said [historian Monika] Wienfort.”
For a brief moment in time, Germany had that element of “the spectacular” as its own “royal” couple, the Baron Guttenberg and his wife, Stephanie, dominated the front pages and double-page spreads in its newspapers and magazines over two years. It seemed nothing could stop the rise of the young political shooting star. Then, out of the blue came the accusations of plagiarism.
The second thrust pushing Guttenberg’s political resurrection comes from the political arena itself. It is largely driven by an increasing perception that Germany has a crying need for a populist leader at a time when the nation’s governing coalition is in disarray. With much disunity among the government’s ranks, continuing confusion over the euro crisis, and increasing disaffection with the European Union, the country is literally crying out for a political leading light. Germans are increasingly clamoring for a leader who can rise above the fray and give some firm direction as to the country’s future.
Recently, Suddeustche asked, “Is this the beginning of a great comeback? Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg will attend the csu party congress—only this time as a delegate. But attendance at the conference of the former shooting star seems to show political promise.
“Is this the first step for the big comeback on the political stage? Has Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg terminated his self-imposed break from politics?” (May 11).
In that article, Suddeutsche pointed out that Guttenberg made two promises upon removing himself from politics in March: first, to take time out for reflection and provide his immediate family with encouragement and support; and second, to not leave either his political party, the csu, or his local district of Upper Franconia in the lurch.
“The first part of the promise he solved immediately,” the newspaper observed. “Now he apparently begins to deliver on his second promise. As a baronial delegate of the upcoming csu Kulmbach District Association, he will represent only in that district, and then in October he will be baronial delegate representing the district at the state party congress. That is by far a more exciting event.”
Under the headline, “Comeback plans—Guttenberg will have a ‘second chance’ in the csu,” Die Welt reported that “Guttenberg has ‘agreed to be available to stand as a delegate for both the district and for the state party. That to me is a signal that he has not burnt his bridges,’ said [Finance Minister Hartmut] Koschyk, whose constituency contains Guttenberg’s University of Bayreuth.
“Also, the csu Bundestag member Norbert Geis referred in the Rhein-Zeitung to the return of Guttenberg. According to this central German newspaper, several csu leaders are regularly in touch with Guttenberg, including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (csu). It is said that, against the backdrop of the plagiarism scandal, Guttenberg is ‘thoughtful’ but ‘mentally in a good disposition’” (May 12).
Reporting from Guttenberg’s home district of Kulmbach in Bavaria, Bild asked the question, “Is there soon to be a comeback of the politician Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg? From Kulmbach comes a message that might indicate this.
“The local csu District Association has chosen him as a delegate for the district and the state convention of his party opening the way for his return to politics. … Can he start again from scratch? Many, not only in the csu but also out in the country at large, would welcome that” (May 11).
The leftists’ efforts to take the shine out of Guttenberg’s rising political star have hardly made a dent in his popularity. Bild noted (ibid.):
[H]is csu colleagues in Kulmbach could not care less about the decision of the university. They want “KT” back!
The deputy district chairman Helmut Horn confirmed over Bavarian Radio that Guttenberg was nominated for an upcoming party convention as a delegate. In the routine vote, Guttenberg was clear winner and thunderous applause greeted the publicizing of the decision by Horn.
So Guttenberg puts his political toe in the water to test the temperature on his home ground first at the Kulmbach District Association meeting this month. Then, in four months, he heads for a larger arena—that of state politics—when he attends the csu party conference in October. As Suddeutsche points out (op. cit.):
The party congress in October is not just any party: In Nuremberg, csu chief Horst Seehoffer must stand for reelection as party chairman. … Every two years the party elects its new leadership team. In autumn it is time again.
At the beginning of the year it was still rumored that Guttenberg could still be the most popular German politician to replace Seehofer. Guttenberg’s popularity at the top of the party is without dispute. That debate has been settled. Guttenberg still commands the attention of the media, to be sure. This could also fuel the debate about his return again to the political arena.
The media is the third element stimulating clamor for Guttenberg’s early return to German politics.
As they comb through the doctoral theses of those on the right of politics, each result of the leftists’ efforts to “expose” yet another plagiarist offender from the conservative side of politics just dilutes any sense that Guttenberg was a lone wolf plagiarizer.
Soon that story will be old hat.
The media know the Guttenberg name sells newspapers. Whether it be news of vindictive efforts to tear down his character, plain social gossip, or about politics—Guttenberg sells! Speculation about Guttenberg’s return to politics is grist for the mill to German media moguls.
The fact is that Guttenberg is already well advanced on the comeback trail. As Suddeutsche concludes (ibid.):
Just a few weeks ago [csu party leader] Seehofer during a Spiegel interview, when asked whether Guttenberg could yet become csu head, said: “Why not? He has great talent.” … Also, the csu honorary chairman Theo Waigel had said on the day of Guttenberg’s resignation: “Everyone has the right to a second chance.”
That the party is already wanting to give that second chance has been shown in Kulmbach, with the appointment of Guttenberg as local delegate to its upcoming conference.
We have reason to repeat that which we have declared over the past two years: “Watch Baron Guttenberg!”
This is one political star that is not about to disappear in a hurry!
On May 22, the German state of Bremen held elections. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition Free Democratic Party (fdp) have lost considerable ground in this year’s series of state elections. Should the governing cdu-fdp coalition gain a poor result in Bremen, the prospect of imminent failure of the coalition arises. Merkel may yet be forced to call an early election to sort out such a crisis.
Current political instability just adds to the average German’s desire to see a charismatic personality at the helm to create the national unity that is lacking in German federal politics at the moment.
Whether Chancellor Merkel can survive till Germany’s next federal elections, slated for 2013, is a moot point.
Yet one thing is certain. The comeback of Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, protégé of Edmund Stoiber, himself the protégé of Franz Josef Strauss, could hardly be timed for a better moment.