Resignations, Plagiarism and a Dirty Trick

Today’s article is sort of a potpourri. Pronounced by an English-speaker, that sounds like Popery, which is currently very relevant. When Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, the first German Pope since Victor II (1055-1057 – succeeded by a Pope Stephen), the dominant mass rag here, the Springer syndicate’s BILD newspaper, had a page-high headline “We Are Pope!” Now alas, this distinction will disappear, which may especially sadden the big L-shaped Roman Catholic area of Germany – the Southern tier, especially Bavaria, then northward along the Rhine valley. The rest is largely Evangelical (Lutheran), including eastern Germany; other religious faiths are small minorities, aside from the Turks and other Muslims. Or the pagans! Both Catholic and Evangelical churches had hoped for big gains after East Germany was “freed from atheist repression”. To their disappointment, there was no rush into the churches. One reason was widespread lack of interest or any belief in a God or heaven. Another key factor is the church tax, automatically taken out of all wages, salaries, even royalty fees for every member of the Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish and some other faiths – a stiff 8 or 9 percent! Less than 30 percent of Easterners decided to pay, even though it made them ineligible for church weddings and funerals. In the West, 79 percent are still members. But there, too, many Roman Catholics have rebelled against Rome’s rules on marriage, women and family planning; a nasty refusal by a Catholic hospital recently to treat a battered rape victim or help her prevent a pregnancy increased such rebelliousness.
One very pious Catholic who didn’t rebel was also in the German headlines this week after resigning from her job – though not because of age. Annette Schavan was government Minister of Education and Research. A motherly type, always friendly in her TV appearances, she is deeply religious; one of her college majors was Catholic Theology, she was once vice-president of the Central Committee of German Catholics and was active in urging young people to read “the Book of all books”. Her views on education tended well to the right; she pushed the plan for “elite universities” to get special privileges and financing; in the on-going battle about college tuition– by now most West German states have followed the East German example and charge no regular tuition – yet Ms. Schavan continued to favor tuition charges. And she favored the West German tradition, also a bitterly-fought issue in many states, to separate children after the 4th grade, sending some, usually from working class and immigrant homes, to a basic, low quality school, others to a middle-quality school, and the best (and usually wealthiest) students to college preparatory schools – called “gymnasiums”.
But now it seems that poor Ms. Schavan, whose Ph.D. dissertation back in 1980 was about conscience-building, somehow overcame any qualms of her own conscience and copied other people’s ideas and words on at least 94 out of its 325 pages, while forgetting to give them any credit. Unfortunately, computer technology makes it much easier to detect plagiarism, some love doing just that – and Ms. Schavan has now lost her academic title. A doctorate is very, very important in Germany, and a must for a cabinet minister dealing with universities! (One legend has it that when a boy passenger on a Rhine tourist cruiser was slightly hurt and the captain announced a request for any doctor on board to come to portside – the boat keeled over!)
There may have been just a bit of nudging from her good friend Angela Merkel, whose magna cum laude doctorate in physics at the Karl-Marx-University in 1986 has never been questioned (none but a few experts understand even the lengthy title). But with Ms. Schavan, Merkel faced a second cabinet plagiarism problem; an up-and-coming Minister of Defense, with even worse plagiarism problems, had to be dropped in 2011, and now Merkel faces a very tight election fight. So Ms. Schavan very “voluntarily” decided to do no damage to her cabinet ministry or her party but rather sue her old university later, with her only title that of an ordinary member of the Bundestag.
But her misfortune was the subject of countless jabs, gags and even nasty floats in the traditionally satirical Rhineland carnival parades now taking place (the equivalent of Mardi gras in New Orleans or Rio). This was not pleasant for Ms. Merkel’s CDU party.
Then, as if by miracle, an item turned up which shifted spotlights in an entirely different direction. Once again they shone on the “Stasi” connection, and once again it was used to discredit Gregor Gysi, the best known leader of the Left party. New evidence had turned up, it was claimed, indicating that, after an interview in 1989 with journalists from the West German magazine Der Spiegel, Gysi had discussed the matter with men from the State Security Ministry. Gysi has repeatedly denied ever reporting on his clients to the Stasi and has always won in court, often forcing retractions in the media. This time, in a complicated indictment, he is being charged with perjury. Because of this his immunity as a Bundestag delegate has already been removed and a leading CDU politician has called on him to withdraw from the election contest. Gysi, who is 65, and now recuperating from an operation after a skiing accident, has ridiculed this new attempt to smear him once again after 24 years. But as one colleague from the Left party commented, “These attacks always seem to come just before elections.” And the old political axiom is well-known: “If you throw enough mud, some of it will stick!” A few politicians from other parties have admitted that the accusations look suspiciously thin.
If the Left, which now stands in the opinion polls at 6-7 percent, again overcomes the 5 percent hurdle and gets the equivalent percentage of Bundestag seats, it could well mean a stalemate between the Green-Social Democratic coalition and Merkel’s two Christian “Union” parties (one is only in Bavaria). Both sides have a little more than 40 percent each. But if the Left misses the hurdle and is not represented, one of the two sides could probably win the required 50 percent majority of seats and form the government. So both sides are interesting in cutting out the Left.
The September elections are important enough. The German military establishment, still engaged in Afghanistan and the waters near Lebanon, now with rocket launchers in Turkey near the Syrian border, aiding transport to French troops in Mali and itching for more action, has been solidly and consistently opposed in the Bundestag only by the Left (with a handful of Social Democrats and a changing but usually small number of Greens). The Left cannot halt such moves but can speak out against them, reflecting the views of a majority of the German public. It also opposes (with some of the Greens) the shipment of tanks, naval vessels and other military equipment to the Gulf States, Indonesia, Israel and above all Saudi Arabia, the biggest customer. The same is true of domestic policies. Both Social Democrats and Greens have re-discovered (or borrowed) many progressive demands – which they had somehow neglected when they were ruling the roost.
Delegates from the Left in the Bundestag are an irritant appeal to the conscience of some and have brief chances to be heard on TV. How much smoother things would be without them! So – “Let’s get Gysi!”
Unfortunately much of the Left party still seems more concerned with smoothing out – or arguing out – internal differences than vigorous moves to reach people facing perilously increasing rents and gentrification, factory closings (like the planned shut-down of the big Opel plant), a growing number of people in shaky, underpaid temp jobs or without jobs, and a shortage of promised child care facilities. The Left, after losing influence in recent years in the West German states, faces the danger of becoming restricted to local importance only in the five East German states. It has yet to find the ways and the strength to adequately buck all the hostile media and meet this challenge.
One last note, partly contradicting the last paragraph. It is mid-February again, and the Nazis want to march again in Dresden, in Cottbus and other cities. The anti-fascists want to outnumber them and block them again– with people from different churches, labor unions and political groups – also, very definitely, from the Left party.