Paul's Journal, May 18, 2002
Dubya, We Have to Talk: Berlin's Mayor Has a Commitment Problem
By Volker Zastrow
FRANKFURT. U.S. President George W. Bush is coming to Berlin, and the German capital is looking more and more like a city under siege.
Security forces there are worried about more than just the excesses committed by anarchists and hooligans who rampage from time to time in the Kreuzberg district.
On such occasions -- amid the looting, destruction of cars and stone throwing -- the authorities consider their efforts to contain such violence a success if "only" 100 police are injured. This time, however, demonstrators from the extreme left and the far right and from every corner of Europe are expected in Berlin.
Then there are those people who may want to assassinate the U.S. president. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States and the American response, Mr. Bush is the most hated figure in the world of radical Islam -- even more than Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
But the first anti-Bush protest took place before the president arrived. Berlin's governing mayor, Klaus Wowereit, announced that he would be out of town for the duration of Mr. Bush's stay. After all, he explained, Germany has "important allies," even in Australia. A disgraceful statement, given the circumstances.
Americans once put their lives on the line to guarantee the freedom of all Berliners living in that part of the city surrounded by a wall. How else can we interpret the Cold War's nuclear scenarios? What other meaning could John F. Kennedy's message -- that all free people, everywhere in the world, are citizens of Berlin -- have? That is why he said "Ich bin ein Berliner." And that message, back in 1961, was clear.
But Berlin is now governed by a coalition whose leader makes fun of the "important allies" to whom it owes its democratic existence. Anybody who tries to console himself with the idea that Mr. Wowereit spoke rashly, anybody who thinks his mockery was a slip of the tongue, has failed to understand him. He is not a man who acts carelessly, but a cold-blooded power-monger.
Mr. Wowereit's ways -- the way he subjugated Berlin's Social Democratic Party (SPD) to his leadership; the way he brought about the fall of the city's previous mayor, Eberhard Diepgen of the Christian Democratic Union; the way he laid the groundwork and then pushed through a coalition with the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successors to East Germany's ruling communists -- all these represent a new style of politics for postwar Germany.
This kind of politics was unknown to German democracy before unification. Maybe this kind of politics is to dominate in unified Germany. However, this kind of politics reflects a culture with a commitment problem.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's response to Mr. Wowereit's ingratitude was to put the mayor in his place. He capitulated and will be in Berlin for Mr. Bush's visit after all. But one has to ask if that is really the best solution.
Foreign Minister Joseph (Joschka) Fischer jumped into the fray, indicating to Mr. Wowereit that it was unacceptable to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin to Berlin with open arms, while greeting Mr. Bush with a cold shoulder. What he meant was: The affront cannot be taken back.
This is particularly true considering Germany's Sept. 22 general election. Mr. Wowereit has his hands full keeping members of his government, particularly his deputy, Gregor Gysi, from joining the anti-Bush demonstrators. There are also plenty of members of parliament, from the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens -- the parties of Mr. Schröder's governing coalition -- who are unwilling to give up their right to protest, especially in the middle of the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
Could they not possibly find anything more suitable to protest than the representative of the very country that, more than any other in modern history, has asserted and defended freedom of speech? Such objections carry no weight, because the protests are not about that.
America is being targeted because of plain old anti-Americanism. While it comes as no surprise for the Party of Democratic Socialism to remain true to its roots, anybody unfamiliar with the history of the Berlin SPD might wonder. Yet, that party's anti-U.S. current reaches back to the 1960s.
As a refuge for people who, for whatever reason, preferred Berlin's way of life to that of West Germany, the city has gone through a very specific development over the decades since World War II. It was deindustrialized, heavily subsidized and liberated from responsibility even within the private sphere. This has pros and cons, but it is more illusory than any computer game.
By the mid-1960s, this commitment problem had become a way of life in Berlin. Now, it fertilizes the hype surrounding the city's latest generation of arrivals. But that is not the proper spirit for the German capital.