Geopolitics

Facebook Fans Make Martyr Of Ousted German Defense Minister

Facebook Fans Make Martyr Of Ousted German Defense Minister

Supporters organizing online for Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the departed minister adored for rising above the fray, forced out by plagiary scandal.

Guttenberg on Feb. 17, before his resignation, in Afghanistan (Bundeswehr fotos)


BERLIN - Ousted German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg - who resigned this week after revelations that he plagiarized large parts of his doctoral dissertation - is rapidly being turned into a political martyr thanks to a Facebook-fueled "we want-him-back" campaign.

Guttenberg supporters have spread the word on Facebook of a series of nationwide demonstrations to show solidarity with him. They will meet at Saturday afternoon in synchronized rallies: the German parliament building in Berlin, cathedral square in Cologne, town hall square in Hamburg and around Marienplatz in Munich.

Observers say that a campaign like this for a fallen politician has never happened before in post-war German history, with the help of Facebook and Guttenberg's rare popularity, built by a knack for rising above the political fray.

And indeed, not just citizens are upset about facing life without Guttenberg. The Conservative Union parties (CDU/CSU) are already missing him too, with Chancellor Angela Merkel praising the 39-year-old's "extraordinary ability" and saying that his resignation is a blow to German politics.

"There aren't so many talented politicians among Germany's political class that we can do without Guttenberg," said the spokesman of the CDU parliamentary group, Hans-Peter Uhl. And Merkel's biographer Gerd Langguth is certain: "His resignation will mean he can make a comeback."

Guttenberg's popularity is a fascinating phenomenon. Regardless of political loyalties, there has been widespread agreement that German politics has lost its greatest talent.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg always presented himself as someone who makes things happen. Whether pictured as a grinning economics minister in Times Square in New York or wearing a bullet-proof vest and sunglasses as Defense Minister in Afghanistan, Guttenberg left an impression.

These pictures showed the real man, if we are to go by the testimonies of his closest associates. They describe him as a strong, decisive manager on whose support they could always rely. It seems Chancellor Merkel also grew to trust in him as a great pragmatist. He tackled reform of the German military head on, a challenge that all his predecessors had balked at.

But this alone doesn't explain why he is being hailed as an exceptional talent in German politics. Politics is generally seen as a vision of how a nation is governed, of how state and society should be organized. Particularly in times of massive financial crises and historic upheavals in the Arab world people can expect talented politicians to give wise analysis of the situation. In uncertain times they search for leadership.

Guttenberg displayed this leadership and will continue to do so long after his resignation. This is the only explanation for his Facebook fan club. From day one, people have looked up to him and recognized him as one of their own. But what was his political message? What ideas does he have about bridging divides in a globalized world? If he has any at all, they continue to be overshadowed by his dazzling personality.

Indeed, his ideas played a relatively small role in his unexpected rise to power. Far more important was his scrupulously observed distance from the political establishment in Berlin. Guttenberg has always adopted the attitude of a Baron who doesn't see any need for political gamesmanship. It's this distance, this independence from partisan political considerations and cliques that has made him so immensely popular. He has filled the vacuum created by disappointment and loss of confidence amongst voters.

It's the very fact of a politician who is so totally apolitical that has attracted voters to Guttenberg. Those hailing him as a great political talent are therefore advocating a politics completely devoid of content.

Read the original article in German

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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