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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.

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