BUCHAREST, Romania, May 14 (UPI, The Washington Post) — For good reason, many show contempt for public policy. But sometimes leaders show courage, renewing our faith in public life. Recent examples, both good and bad, can be found in Germany and Romania.
In Germany, President Horst Koehler — the head of state — rejected the pardon of an unrepentant Red Army Faction terrorist. Christian Klar had spent 24 years behind bars. He had never expressed any remorse about his terror activities.
Klar came to prominence during the September 1977 kidnapping of Hanns Martin Schleyer. Schleyer, the president of the Federal Association of the German Industry, was later brutally murdered; as were Siegfried Buback, Germany’s chief federal prosecutor; and the chairman of Dresdner Bank, Jurgen Ponto — shot five times at close range.
Commonly called the German Autumn, the Red Army Faction’s coordinated terror attacks spanned six weeks. German society was virtually brought to its knees. As reported in my column “Let them rot,” I remember this period vividly. I was the son of a ranking U.S. Army civilian, and we were also affected.
Over the past year Germany’s left has called on Koehler to pardon Klar. Their request was bolstered by a former RAF informant claiming Klar had not been the shooter. Klar had previously been convicted in the murders of Schleyer, Buback and Ponto. German courts had determined he pulled the trigger in Ponto and Schleyer’s murders.
Koehler took the unusual step of agreeing to meet with Klar. His decision caused a month of vociferous political debate in Germany. The right called for him to resign. Merkel herself backed Koehler. The press went haywire. Koehler felt he must meet the man. Previous German presidents had also met — if rarely — with other RAF terrorists asking for pardons.
I was initially appalled. After all, these are the same folks who killed U.S. soldiers and negatively affected my life as a teenager. Koehler did his due diligence. Even in a democracy, scum has the right to due process. Koehler showed courage and rejected the pardon.
Compare this to the despicable comments of Guenther Oettinger. Oettinger is the governor of Baden-Wuerttemberg — home to Mercedes, Porsche and Bosch. Oettinger commemorated the life of one of his predecessors — Hans Filbinger — in a eulogy at his funeral widely carried in the German press a some weeks ago.
Filbinger, governor from 1966-1978 and a proven Nazi judge, had to resign his position. Oettinger’s tribute praised Filbinger “as an anti-Nazi and a man who brought great honor to the German people.” The CDU, his conservative party and that of Chancellor Merkel, initially remained silent. Some even backed Oettinger’s preposterous comment. Several regional politicians I know did the same — they will be dealt with. The SPD and Greens mostly attacked Oettinger. After a week of massive media condemnation, Angela Merkel finally reprimanded Oettinger.
The German establishment — especially the press — should have reacted sooner.
A week earlier the respected daily Die Welt had carried Filbinger’s death announcement. In it, Oettinger celebrated the former Nazi judge. On behalf of the state government, he used the words “honor,” “statesman,” “role model,” “a leader in the best sense,” and “ethical” to describe a man who served Hitler’s killing machine. “We in Baden-Wuerttemberg are proud to be closely associated with his high deeds,” the announcement stated.
There was no mention of Filbinger’s Nazi past. The German press should have responded immediately. Read in the voice of a World War II propaganda-broadcast, the sentences are truly hideous — Goebbel’s calling. I was disgusted. Oettinger finally distanced himself from his spoken remarks; he was never criticized for the announcement. He should resign.
In Romania, meanwhile, President Traian Basescu and Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu are in a battle threatening Romania’s stability. The Parliament overwhelmingly voted to suspend the president for 45 days — something the Constitution allows. There will be a referendum in a few weeks to see if the Romanian people back the removal of the president. A populist, the president will likely survive.
I do not know who is right. But in Bucharest last week — at the presentation of the Prague Society and Global Panel’s 6th Annual Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award — and in the presence of ranking ministers, I noted that the malicious political fight is severely crippling Romania’s international image. It is also hindering Romania’s smooth function in the European Union.
In using his Speech from the Throne — the king’s State of the Union address — as his acceptance speech for the HRE Award, King Michael of Romania called for the political elite to step above self-interest. The king called for an amicable solution to the current Romanian political crisis. He spoke of the importance of constitutionality.
King Michael joins Vladimir Ashkenazy, Vaclav Havel, Madeleine Albright, Lord Robertson and Milos Forman as recipients of the Prague Society honor, presented since 2000. The $10,000 sum accompanying the Award, as is custom, was passed to a young person of the recipient’s choosing. King Michael presented Petrisor Ostafie, a 22-year-old engineering student with HIV who has become a role model in a country closed-minded about AIDS, with the financial part.
At 85, King Michael is a grand statesman — shy, thoughtful and self-effacing — one of the last living Monarchs to have led a country during World War II.
Stripped of his property by the communists and yet to receive proper compensation, he is still widely respected among the people of Romania.
A king and a president — others should learn from their example.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he sits on the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party.)