A Very German Scandal

Politics and scandal are regular bedfellows, but I’m fairly sure that this was never originally intended. The problem with politics is that it sounds great until you add the human element. Like anything good, humans tend to mess up everything in fantastic fashion, given half the chance. Every year sees a series of new scandals emanating from the offices and homes of some of the most powerful and not so powerful, whether by accident or design. From the infamous events of Watergate, the Profumo affair or even more recently the scandal over MPs expenses, politicians all seem to have an uncontrollable self-destruct mechanism built into their DNA. Germany is no stranger to these regular political implosions, but unlike the rest of the world, Germany does things a little differently.


In the past Germany pulled it’s weight by having some decent scandals concerning dodgy party funding, bribery or other equally nefarious activities. However, as time has gone on, Germany has begun to do the unthinkable. They allowed politicians to get boring and predicable. They have become so boring that they generally just get on with their jobs. Occasionally this leads to them being lambasted for doing their jobs badly, but overall that has to be expected when you’re a public figure. Due to this new era of political ennui, other countries have had to pick up Germany’s slack. In the world of 24 hour news, there is a quota of salacious gossip and rumour to meet.


For instance, take recent events in the US. New York’s mayoral elections have been rocked by the revelations that one of the candidates, Anthony Weiner (under the alias ‘Carlos Danger’) had been sending images of his johnson, as well as sexy messages to a women who was not his wife. What made this even more excruciating for Mr. Danger was that he had already been forced out of congress for a similar offence. Weiner was finally dropped from the race, when it became obvious he couldn’t keep his junk in the trunk. In fairness to Weiner, he could come back under his aforementioned alias. I mean, wouldn’t you vote for Carlos Danger given half the chance?


Over in Britain, politicians can have been equally dubious. The only real difference is that rather than get in on the illicit sexy action of our American cousins, British political operators generally prefer only one type of wad, cash. Only recently, Britain has seen MPs accept cash to ask questions on behalf of business men and take some more cash to influence party policies. When private funds were not forthcoming, British politicians simply fiddled their expenses forms to buy gold plated underpants, flying robot assassins or whatever else these swindling gits could get away with. Oddly enough, it was a refreshing change when an MP was just accused of calling a policeman a “pleb” as he attempted to ride through the gates of Downing Street. Sadly for the media, he was not riding a gold trimmed chariot built from a thousand paupers solidified tears. Just a boring old bike. Maybe next time, eh? Of equal sadness to the residents of Fleet street, in this instance, no money exchanged hands.


The rest of Europe has also been helping Germany by filling the headlines of newspapers with ever more crazy abuses of power. Italy has had the ongoing saga of Silvio Belesconi, that brought the phrase “Bunga Bunga” into common parlance. When he was finally convicted of something tangible, the leathery lethario went on TV to decry his treatment by the courts and declare his innocence. What’s the Italian for victim complex? Further West, Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has been engulfed by accusations revolving around the actions of his parties treasurer, Luis Barcenas and possible slush fund money. As all this excitement has been sloshing around the world, Germany has stood around with it’s hands in it’s pockets tutting and looking the other way.

Ok, that last sentence isn’t strictly true. There was the 2011 scandal that forced the German President to resign. After a rather protracted tale of €500,000 loans from friends (I wish I had those friends!), President Christian Wulff committed political suicide by phoning the editor of Bild Zeitung and demanding that they not print any more stories about his financial transactions. Bild’s editor, being a canny operator, recorded the conversation and released it on the front page. As big a scandal as this was at the time, it was a minor drop in the ocean when compared to the rest of the world. He might even have survived, had he not decided on that fateful phone call.

Yet the actions of the former German president can be considered a minor blip in Germany’s rather scandal-less existence. Without the required sleaze, Germany had to turn to more, well, German methods. It might surprise you to learn that many German politicians hold doctorates on a variety of subjects. Yes, you heard me right. Doctorates. Unlike other countries that fill their government with random assortments of lunatic, out of touch weirdos, Germany much prefers their weirdos to have some kind of applicable qualification. Economics might be useful, or maybe a complete understanding of world politics. This is probably why they find George Osborne and his lack of basic maths skills such an oddity as holder of Britain’s purse strings.


Anyway, with so many doctor/politicians running around, and so little sleaze, it was only a matter of time until journalists began to look into these qualifications. What did they find? Perhaps a murky underworld of cash for degrees? Maybe there was a sexy undergrad-postgrad orgy in the upper echelons of German universities. Sadly not. What they did find was that sometimes, students plagiarise and sometimes they don’t reference things. So basically they discovered what every student, at one point or another, has been doing since the beginning of higher education. The first to fall was the spectacularly named Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg or Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg for short. His crime? He “grossly violated standard research practices and in so doing deliberately deceived” and that it was “obvious that plagiarism was involved“. For a country that loves a good title, this is basically the German equivalent of stealing the crown jewels, touching up the Queen and escaping on the back of a royal beefeater.


Once the German media had found this rich vein of scandal, it began to mine it for all it’s worth. Next on the hit list was Annette Schavan, the minister for education. She committed the grossly indecent crime of paraphrasing secondary literature, a crime that practically every second year student with an imminent deadline has committed at least once. The university in question, Düsseldorf, described her actions as “systematic and premeditated”deception. Slightly dramatic language, if you ask me. Nevertheless, she was forced to resign after media and political pressure made her position untenable. However, this wouldn’t be the last case to “rock” the politics of Germany.


The final and most recent plagiarism scandal was centred on the President of the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert. A week ago, Lammert was accused by an anonymous blogger of plagiarising his dissertation, an accusation he strenuously denies. Still in the midst of these accusations, it’s entirely clear what the outcome will be. Now, I’m not one to defend dodgy politicians, but lets be honest here. To call these events plagiarism “scandals” entirely devalues the word. For a start no cash has changed hands. Furthermore, these stories are entirely devoid of a love child or two, it’s almost as if these people can’t be bothered to make the effort. The least they could have done was to swear at a reporter or push over a tramp or something. In this light, they are less scandal and more distraction.


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