New president liberates East Germans from past

Kate Connolly
Guardian News & Media, The New York Times / brisbane times

BERLIN: The election of Joachim Gauck as President of Germany will go down in history as the day East Germans were finally able to ditch the feeling of being the nation’s underdogs.

Blooming freedom … the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, hands a bouquet to the new President, Joachim Gauck, on Sunday. Photo: AP

The 72-year-old Protestant pastor’s rise has established the domination of politics by two figures who grew up in the former German Democratic Republic. Like the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Mr Gauck was brought up in a Protestant household under the communist regime. Both of them began their political careers after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On Sunday a special sitting of federal and state politicians elected Mr Gauck with 991 votes out of 1228. The post is largely ceremonial.

The newspaper Die Zeit has called his election a ”perfect East German triumph” and a sign that the often troubled integration between east and west has at last been achieved.

However, Dr Merkel was the last of the Christian Democrats to support Mr Gauck, doing so only after the coalition of her party and the Free Democrats threatened to crumble over the question of his candidacy.

Mr Gauck, a well-respected pastor, served less than a year in East Germany’s only freely elected legislature. His style, often unrehearsed, comes across as heartfelt.

The former rights activist, whose father was sent to a labour camp when he was just a boy, wants to invigorate Germans with a more positive sense of themselves, having declared his desire to ”free” them of their ”angst”.

Freedom is his favourite word and one which he has repeated throughout his career as a preacher and, after the fall of the Wall, as the head of the archives of the communist secret police, the Stasi.

He says it is time for Germans to wake up to the fact that they have much to be proud of. ”Germans love being in the doldrums,” he said in 2010. ”The whole country lives … in a barbaric state of vexation.”

Mr Gauck is the ninth postwar president. His predecessor, Christian Wulff, stepped down last month after being accused of accepting favours from business executives while he was governor of Lower Saxony state.