Putin on Russo-German relations
In advance of his upcoming visit to Germany on 15 and 16 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his first interview with a Western media outlet to the German public television station ZDF.
Putin underlined the special importance he attributes to the economic and political strategic link between the two nations and said regretted what he perceives as a "standstill" in relations during the last few months, calling on both sides to intensify their cooperation.
Distancing himself from the informal "chum-like" conduct which had often marked relations between his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and Western leaders, Putin identified a large group of "hard interests" as a solid basis for future cooperation between Berlin and Moscow. In this, he called for a business-driven approach to politics.
In attempting to recreate a Russian global position less visibly dependent on the United States, Putin is seeking enhanced relations with the major European powers, and Germany has never ceased to occupy a crucial place in the Russian worldview.
A close relationship between Germany and Russia has, in earlier days, frequently meant doom for Central Europeans, but will be vital to the smooth execution of EU enlargement, particularly with its implications for the "outs": Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Moreover, Putin is known for a personal liking of things German – or at least for the more authoritarian aspects of the same. As a KGB officer, he spent five years (1985 to 1990) in Dresden, then in the Communist GDR, where he learned German and reputedly developed a "German" approach to his work, meaning here an iron discipline and a somewhat static obedience of rules.
Bundeswehr to stay on Kosovo front
The Bundestag voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the approximately 5000 Bundeswehr (German Army) soldiers in Kosovo, where Germany bears responsibility as the lead nation for the southern KFOR sector around Prizren, whose present mandate is slated to run out on 11 June 2000.
The new vote allows for a maximum deployment of 8500 German soldiers in the still officially Serbian province.
The decision was only reached after the opposition party club of CDU / CSU (Christian Democratic Union / Christian Social Union) forced the centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) and Green government to accept a yearly review of the necessity of maintaining the Bundeswehr presence in Kosovo.
The driving forces behind Germany's commitment to Kosovo, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Greens) and Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping (SPD), had fervently campaigned for an "unconditional" prolongation of the deployment until the establishment of "normal" conditions in Kosovo.
The conservative opposition, while generally supporting this policy, insisted on securing the Bundestag's prerogative to control the army and its use by the government.
The post-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) alone remained fundamentally opposed to the commitment.
Killed in the line of duty
A long and fearfully anticipated consequence of Germany's historic decision to go to war in Kosovo alongside her NATO allies has materialized: casualties of war.
This week, two German KFOR soldiers were found dead in the wreck of their truck at the bottom of a ravine. No explanation has yet been issued by KFOR or German military authorities detailing the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
Public reaction to the incident has so far been muted. It remains to be seen whether the German public will become accustomed the idea of casualties, or how these and the prospect of future deaths will affect ongoing discussion on the future structure of the Bundeswehr.
German-French motor running once again?
At the seventy-fifth regular German-French consultation held Friday in Mainz, Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, French President Jacques Chirac and his prime minister, Lionel Jospin, underscored their commitment to pursuing a common line during the forthcoming French EU presidency, which is scheduled to run July to December 2000.
In particular, the two sides are concerned with the need for urgent reform of the European Union, as well as the development of a common armament policy as an element of the EU's envisaged Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Notably, both sides agreed to purchase the new Airbus A400M military transport aircraft in order to increase the European military air transport capacity, which paled against the state-of-the-art capabilities of American equipment in Kosovo. Airbus had been competing against a cheaper offer of Russian-Ukrainian Antonov aircraft.
The decision to go with Airbus was hardly surprising, considering the Airbus enterprise is one of the most successful elements of economic cooperation in the EU. The fact that Britain had, some days before, preferred Airbus over an American counter-offer made the German-French choice almost imperative.
Meanwhile, Berlin and Paris also agreed to jointly develop a European satellite reconnaissance system.
CDU "black accounts" still not unravelled
The scandal surrounding former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's long-time management of undeclared political donations in "black accounts" to support his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has yet to loosen its grip on the opposition party. The affair first broke in 1999.
This week, an independent accountant hired by the
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The parliamentary committee established to investigate the finance scandal has, meanwhile, not tired in its efforts to force central figures within the party to disclose their information.
Nevertheless, it seems that the new federal CDU party leadership, headed by chair Angela Merkel and parliamentary club leader Friedrich Merz, has been largely unharmed by the affair.
The present crisis of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's centre-left government has benefited the CDU, which has regained part of the support it lost half a year ago.
In general, no acting government in the Federal Republic has ever been able to keep a lasting hold on power over the opposition.
A national standstill?
A general strike by public service employees seems to be in the offing after trade unions representing public servants refused a final conciliatory wage increase proposal this week. If the strike action goes forward, it will be the first time the German public has had to go without public service since 1992.
The federal, regional (Länder) and local governments are adamant that they will not allow any further wage increase beyond the offered hikes of 1.8 percent for 2000 and 2.2 percent for 2001. More aggregate expenses, they say, cannot be afforded.
Unequal rates of pay for public employees and workers in eastern and western Germany continue to be another bone of contention. Owing to different productivity rates, all three levels of government pay employees in eastern Germany roughly 86.5 percent of the salary for the equivalent position in western Germany.
The governments have offered to hike the differential to 90 percent, but trade unions have said it is a political necessity to do away with the wage gap 10 years after reunification.
Traditionally, strikes are rare in Germany, where there is a "social partner" system similar to those in Austria and Italy. Established in the booming 1950s and 1960s, the system was maintained through the 1980s when, as elsewhere, it came under attack as a hindrance to economic adjustment. So far, however, no better system has developed.
The trade unions have retained great financial and political leverage, whilst playing a rather passive, conservative role and being drained by the growth of new businesses without a "classic" social partner structure.
Should a strike occur, it is not likely to last long. German trade unions have always taken pride in their approach of a "limited, but massive, attack" and the resulting avoidance of drawn out stand-offs of the French or Italian type.
Railway saved from derailment – for now
The recent agreement between management of the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) and the Gewerkschaft der Eisenbahner (Trade Union of Railway Workers) stands in stark contrast to the case of the public service employees.
Executives of the half-way privatised former state enterprise, which for years has been running with heavy losses, assured the railway workers' union there would be no layoffs before 2004. The extraordinary labour costs of the railway service, which pose a great burden to the company, are to be partially covered by a newly-founded "social fund."
The Deutsche Bahn (DB) has for years been trying to eliminate the large debt it accrued as a state-owned enterprise. Still, the Federal Republic continues to be a large share-holder, leaving the status of the DB a little unclear.
Several management teams have failed to transform the enterprise into a "normal" business, a notion which is, in any case, fundamentally at odds with its task of providing public transport for all citizens.
The DB has been repeatedly criticised for pursuing a "high-gloss" policy targeting well-off business travellers at the expense of the average customer. An example of the trend was the early 1990s introduction of the Intercity Express (ICE), the German equivalent to the French TGV (Train á grande vitesse).
The ICE was ridden with technical flaws and is infamous for its lack of baggage capacity, which continues to make it an ordeal for holiday travellers.
Meanwhile, the DB has been closing down "unprofitable" short-distance lines, forcing many commuters onto the streets.
German railway prices remain among the highest in Europe. Without a BahnCard, which provides a 50 percent discount, or another reduction mechanism, it is hardly affordable to travel by train. To top it all off, the legendary punctuality of the German railways has become a thing of the past – indeed, a legend.
Death of a Chekist
Erich Mielke, head of the GDR's infamous Staatssicherheitsdienst (State Security Service, better known as the Stasi) from 1957 to 1989, was buried in Berlin this week. He was 82.
A Communist activist in the Weimar Republic, Mielke murdered two Republican policemen in 1932, the only crimes for which he was convicted after 1990. He spent the Second World War as a member of the Communist hard core around Walter Ulbricht in Moscow, where he was trained by, and acquired a liking for, the Soviet secret service or NKVD (the Russian acronym for "People's Commissariat for Special Tasks").
Later, as East Germany's spymaster, Mielke liked to refer to himself and his people as Tschekisten, the Germanized form of Chekists, derived from the acronym of the Extraordinary Commission (ChK), the NKVD's predecessor in the first years of Bolshevik rule.
While another former émigré, Markus Wolf, built up the GDR's foreign espionage service (the Abwehr, as it has been called in all German states), Mielke created the Stasi as a web of internal spies to control and "guide" the citizens of the "first state of workers and peasants on German soil."
In the end, he commanded several hundred thousand official service members and some 1.5 million so-called "unofficial collaborators." Under Mielke, the infiltration rate of the GDR population came close to 1:10, that is one person in ten was eavesdropping on his fellow citizens.
Mielke, who never renounced his Chekist convictions was, by 1989, the most-hated symbol of the GDR's Communist system. He spent the 1990s in oblivion after his two-year sentence for the 1932 murders was suspended due to his advanced age.
Jens Boysen, 10 June 2000
ZDF (Public German TV) Online News
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung