Compensation for Nazi victims
On Thursday, 6 July, the Bundestag (Parliament) adopted a law on the establishment of the national foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" which will be dedicated to the compensation of those who worked as forced labourers in Germany during the Second World War.
The DEM ten billion (EUR 5.1 billion) foundation is to be financed jointly by the Federal Republic and German businesses through contributions of DEM five billion (EUR 2.55 billion) each. The law was endorsed by the vast majority of parliamentary parties, with 556 "yes" votes, 42 against and 22 abstentions.
The opponents, a minority within the Christian Democratic and Christian Social Unions (CDU/CSU), declared their support for the general idea but criticised the insufficient clarity concerning legal protection for German companies in the United States.
The background to the establishment of the foundation was an agreement forged between Germany and the US whereby the American administration will ask US courts to drop existing lawsuits against German companies in return for the establishment of the foundation.
Given the separation of powers in the US, such a guarantee can only be of limited value. However, both US representative Stuart Eizenstat and his German counterpart, former Economics Minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff, expressed their conviction that this protection mechanism will work effectively.
Lambsdorff and other politicians from all parties strongly criticised German business for its as yet less than impressive response to the public request by the future foundation's managers to bring together the due DEM five billion quickly. Of some 200,000 companies approached by this week, only about 3000 have responded and paid into the foundation's coffers. Especially disturbing for the parliamentarians was the fact that a number of young companies with no connection to the war period have contributed, while several large corporations that did profit from slave labour have failed to do so.
The CDU / CSU joint parliamentary club made an additional declaration on the need to secure equal compensation for Germans who were forced labourers during the war, primarily in the Soviet Union.
Criticism of the German handling of the issue came earlier this week from governments in Central and Eastern Europe, where most surviving former forced labourers live. They denounced the new law's built-in condition that payments will only be started after verification of the American protection guarantee. This way, victims would have to wait even longer for compensation.
Underground level at Holocaust memorial?
The planned national "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" in Berlin is to be complemented by an underground documentation centre. State Minister for Culture Michael Naumann, who coordinates the planning process, announced on Thursday that the "learning aspect" of the memorial site will be served by a 800 square meter documentation department situated underneath the site.
The memorial itself is to consist of hundreds of steles (vertical slabs) of marble, located on a site close to the Brandenburg Gate, Germany's foremost national symbol.
The documentation department is to consist of four rooms dedicated to different features Raum der Namen (Room of Names), der Orte (of Places), der Schicksale (of Fates), and der Stille (of Silence). The concept has already been criticised for effectively emulating the nearby remains of the subterranean Führerbunker where Adolf Hitler spent his last months and died, thus insulting his Jewish victims.
The discussion over "if" and, later, "how" to establish this memorial to the principal victims of the Holocaust has occupied Germany's educated public throughout the 1990s and is held to be the pivotal "identity discourse" of post-reunification Germany. Contentious issues included the topographic prominence the memorial will have in the very centre of the "New Berlin," next to "The Gate" and the Reichstag (seat of parliament).
Also controversial is the fact that only Jewish victims are to be commemorated in this high-level manner, excluding other, less numerous victim groups such as the Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and Christian sects like the Jehovah's Witnesses, known in the Third Reich as strenge Bibelforscher ("rigorous students of the bible"), who rejected both the Nazis' racial theories and their belief in war.
Gambling over Chernobyl
In another long-running political dispute, the federal government on Wednesday renewed its pledge to support Ukraine financially in rebuilding its energy infrastructure after the final closure of the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power plant, envisaged for this year.
Despite the disaster after 1991, independent Ukraine continued to use at least part of the plant, which remains a key component of the national energy network.
Throughout lengthy negotiations with western governments, Kyiv stressed that energy was its first priority and that those who wanted Chernobyl to be shut down would have to finance its replacement. The Red-Green government in Berlin, eager to reduce - after its historic "nuclear exit" decision of June - the significance of nuclear energy in Europe is leading the potential sponsors.
It insists on the Ukrainian government seeking a non-nuclear energy alternative for Chernobyl. In contrast, Kyiv has so far favoured "safe" Western nuclear technology which "pro-nuclear" countries such as France would be only too willing to supply. Given these factors, securing the de-nuclearisation of Ukraine could prove costly for Germany.
A (national) matter of (personal) honour
The political struggle between former Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Bundestag over "black coffers" used by Kohl during the 1980s and 1990s to support his party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), continues to intensify.
Kohl has been accused of having evaded fees due for donations to his party and, moreover, of having given large orders for reconstruction in Eastern Germany to hand-picked firms. Taken together, these factors have lead many to see Kohl as, at least, suspect of corruption.
In two hearings before the parliamentary special committee dealing with the donation affair, these accusations have led to a personal row between Kohl and the Social Democrats who lead the committee.
For months, Kohl has been refusing to disclose the names of the unknown sponsors whose money he and other party officials took. He has admitted that the clandestine procedure may have been "at variance with legal stipulations" - under German law, donations to political parties must be reported to parliament - yet he insists that he never gave any political favours to the donors but used the money according to his own political objectives.
He justifies his persistent silence over the donors' names by claiming he gave donors his "word of honour" concerning their anonymity.
The first scandal in connection with the proceedings arose two weeks ago, when it became known that some Christian Democrat committee members had had personal talks with Kohl just before the first hearing. When, during the most recent hearing, a Social Democratic committee member asked Kohl whether he thought that every citizen had the right to value his word of honour over the constitution, the former chancellor launched into a loud denunciation of the Social Democrats and Greens as well as the media whom he said had tried to paint him as of a corrupt politician.
Kohl said such systematic public slander was typical of totalitarian regimes rather than a free society. The ruling parties indignantly rejected this remark, claiming that it was precisely through investigating his case that they were attempting to maintain democratic culture in Germany.
Several weeks earlier, the Social Democrats and Greens had sought to dissuade the public from donating "fresh money" to Kohl that he used to pay back several million deutschmarks "missing" from his party's coffers.
Kohl then drew protests from Jewish organisations by comparing this behaviour to the boycotting of Jews in Nazi Germany, which he remembered from his childhood. To be continued...
Bitter victory follows undignified defeat
After the disastrous performance of the German national team at this year's European soccer championships in the Netherlands and Belgium, which saw the three time World and European Champions return home after the first round, the German Soccer Association (Deutscher Fussballbund - DFB) managed to secure an unexpected victory on the field of diplomacy.
However, this victory destroyed the hopes of another country for a sporting and economic revival spurred by the hosting of the 2006 World Cup.
On Thursday, the World Soccer Association (FIFA) decided - by the narrowest vote possible - in favour of Germany as organiser of the 2006 World Cup. It has, however, caused ambivalent feelings amongst many because it means that the African continent has to continue waiting for its first "home" cup.
In the third and final round balloting, only the rather unusual abstention of New Zealand's
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In the case of a 12:12 draw, FIFA President Josef Blatter, who has a double vote, was expected to favour the young South African football association. He is known to back African calls to be entrusted with organising the world's most prestigious single sports event after the Olympic Games. In 2002, Japan and South Korea will be the first Asian countries to host the cup.
First disbelief, and then national grief, overcame hopeful South Africans who had gathered in several soccer stadiums across the country. Hosting the cup would have meant not only a boost to the national self-esteem of this major African nation, but also an inflow of urgently needed investment.
Winning the race certainly boosted the German public mood after the shameful national failure at Euro 2000 and, as some cynics were not slow to remark, spares the German team an unpredictable qualification round.
The German delegation, under the leadership of Franz "The Kaiser" Beckenbauer, arguably Germany's most popular soccer player ever, certainly ran a flawless, convincing campaign, and the country will make a very good host. But the defeat of South Africa leaves a bitter aftertaste and makes it hard to counter African suspicions of a European conspiracy.
The one positive factor is that the World Cup will come to Central Europe for the first time.
Jens Boysen, 8 July 2000
ZDF (Public German TV) Online News
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung