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Germany

Assessing the Threat for German Politicians

The worst attempt on the life of a politician in postwar Germany occurred 15 years ago Wednesday. Some say that attacks have been on the increase since then, but the victim himself sees things differently.

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Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber seeking refuge from rotten eggs

Wolfgang Schäuble was ready to call it a day.

"I'm tired and won't keep going much longer," the German interior minister reportedly told his wife on the phone before heading to one last election campaign event late on Oct. 12, 1990.

Schäuble didn't come home that night: As he was leaving the meeting, a mentally disturbed man fired three shots at him.

Wolfgang Schäuble

Schäuble still relies on protection

"I think I heard a bang and felt heat, but I don't remember anything else," said Schäuble, adding that he immediately lost consciousness. Two bullets had hit the minister in the face and the chest. The third wounded one of Schäuble's bodyguards, who had thrown himself in front of the politician.

"If the third shot had hit me as well, I would not have survived," said Schäuble, who is a paraplegic as a result of the attack.

A long list of attacks

The assassination attempt came less than five months after a mentally disturbed woman stabbed Oskar Lafontaine, then premier of the state of Saarland, in the throat. Since then, other politicians have become victims of -- albeit less dangerous -- aggression.

Bildergalerie Joschka Fischer Bild 5: Farbbeutel trifft Fischer

The attack raptured Fischer's ear drum.

In 1999, a protestor against the Green party's agreement to send German troops to the war in Kosovo hit German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on his ear with a paint-filled bag while a man wounded Fischer's party colleague Angelika Beer with a knife outside her house in 2000.

Last year, Hamburg' justice minister was stabbed in the leg by a woman. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, among others, has been slapped in the face while many, including former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, have been pelted with eggs.

Are the media to blame?

Media coverage of politicians is largely to blame for an increase in attacks, according to Jörg van Essen, a member of parliament for the free-market liberal Free Democrats.

"The constant scandalization of people in politics has lowered the inhibition threshold," van Essen said.

Bildgalerie Helmut Kohl Eier auf Kohl

In 1991, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl (left) decided to fight back when he was hit with eggs.

Recently, the security expert also criticized Germany's secretive secret service, which guards the president, the chancellor and other federal state officials who could be the target of an attack.

But van Essen said that while the 500-member strong branch of Germany's federal criminal police (BKA) previously offered insufficient protection due to a lack of bodyguards, the problem has been resolved.

"Nevertheless, we realize that people who stand in the public's eye keep getting targeted for attacks," he said, adding that it was mainly "mentally disturbed persons, who drink themselves into a stupor to attack well-known politicians."

No longer an organized threat

Terroranschlag auf Alfred Herrhausen

The RAF mainly targeted economic leaders such as Alfred Herrhausen, the head of Deutsche Bank, who was killed in this bomb attack on his car in November 1989.

Schäuble agreed that mentally disturbed people -- like the one who attacked him -- posed the greatest danger to politicians after the disbandment of the left-wing radical terrorist group Red Army Faction (RAF), which presented an organized threat to Germany's leaders in the 1970s and 1980s.

But he didn't share van Essen's view that more attacks were happening, adding that no incidents became known during the last election campaign.

"You cannot talk about an increase," he said.

Experts also said that the general threat has significantly dropped since the RAF's heyday.

Back then, BKA officials included 70 people in the top risk category for people, meaning they are in serious danger of becoming the target of an attack, said Helwig Finger, a former bodyguard in the private sector, who now works as a trainer. That number has dropped to about 15 people since, he said.

The risks of public life

Schröder nach den Sondierungsgesprächen

Gerhard Schröder is likely to keep bodyguards after he leaves office.

Finger also added that the occasional slap in the face was almost inevitable because of the desire of politicians to rub shoulders with the people.

"It looks negligent, not because BKA officials are doing a bad job, but because Schröder says, 'I don't want anyone in front of me,'" he said.

Schäuble, meanwhile, said that complete protection was impossible.

Kompetenzteam: Wolfgang Schäuble, Porträt

Wolfgang Schäuble

"Any public figure is exposed to personal risks," he said. "It's impossible to protect people 100 percent."

The Christian Democrat himself could soon oversee the protection of politicians again. While he denied any comment on the matter, the current deputy leader of his party's parliamentary group stands a good chance of returning to his old job as interior minister in Germany's next government.

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