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Germany

Opinion: Germany's scandal-plagued defense minister must step down

German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has said he won't step down - despite accusations of plagiarism in his Ph.D. thesis. But his behavior is inexcusable says Deutsche Welle's Bettina Marx.

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That Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is still defense minister is a disgrace to German politics. A minister who has been proven to have lied, a minister who cheated and plagiarized to get his academic degree, such a minister cannot remain in power. A democracy does not deserve a minister like Guttenberg.

It's a disgrace that the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, had to spend an entire day dealing with the plagiarism of a government minister who arrogantly refused to take any responsibility for the situation. And it's a disgrace that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the ruling coalition parties are supporting this minister.

Bettina Marx

Bettina Marx

That Guttenberg has lied is clear. He claims that he completed his thesis to the best of his ability during seven years of painstaking work. He rejects as absurd any accusations that he copied passages from other works.

Only when the evidence of plagiarism could no longer be ignored and more and more examples of cheating in his thesis and fabrications in his resume came to light, only then did Guttenberg opt for retreat. He would give up his "Dr." title, he said. But what a strange interpretation of right and wrong for a law graduate! You can't just give back your academic titles and degrees. And you certainly can't prevent a thorough investigation of allegations of cheating by giving your degree back.

This was obviously Guttenberg's goal. With what he described as the "painful sacrifice" of giving up his doctorate, he hoped to pull the rug out from under his attackers and at the same time portray himself as a reformed sinner.

But it didn't work. His university checked the plagiarized sections of his thesis and revoked his doctorate. The university refused to comment, however, on the possibility that the copied passages were a deliberate deception by Guttenberg. But the results of their investigation are clear: The minister has been exposed as plagiarist and, on top of that, a liar and an imposter.

No matter how charming he is or what a great politician he is, he can no longer stay in office. This isn't about trivial details, forgivable sloppiness or forgotten quotation marks and footnotes. It's about lies and deliberate deception; it's about a failure to follow the rules and a lack of credibility.

And it's about the reputation of the German academic system. It's about the reputations of anyone who really did put in the difficult years of work writing a dissertation without the millionaire family in the background, anyone who had to accept the years of little income and possibly even had to put off starting a family. It's about the dignity of all young Ph.D. students who scrape by in almost inhuman conditions at German universities that have been gutted by neoliberal reforms, students who accept economic insecurity and hardship just to be able to start an academic career.

It's a disgrace that it's come this far and a disgrace what this undoubtedly talented young politician has done with his reputation. Germany's political culture will never recover, if Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg does not step down.

Author: Bettina Marx, Deutsche Welle reporter in Berlin / hf
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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