German Press Review: A German Napoleon? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.08.2004
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German Press Review: A German Napoleon?

German papers on Monday took a look at the ruling SPD Party's recent upset over Oskar Lafontaine and the renewed debate over the language and spelling reforms.

The "Napoleon of the Saarland" is on the march again, the Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine newspaper wrote. It said that Oskar Lafontaine, the former German finance minister, was challenging Chancellor Gerhard Schröder louder than ever before by threatening to form a breakaway left-wing party, if the government persisted with benefit cuts that were sparking protests around the country. But the paper concluded that this Saarland Napoleon might find his idea put him on track to the same place as Bonaparte - namely Waterloo.

Berlin's tageszeitung took a more relaxed approach. It said that Lafontaine was ranting and raving again against the party which wasn’t anything new. Since Lafontaine quit the Social Democrats as party leader and finance minister in 1999, he did little else than to caution and abuse his comrades, according to the daily. It concluded that what changed was that suddenly he might find himself with a support base, that could present a clear threat to the SPD.

The Frankfurter Neue Presse disagreed. It said that the new left wing parties might delight in the support they were getting from Lafontaine, but in reality they were just proving that their political ideas were stuck in the past.

The Darmstädter Echo said that Lafontaine was merely making use of his democratic right but that ultimately the voters were going to tell him what they thought of his policies.

Commenting on the new debate about Germany's spelling reform, tabloid Bild said that politicians could be mislead. Noting that five years ago Germany introduced a nonsensical language and spelling reform, with rules that lead to confusion on a Babylonian scale. Now that major German newspapers, including Bild and DER SPIEGEL news weekly announced they were abandoning the language reform and returning to the old way of writing, it was clear that the reforms failed, the editorial continued. But instead of just admitting their mistakes, the paper wrote, politicians were frantically trying to save as much face as possible by attempting to reform the reforms. It concluded that rather than create a nation of dyslexics they should just admit defeat and annul the reform. Die Welt, which also announced it will abandon the new spelling, said that the changes should have coincided with a reform of society as a whole, but instead it lead to the greatest divide in German writing and grammar since the 19th century. What was worrisome, the paper continued, was that children were used as guinea pigs in this experiment. The daily said the experiment failed, and therefore it too was calling for the reforms to be scrapped.