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Wieczorek-Zeul also served as development minister under the previous governmentImage: AP

Opinion: A German Minister's Popular Dissent on Lebanon

Peter Stützle (win)
July 22, 2006

Germany's minister responsible for development aid has been a lone voice calling for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. She deserves respect and could soon find top-level sympathizers, says DW's Peter Stützle.


He was ashamed of belonging to a government that did nothing while civilians were suffering. The man who felt this way was Christian Schwarz-Schilling, Germany's minister for postal services, and he was talking about the suffering in Bosnia Herzegovina.Then Chancellor Helmut Kohl accepted the resignation of his minister, who went on to play a crucial role in stabilizing the war-torn country -- until this day.

Just like the Balkan war did at the time, the current Middle East conflict unsettles the German public today. Just like then, a lone member of the federal government has put her finger where it hurts. Helmut Kohl must have seen Schwarz-Schilling's moral position as non-political. After all, the German government had to consider the different interests and assessments of its allies. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has to do the same.

Painful compromise

The G8 declaration in St. Petersburg from last weekend is a compromise that was painful to reach. It calls for the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers and an end to the bombardment of Israel, followed by an end of Israel's military operations. That's what the chancellor is sticking to.

German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul on the other hand views the Israeli reaction to Hezbollah's attacks as completely inappropriate -- and demands an immediate end to the bombings. She knows from opinion polls that at least three quarters of the German population agree with her. The three opposition parties -- the free-market liberal FDP, the Greens and the Left Party -- have also criticized the Israeli action, albeit in different ways.

Growing support

Even within the governing coalition, things are beginning to brew. Wieczorek-Zeul, a member of the Social Democratic Party's left wing, can rest assured that many of her party colleagues stand behind her. Even her predecessor, Carl-Dieter Spranger from Bavaria's ultra-conservative Christian Social Union, who co-signed Wieczorek-Zeul's letter calling for an immediate ceasefire, is unlikely to be isolated within his party.

It should be noted that it's the minister for economic development and her predecessor, who published this appeal. Her ministry is responsible for far-reaching development aid projects in the entire Middle East -- especially in the Palestinian territories. If much of this will now be ruthlessly destroyed, it will provoke great resentment among German voters. It will be hard to convince them to use their taxes to rebuild everything later on. Political capital is also destroyed this way.

Angela Merkel is not unaware of this. That's why she has not distanced herself from her minister, just like Wieczorek-Zeul supports the G8 declaration. Should Lebanese civilians continue to suffer, the chancellor is likely to move closer to Wieczorek-Zeul's point of view. Unlike in the case of Schwarz-Schilling, the resignation of a minister is unlikely to happen.

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