Opinion: Gauck likely to chart the right course | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.03.2012
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Opinion: Gauck likely to chart the right course

He has long since earned Germans' trust. Now the Federal Assembly has elected him president. Joachim Gauck will set new priorities, and that will help repair his office's image, writes DW editor-in-chief Ute Schaeffer.

A president of hearts? He may be that - the former director of the Stasi archives, the collection of East Germany's secret police documents - has always been popular. All the government coalition and opposition parties, with the exception of the socialist Left Party supported Gauck. And he has 80 percent of the German population behind him.

The new president will be pleased to have such a solid base of support. It's a good start for someone who wants to be a president of the people - someone who seeks direct dialogue and doesn't avoid topics ordinary Germans find important. He also aims to ensure that politics and politicians serve those same people.

A responsible society

German politicians are expecting Gauck to restore the dignity of the presidential office, which was tarnished by the last two presidents' early resignations.

DW editor-in-chief Ute Schaeffer

DW editor-in-chief Ute Schaeffer

And the German people are expecting him to lobby for their interests: for more social justice, a better approach to family politics and the continued integration of eastern and western Germany 22 years after reunification. These are the ideas that inspire Gauck, more so than topics like the financial crisis or German foreign politics.

The new president hopes to bring politics and society together. Ultimately, a democracy based on the rule of law and individual freedom can only be defended and developed if members of both the civil and political realms live up to their responsibilities.

Strong civil rights record

Responsibility and freedom are the two values for which Gauck stands above all else - and with good reason, because they have shaped the entire course of his life and career. Born in 1940, Gauck fought for civil rights in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the communist East German dictatorship in which citizens' freedoms were trampled.

In today's democratic Germany, Gauck continues to urge his fellow citizens to protect these rights by looking for ways to participate in and shape politics. The new president is an enemy of political apathy and the apparent culture of political weariness among much of the population.

He believes it is necessary that Germans get more involved politically - in order to promote progress and make government more transparent and relevant to citizens' concerns.

This deserves to be underlined: These are not ideas which Gauck has championed in order to become president. They represent the content of his life and of his deepest convictions. As a preacher in the GDR, he and many others had to balance courage with assimilation.

"We are the people!" - when the East German people called out this slogan, with Gauck among them, their message was: Give us back our rights, sovereignty belongs to us!

This is what Gauck fought for before reunification, and along the way, he experienced and supported the rise of individual awareness within the totalitarian state. The dictatorship, which, as Gauck once put it, devours the whole individual, was finally toppled, and that experience left an enduring mark on the new president.

Neither right nor left

Gauck's convictions place him neither in the left nor right wing of the political sphere. Many of his positions do not cohere with traditional political categories.

The president once described himself as a "left-wing, liberal conservative." A provocative statement, especially in the eyes of politicians and the media. But it is perhaps less provocative to ordinary Germans, many of whom are rather relieved that Gauck does not belong to any of the traditional political parties.

Joachim Gauck offers another quality as president. He is neither a career politician nor a revolutionary. Even when his statement seem contentious or provocative, his focus remains on dialogue and debate.

That's why the new man in the office is likely to fulfill many expectations. At last, Germany will have a president who tackles difficult issues and is prepared to start debates. He will be good for the office - and for the country!

Author: Ute Schaeffer / nh
Editor: Greg Wiser

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