A thoroughly decent German leader gets no respect

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

These days I am proud to be a German. I am saying this not because of my country’s economic and therefore growing political prowess; that would be childish posturing.

No, I am proud to be a German because of my compatriots’ admirably serene reaction to the relentless abuse leveled against them by those who mismanaged their own affairs and now expect to be rescued by the Germans who had managed their affairs well.

Angela Merkel.
Angela Merkel.

Night after night, Germans see on television their chancellor portrayed as a born-again Hitler by a moronic rabble in the streets of Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus, and in some major newspapers we read this as well.

It hasn’t escaped the Germans’ attention that they were daily targets of hateful slogans during the election campaign in Italy, probably the one European nation they have traditionally loved the most. They know that Silvio Berlusconi, while still prime minister of Italy, publicly questioned the suitability of one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s body parts for sexual purposes, using a word unprintable even in the looser German media and most definitely in the prim American press.

Many German friends of mine admit in private that they find it hard to contain their annoyance when reading the inexorably hostile columns by New York Times contributor Paul Krugman; still, they manage to reign in their fury.

Others, and here I include myself, are perplexed and saddened that even the conservative American media are curiously restrained in their support or, God forbid, admiration for Merkel’s solitary stamina in the face of a frightening international crisis her government has not caused.

Why is it, I wonder, that I have read nowhere the long overdue profile of this East German pastor’s daughter and scientist who, while holding Europe together in truly Herculean fashion, still goes shopping in the local supermarket and fixes her husband’s breakfast and sandwiches before sending him off to work at Humboldt University in Berlin like the good German Hausfrau she is?

What happened to journalistic craftsmanship in America? Is there no writer left capable of tackling this fascinating topic tongue-in-cheek but with empathy and, by all means, a critical mind? Personalities of much less human fascination receive more attention than she. Is this because she is, Heaven help us, a German?

Have Western journalistic values become so warped that the industrious, the fiscally prudent and therefore powerful and successful are no longer deemed worthy of some slack? How come that when Europe’s plight is being mentioned on American talk shows everyday life in Germany or, for that matter, Austria, the Netherlands or Finland – the few sane ones in a madhouse – never seems to merit in-depth reporting?

How is it that no American reporter goes around asking the average Hans Müller or Liese Schmidt how they feel about their invariable vilification in the streets of Athens and Nicosia, Madrid and Rome?

Do Hans, Liese, Otto or Helga boycott Greek or Italian restaurants in Frankfurt or Munich or pour Italian or Greek wines into the gullies of Hamburg or Berlin the way American innkeepers did when with French wines when they felt that the United States was unfairly maligned by the French? Do Germans stay away from their beloved Italy at vacation time? Do they accost visitors or residents from Europe’s troubled south in Stuttgart or Cologne?

The answer to all these last questions is a resounding “NO!”

And this is why, far from being a strident nationalist, I am proud of this generation of Germans at this very moment.

Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 57 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Capistrano Beach, California.

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