Pressure grows on Fischer asdiplomats sign protest letter

29th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

29 March 2005, BERLIN - Pressure grew on Tuesday on Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer amid reports that 70 German diplomats have signed a protest letter against their boss for his decision to stop publishing obituaries for personnel who were Nazi party members.

29 March 2005

BERLIN - Pressure grew on Tuesday on Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer amid reports that 70 German diplomats have signed a protest letter against their boss for his decision to stop publishing obituaries for personnel who were Nazi party members.

The row comes as Fischer faces intense pressure over an illegal visa scandal which threatens to engulf his ministry and has already led to the resignation of one of his deputy ministers.

Fischer's decision to halt full obituaries for the tiny number of diplomats who were Nazi members came after a diplomat - who had been a Third Reich judge in German-occupied Czechoslovakia - had his past whitewashed out of a ministry death notice.

This seemingly uncontroversial move by Fischer was welcomed by the centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper which called the decision "long overdue".

However, the paper's chief political reporter, Hans Leyendecker, also noted Fischer's blanket banning of obituaries was "problematic", given that membership in the Nazi party alone was an insufficient criterion for guilt.

"Is a 17-year-old who joined the Nazi party in 1943 really guilty and does this mean we can no longer honour him after his death?" asked Leyendecker.

This is what is being questioned by the 70 active diplomats whose letter is expected to be published in early May, sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

In a jab at Fischer's past as a stone-throwing, 1968 left-wing radical who was photographed beating up a police officer, the letter obtained by DPA quotes the Bible and says: "Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone."

Normally Fischer would probably have little trouble dealing with such an uprising which is unprecedented in the German Foreign Ministry's post-war era.

The trouble is that these are not normal times for the minister.

With the visa affair boiling over, Fischer needs the loyalty of his diplomats who have traditionally been the most tight-lipped of all officials in Berlin.

But the obituary row is merely the latest incident underlining Fischer's bad relations with German diplomats who have abruptly turned the foreign ministry into the most leaky institution of government.

Fischer, says the left-leaning Berliner Zeitung newspaper, is reaping his reward for years of treating top diplomats and aides badly.

Berlin is now awash with material from the foreign ministry and seemingly every street-wise reporter in the German capital has access to confidential email correspondence and documents from German diplomats.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur was on Tuesday given its latest tranche: an internal letter by Fischer on the obituary affair as well as several email replies by diplomats.

Fischer's letter warns of the foreign ministry's reputation being blackened while one of the diplomats replies that the minister's behaviour is "disgraceful" given his own violent and radical past.

The visa affair remains the most politically dangerous issue for Fischer and the Sueddeutsche's Leyendecker says the minister could be forced out over the scandal.

Fischer, who is leading member of the Greens party, presided over a radical liberalisation in the granting of visas to people from eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia which was in place from 2000 until 2003, when it was abruptly cancelled after massive abuse.

The newspaper Die Welt on Tuesday quoted secret foreign ministry documents showing the number of visas issued to Romanians after the watering down of regulations soared by 44 percent between 1999 and 2000 when over 88,000 Romanians were given tourist visas.

Ukraine is the centre of the scandal and reports say up to 70 percent of Ukrainians who obtained visas in 2000 and 2001 did so after lying to officials. This would mean up to 350,000 Ukrainians entered Germany illegally.

Under the European Union Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border controls between most EU members, those arriving in Germany can travel on to work illegally in other states in the bloc.

Ukrainian visas were issued in blocks to travel agents which reportedly produced faked tourist programmes for those arriving in Germany. People applying for visas were often not even interviewed by German consular officials.

A parliamentary probe is investigating the affair and demands are growing that Fischer be summoned to give evidence in the coming weeks on when he first realised there were serious problems with the visa regime and why it took the government so long to pull the emergency brake.

The probe also wants to know why Fischer ignored early warnings from diplomats that the new system was being abused as well as warnings from the German Interior Ministry.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) are alarmed over the scandal following their defeat in Schleswig-Holstein state elections last month. The SPD faces its next major test as incumbent in North Rhine-Westphalia state elections on 22 May.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal foreign workers entering Germany under a corrupt visa programme, along with a record 5.2 million unemployed, are about the last things the SPD wants as a campaign backdrop.

Defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia would be deeply damaging to Schroeder. It is Germany's most populous state and currently ruled by the last copy of the federal government coalition combining Schroeder's SPD with the Greens as junior partner.

The state has also been governed by the SPD for almost four decades and if Schroeder's party cannot win North Rhine-Westphalia it will be a grim omen for his chances to secure a third term in Germany's autumn 2006 general election.



Subject: German news

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