Schadenfreude at German 'cut-and-paste' minister

17th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Germany's opposition and press had a field day Thursday after the suave and popular defence minister was accused of ripping off others' work, even from the US embassy website, for his doctoral thesis.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg "did not credit me as the author of excerpts that came from an article I once wrote," Barbara Zehnpfennig, a professor at Passau University, told rolling news channel N24. "This breaks all academic rules."

She is allegedly not the only source not properly cited in the thesis on constitutional law, which earned him top marks in 2007, with several law professors accusing him of blatant plagiarism in a number of passages.

Spiegel magazine said on its website that zu Guttenberg passed off as his own text, in German, taken from the US embassy's website about its hallowed 1789 constitution, and material from European lawmaker Andreas Schwab.

Zu Guttenberg -- or Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jakob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr (Baron) von und zu Guttenberg, to give him his full name -- regularly tops surveys as Germany's most popular politician.

The 39-year-old snappy dresser, whose noble Franconian family can be traced back to the Middle Ages, has even been tipped as a possible future chancellor, having impressed both as economy minister and at defence.

But he is also a popular target for the German press, with papers jumping on a series of minor scandals from an alleged mutiny on a naval training ship in November to his handling of a controversial Afghan airstrike in 2009.

In December he was accused of turning a visit to Afghanistan into a publicity stunt because he took his wife -- a descendant of "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck -- a television chatshow host, and a host of photographers.

When he got back to Berlin he was pictured at an evening function cutting a dashing figure still in his battle fatigues, with his explanation that he had no time to change failing to convince suspicious commentators.

"People like the fact that he is not a product of the Berlin political establishment," political analyst Manfred Guellner from polling institute Forsa told AFP. "But journalists find him arrogant."

The University of Bayreuth, where the minister completed his thesis, is looking into the allegations and has asked zu Guttenberg to respond to the accusations in writing.

"The accusation that my doctoral thesis was plagiarised is absurd," zu Guttenberg said on Wednesday.

He added, however, that he could not rule out there may have been errors when it came to quoting others.

He said he was "ready to check whether the more than 1,200 footnotes on 475 pages were correctly inserted where they should have been."

A website devoted to finding suspect passages has been set up by media studies professor Stefan Weber, who specialises in combing through academic texts for cheating. He has already had 11 people stripped of their degrees.

German newspapers were falling over themselves with "Schadenfreude" -- pleasure derived from someone else's misfortune.

The Financial Times Deutschland dubbed the aristocrat "Baron Cut-and-Paste" on its front page -- and with a cheeky superscript "1" next to the headline to indicate a footnote.

Rainer Arnold from the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) said that if he ends up being stripped of his doctorate, zu Guttenberg's credibility as a minister will be "completely destroyed."

The "cool baron", as he was once dubbed for his love of rock music, was however nowhere to be seen in Berlin, having gone off for another surprise visit to Afghanistan -- without the press.

© 2011 AFP

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