Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Euro-Tizzy Over Guido Westerwelle and "The English Question"

Guido Westerwelle, the leader of Germany's Free Democratic Party and the likely new foreign minister for that country after the FDP and the conservative Christian Democratic Union won last weekend's elections, is under fire before he even takes office. It might be a sign of how opponents attack the government for the next four years: Don't go after the popular Chancellor Angela Merkel; target Westerwelle instead.

Why is he getting targeted now? No, it's not because he's openly gay. Thankfully, that is not raising eyebrows or ire in modern tolerant Deutschland.

The casus belli is Herr Westerwelle's remarks in his first post-election press conference, in which he refused to answer a question in English from a BBC reporter. He reportedly told the reporter that he'd be happy to have a discussion in English outside of the press conference, but in the press conference, "we're in Germany here."

There have been some commentators thrown into a tizzy by his response, acting as if he's the harbinger of a long-dormant radical German nationalism. That's silly. In fact, the real wingnut right-wing radical party in Germany, the National Democratic Party (NPD), did very poorly in this election, its support dropping.

Marius Ostrowski puts it into perspective. After all, the BBC sends a reporter to Berlin who doesn't speak English? That's, well, a very English thing to do.

Does anyone remember when George Bush reacted weirdly to being asked a question in French -- in France? Bush was wrong. Westerwelle might not have been the most politic in his response, but he's perfectly entitled to answer press questions -- where one wants to be sure that one picks one's words very carefully -- in the language in which one feels most secure.

Anyway, so Westerwelle's upset the Left, which didn't take much effort. Now wait until he upsets the Right: According to The Wall Street Journal, "The FDP, for instance, supports minority rights, higher immigration and curtailing the state's powers of surveillance. Mr. Westerwelle, who would be Germany's first openly gay foreign minister, has said he would cut development aid to countries that persecute gays."

Wow. A real libertarian!
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