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Cablegate: Baden-Wuerttemberg Minister President Survives Controversy

VZCZCXRO8058
RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHLZ
DE RUEHFT #1842/01 1071354
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171354Z APR 07
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0995
INFO RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 001842

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR GM
SUBJECT: Baden-Wuerttemberg Minister President Survives Controversy
over Eulogy for Nazi-Era Judge


Sensitive but unclassified; not for internet distribution.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Baden-Wuerttemberg Minister-President Guenther
Oettinger (CDU/Christian Democrats) came under intense fire over an
April 11 eulogy for former CDU state head Hans Filbinger (forced to
resign in 1978 over his Nazi-era service as a military judge). The
Jewish Central Council called for Oettinger's resignation, and SPD
national head Kurt Beck attacked him for "fishing among the far
right." After a rebuke from Chancellor Merkel, Oettinger -- who in
his eulogy called Filbinger "not a Nazi but rather an opponent of
the regime" -- eventually apologized, claimed he was misunderstood,
and said Filbinger was no different from millions who simply
"conformed" under Nazi-era conditions. Oettinger has Merkel's
support and, with the Jewish community's April 16 acceptance of his
apology, will survive in solidly conservative Baden-Wuerttemberg.
END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------
Chancellor Merkel Reprimands Oettinger
--------------------------------------

2. (U) Oettinger came under fire over an April 11 eulogy for his
predecessor and honorary state CDU head Hans Filbinger (who resigned
in 1978, after twelve years as Minister-President, over his Nazi-era
capital verdicts against deserters shortly before the war's end).
Oettinger, who at first defended his remarks, began to back-pedal
after a public reprimand by Chancellor Merkel on April 13. In a
later publicized phone conversation, Merkel criticized Oettinger for
failing to criticize Filbinger's service under the Nazi regime, thus
offending family members of those who suffered from Filbinger's
verdicts. Oettinger said his remarks were misunderstood and that
Filbinger was no different from millions who simply "conformed"
under Nazi-era conditions. In an interview this weekend with the
tabloid "Bild", Oettinger expressed regret and on April 16,
apologized for his words and offered to discuss the matter directly
with Jewish Central Council head Charlotte Knobloch. In reaction,
Oettinger's coalition partner the FDP (Free Democrats), who had
begun to distance themselves from Oettinger, have signaled that they
now consider the affair closed.

--------------------------------------------- --
Jewish Leaders, Opposition Call for Resignation
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (U) SPD National Chairman Kurt Beck attacked Oettinger for
"fishing on the far right" and called upon him to apologize. B-W
SPD leader Ute Vogt demanded Oettinger's resignation saying his
justifications made a bad thing worse ("without an official apology,
he is no longer acceptable as Minister-President"). B-W Green
caucus chief Winfried Kretschmann also remarked that, without a
formal apology, Oettinger could not remain in office. Kretschmann,
who also attended the Filbinger funeral, said that Oettinger's
speech made him feel "as if I attended the services of a member of
the German resistance".

4. (U) The Central Council of Jews, which criticized Oettinger
immediately after the funeral, became more critical as Oettinger and
fellow state conservatives failed to back down. Central Council
Secretary General Stephan Kramer insisted on Oettinger's

SIPDIS
resignation; other board members, including Knobloch, have also been
highly critical of Oettinger in recent days.

---------------------------
State CDU Stands By Its Man
---------------------------

5. (U) Despite the increasing pressure, the B-W CDU closed ranks
behind Oettinger. B-W CDU Secretary General Thomas Strobl,
Bundestag member Georg Brunnhuber (leader of the state's
conservative Bundestag caucus), several other state Bundestag
members, and several state cabinet ministers defended Oettinger.
Brunnhuber not only lauded Oettinger's speech as a "masterpiece" but
also attacked Merkel and the Jewish Central Council - leading Jewish
leaders to accuse Brunnhuber of anti-Semitism. Brunnhuber even
accused Merkel of escalating the affair by publicly admonishing a
Minister-President. The B-W CDU youth organization Junge Union also
defended Oettinger's statements. "He only said what the majority of
the Baden-Wuerttembergers think," claimed Junge Union chairman
Steffen Bilger, who added that as one of Germany's strongest CDU
organizations, the B-W CDU "cannot always take into consideration
what Angela Merkel wants."

6. (U) However, the Chancellor's intervention, which led to
Oettinger's second apology, has allowed Merkel herself to calm the
storm: on April 16, she welcomed Oettinger's apology as an
"important and necessary" step and said she "expects that the
apology will also be heard." The Central Council of Jews also
welcomed the apology as a "first step" towards reconciliation.

--------------------------------------

FRANKFURT 00001842 002 OF 002


COMMENT: An Old Controversy Dies Hard
--------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Filbinger's wartime record was a divisive issue in regional
politics for three decades, with diehard conservatives maintaining
that critics had chased a dedicated public servant from office
(Filbinger remained honorary chairman of the B-W CDU until his
death). Most surprising in this affair was Oettinger's role --
usually seen as part of the CDU's reformist wing. That Oettinger
risked his career to honor Filbinger (throwing a sop to CDU
ultra-conservatives) shows the power of old worldviews and
allegiances in one of Germany's conservative strongholds. With
Oettinger's apology now blessed by the Chancellor and accepted by
the FDP and Central Council, Oettinger will certainly survive the
affair. Oettinger, however, must seek a deeper reconciliation with
the Jewish community: as one of Germany's largest and most powerful
states -- and home to one of the world's fastest growing Jewish
communities (thanks to recent emigration from Russia) --
Baden-Wuerttemberg can ill afford "tainted" leadership. END
COMMENT.

POWELL

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