• Germany's news in English

Westerwelle’s taboo travels

The Local · 15 Mar 2010, 13:26

Published: 15 Mar 2010 13:26 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Having members of minority groups in positions of leadership in Germany is still neither commonplace nor totally accepted. There were plenty of female politicians before Angela Merkel, yet many found the idea of a woman chancellor unimaginable – including members of her own conservative Christian Democrats.

The fact that her husband had to play the role of 'First Lady' was equally unusual, which is surely one of the reasons why he is frequently unwilling to make public appearances on Merkel's official travels.

In contrast, “Mr. Mronz,” as Germany’s openly gay foreign minister likes to call his partner, has often been present when “Mr. Westerwelle” – as Michael Mronz always address him – takes official trips abroad.

They refer to each other in this distanced way in order to conceal – and protect – their private relationship. This formal distance repudiates its exceptional nature. The public knows that Mronz and Westerwelle are a couple. But can we measure a partnership which is consciously and subconsciously discriminated against by the same yardstick as we would measure a “normal” couple?

The answer is unambiguous. We have to, especially in a case of a government official. Holding a public office demands a strict division between private and public interests, and that holds for men, women, homosexuals and heterosexuals. But Westerwelle has simply chosen to reject accusations of a conflict of interest.

He refuses to give concrete answers to concrete allegations, but instead hides behind previous foreign ministers who also “more or less used” the opportunities to take their spouses with them overseas. Apparently Mronz accompanied Westerwelle in his personal capacity as his partner – but why did he then pay his own travel costs?

This information only came to light after many days of public debate – just like the illuminating fact that Mronz was on the trip to pursue his own interests. Westerwelle's companion is travelling on business – for a good cause perhaps, but certainly not in the name of the Federal Republic of Germany.

As a board member of the charity Ein Herz für Kinder (A Heart for Children), Mronz wants to use state visits as an opportunity to work for the needs of children. He announced this in an interview in the tabloid Bild, a newspaper that serves as the charity’s mouthpiece, giving both parties an excellent opportunity to promote their respective philanthropic efforts. But there are also unanswered questions about whether he used the trips as platform for his role as a sporting events promoter.

As leader of the pro-business Free Democratic Party, Guido Westerwelle likes to create a stir – his motto these days seems to be “cheekiness wins!” The recent furore about his welfare comments showed that he knows how easy it is to stand there like a brave warrior, claiming to be walled in by taboos where none exist. Yet now, as foreign minister and vice chancellor, the great taboo-breaker is fending off accusations of colliding interests by playing the political correctness card – and not just once, but twice.

A gay couple concerned for the plight of disadvantaged children? Isn't that an almost irresistible call for public opinion to be PC? No, it isn't. It's an old leadership trick used by those who have been shut out in the past. Things getting uncomfortable up at the top? Gently remind everyone of old discrimination.

Story continues below…

But Westerwelle is Germany’s vice chancellor. And he must explain himself.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

22:27 March 15, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, I'm personally attracted to women only. Yet I realize that all people are not very conservative the way I am. Nonetheless, if I were the Chancelor of Deutschland, then I would surely be very considerate of my behavior while in public. There will always be a camera and the media.

Government officials are simply required to abide by more rules and ethics, than private citizens. It's rather difficult to understand why elected individuals don't realize this. Isn't this Logic 101?
02:20 March 16, 2010 by Talonx
But nobody is upset that he's gay, that's the point.

They're upset that he uses 'socialist' as a bad word (like it or not).

They're upset that he gives special business access to his boyfriend, friends, and family.

Not once has a commentator said anything about him being gay. Hell, most of those putting out opinion pieces from the opposition parties, have many times more gay members than the FDP or CDU/CSU. It would be like Michael Steele accusing Obama of being a racist.
10:34 March 17, 2010 by design
do you think they joined the mile high club on the way over?
18:29 March 19, 2010 by mikekoi
Homophobia is very rare, revulsion of the homosexual act is common. So let''s not fall into the trap of being categorised as afraid of male homosexuals. We can and do like homosexuals particularly in the entertainment industry. We can admire their talent and wish we were half as gifted. Everything can be shared and enjoyed except the private reality that makes them different enough to be described as homosexual.
14:52 March 22, 2010 by Deutschguy
@mike: "Homophobia is very rare, revulsion of the homosexual act is common."

Sorry, that is paradoxical. Your "revulsion", as you call it, is something maybe you need to work out with your therapist.

That is at the core of homophobia, which is far from rare. Homosexuals are jailed, beaten, and imprisoned in many parts of the world. Not so long ago in the US.

When I meet a non-gay man or woman, I don't immediately flash on how they have sex. If you are doing it when you meet a gay woman or man, the problem is with you, not them.
02:51 March 26, 2010 by whatzup
I'm revulsed by mindless violence too. Is that something I need to work out with my therapist as well?
11:24 March 29, 2010 by edmond
I can not understand where all this is heading to , the foreign minister have not fallen short of his expectation as the top diplomat officer for the federal government , I believe most people who are against him are just too scared that he is doing far better than they expected and having nothing against his as a minister they are heading to attack his private life , cheap politics can we call it so?
14:53 April 6, 2010 by berlinski
Who voted this A******* into government? He is going to destroy everything that working class Germans have worked for since the war.
Today's headlines
Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Parents who don't get nursery spot for kid entitled to pay
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents whose children don't receive placements in nursery care are entitled to compensation.

Eurowings braces as cabin crew union proclaims strike
Photo: DPA

A union representing cabin crew for Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings announced that strikes could take place at any time over the next two weeks, starting on Monday.

Mysterious German U-boat wreckage found off Scotland
Photo: ScottishPower

First World War U-boat "attacked by sea monster” thought to be found off Scottish coast.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd