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Gorbachev died at a time of ‘failed’ Russian democracy: German Chancellor Scholz

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday hailed Mikhail Gorbachev's role in reuniting Germany but lamented that the last Soviet leader's attempt to establish enduring democracy in Russia had "failed".

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Pariser Platz with the Brandenburg Gate behind him in Berlin, Germany, November 8th, 2014.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Pariser Platz with the Brandenburg Gate behind him in Berlin, Germany, November 8th, 2014. Photo: Jens Kalaene/dpa

“The democracy movements in central and eastern Europe benefited from the fact he was in power then in Russia,” Scholz said of the years leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

However Gorbachev “died at a time in which democracy has failed in Russia”.

Calling him a “courageous reformer” and “a statesman who dared a lot”, Scholz said his “perestroika”, Gorbachev’s drive to modernise the Soviet economy and society, had paved the way for broader “democracy and freedom in Europe”.

That new wind blowing at the end of the Cold War allowed “Germany to be unified and the Iron Curtain to disappear”, Scholz said.

He regretted the path Russia had taken in the intervening years and that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had “started a terrible war against a neighbour, Ukraine.

“That is all the more reason why we think of Mikhail Gorbachev and know what significance he had for the development of Europe and our own country in the last years.”     

Asked later whether he would consider attending Gorbachev’s funeral in Russia, which is subject to sweeping Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Scholz said it was “too soon” to discuss such a trip.

“But I will say that I hope he will be honoured in the way he deserves,” Scholz said.

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute Gorbachev as a “unique world politician” who demonstrated how “one single statesman can change the world for the better”.

“The images of his meeting with (West German) chancellor Helmut Kohl in the Caucasus in 1990 are unforgettable, with which Germany reunification in peace and freedom also came within reach,” said Merkel, who grew up in East Germany.

“Mikhail Gorbachev also fundamentally changed my life. I will never forget that.”

READ ALSO: 10 things you never knew about German reunification

Several other German politicians also paid tribute to the Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate shortly after his death.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a tweet: “Gorbachev was guided by peace and understanding between people at fateful moments in our history. The end of the Cold War and German unity are his legacy. We mourn the loss of a statesman to whom we are eternally grateful.”

Without Gorbachev, “the peaceful revolutions in the countries of the Eastern bloc, in our country, would not have been conceivable in this way,” said Bundestag Vice President and Green Party politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt on Twitter.

“His words have encouraged us, have made me, strong.”

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CITIZENSHIP

German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

Politicians will gather in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon for an urgent session on Germany's planned changes to citizenship law.

German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

According to information on the Bundestag website, the urgent discussion was scheduled on the request of the opposition CDU party, who have been fiercely critical of the planned reforms in recent days.

The debate, which is scheduled to start at 2:50pm and last an hour, will see MPs air their views on the government’s planned changes to citizenship law.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently in the process of drafting a bill that will simplify and speed up the naturalisation process in Germany, which she said this week is “as good as done”.  

The law will end a ban on dual nationality for non-EU citizens, meaning people from places like India, the USA and the UK can naturalise as Germans without losing their current citizenship – or citizenships. 

It also foresees a dramatic reduction in the amount of time it takes to become eligible for German citizenship.

In future, people would be able to naturalise after five years of residence in the country rather than the current eight, while people who speak good German or fulfil other integration criteria could naturalise after three years rather than six.

Additionally, the Interior Ministry wants to grant automatic German citizenship to the children of foreign parents – provided their parents have been in the country at least five years – and remove language requirements for members of the guest-worker generation who want to become German. 

READ ALSO:

‘We don’t need reform’

High-profile politicians from the CDU have slammed the government’s plans to ease citizenship rules, with parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei describing the move as an attempt to “sell-off” German passports as a “junk commodity”.

“We don’t need reform,” Frei told public broadcaster ZDF. “There would no majority whatsoever in any party’s supporters for this change.”

Earlier this week, CDU leader Friedrich Merz had argued that expediting the naturalisation process would damage integration and allow people to immigrate into the benefits system more easily. 

“The CDU will not close its mind to a further modernisation of immigration law and the citizenship law of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merz told a meeting of CDU and CSU MPs in Berlin on Tuesday.

“However, we also attach importance to the fact that the granting of citizenship takes place at the end of an integration process and not at the beginning of it.” 

The CDU and CSU have previously been vocal opponents of permitting dual nationality, arguing that holding more than one citizenship would prevent people from fully integrating into German life. 

Nevertheless, it remains unclear if the opposition will be able to block the legislation in any meaningful way.

If there aren’t any substantial changes to the core of the citizenship bill when the amendments are made, the Interior Ministry believes it won’t need to be put to a vote in the Bundesrat – the upper house where the CDU and CSU hold a majority.

Instead, the parties of the traffic-light coalition – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – would simply be able to vote it through in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?

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