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by Euro Reporter
2012-03-20 10:05:45
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Activist pastor elected German president

Activist pastor Joachim Gauck was elected German president by an overwhelming majority Sunday, marking the first time a candidate from the former communist east will be head of state. Gauck, 72, claimed 991 votes out of 1,232 from a special assembly of MPs and other dignitaries, parliamentary speaker Norbert Lammert said, against prominent Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, 73, who was nominated as a protest candidate by the socialist Left party.

"What a beautiful Sunday," Gauck said to enthusiastic applause from the chamber of the glass-domed Reichstag parliament building in central Berlin after the vote. It was the third presidential election in three years for Germany after the abrupt resignations of Gauck's two predecessors. Gauck helped drive the peaceful revolution that brought down communist East Germany and later fought to ensure that the public would be granted access to the vast stash of files left behind by the despised Stasi secret police after reunification in 1990. He oversaw the archive for the next decade.

In a short acceptance speech, he noted that his election fell on the 22nd anniversary of the first free elections in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous November. "After 26 years of dictatorship we were finally able to become citizens," he said. "I knew then that I would never miss another election." Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also grew up under communism, gave her backing to the plain-spoken Lutheran pastor in February after then president Christian Wulff stepped down amid a flurry of corruption allegations dating from his time as a state premier. Wulff only served 20 months of his five-year term in office.


Court orders Nazi-seized art returned

Berlin museum ordered to return to 74-year-old American Jew posters worth between $6M and $21M. 'It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back,' man says. Germany's top federal appeals court ruled Friday that a Berlin museum must return to a Jewish man from the US thousands of rare posters that were seized from his father by the Gestapo, saying that for the institution to keep them would be perpetuating the crimes of the Nazis. The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe said Peter Sachs, 74, was the rightful owner of the posters, now believed to be worth between 4.5 million and 16 million Euros ($6 million and $21 million), and can demand their return from the German Historical Museum.

The ruling appears to bring to an end some seven years of legal battles to have the vast collection of posters dating back to the late 19th century returned.  "I can't describe what this means to me on a personal level," Peter Sachs, the son of collector Hans Sachs, told The Associated Press in an e-mailed statement after the ruling. "It feels like vindication for my father, a final recognition of the life he lost and never got back." The case ended up with Karlsruhe court because of the posters' unique and tumultuous journey through more than 70 years of German history, in which they were stolen from Sachs by the Nazis' Gestapo, moved on to the possession of communist East Germany, then to the Berlin museum after reunification.

The court acknowledged that Peter Sachs did not file for restitution of the posters by the official deadline for such claims, and that the post-war restitution regulations instituted by the Western Allies could not be specifically applied in his case. But the judges ruled that the spirit of the laws was clearly on Sachs' side. Not to return the posters "would perpetuate Nazi injustice," the judges wrote. "This cannot be reconciled with the purpose of the Allied restitution provisions, which were to protect the rights of the victims." A total of 4,259 posters have been so-far identified as having belonged to Sachs' father. They were among a collection of 12,500 that his father owned, which include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies and consumer products, as well as political propaganda - all rare, with only small original print runs. It is not clear what happened to the remainder.


Opposition head rues referring to Hebron situation as ‘apartheid’

The leader of Germany's main opposition party acknowledged that he may have gone too far when he wrote on Facebook that Israel is running an "apartheid regime" in Hebron. Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party, said Thursday that the choice of words he used on the social network the previous day had been "drastic." "But that is exactly how the Palestinians in Hebron experience the situation," he said. "This drastic terminology came to mind for me, and not only for me, during our discussions and visits in Hebron."

Gabriel's original remarks following a visit to Hebron this week spread rapidly on the social network. "It's a zone without legal rights for Palestinians," he wrote. "It is an apartheid regime, and there's no justification for it." Gabriel in Thursday's comments said he never intended to compare Israel with the former regime in South Africa "because this comparison would be worse than unfair to Israel, and would also have the effect of downplaying" the crimes of the apartheid state. His original statement came as Israel was reeling from a series of rocket attacks from Gaza. The comments elicited hundreds of impassioned responses attacking and supporting Gabriel, and prompted an outcry from political and Jewish leaders. Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, posted a response on his own Facebook site calling Gabriel's comment "idiocy" that reflected poorly on his party.

While agreeing that the situation for some 180,000 Palestinians in Hebron is a "catastrophe" due to the actions of a "few hundred very, very radical settlers," this does not amount to apartheid, Kramer said. "It's a stupid comparison." Deidre Berger, head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, told JTA that the comment "exceeds all acceptable boundaries to a critical discussion about Israel and compares one of Germany's closest allies to a racist, nondemocratic state." The Jewish caucus of the Social Democratic Party also found Gabriel's comments inappropriate. Gregor Wettberg, co-chair of the Berlin Brandenburg chapter of the caucus, said it was perfectly fair to criticize the situation for Palestinians in Hebron, which "is not in any way positive for the State of Israel or something that needs to be supported or defended by Jews or anyone." But it is neither accurate nor wise to use the word apartheid, he said. "We all know in Germany, and he should know it, too, that the term is used by certain kinds of people in a certain kind of way ... to express their general dislike of Israel," Wettberg said.

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