The Strangely Selective Memories of German Elites - Corruption

It has become customary for German media and politicians to accuse Russia of corruption while displaying collective amnesia when it comes to owing up to their own sins

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Written exclusively for RI by Roman Kut, our correspondent in Germany

For many years the German media and politicians have missed no opportunity to demonise the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. One of their favourite tactics has been to spread rumours about Putin’s supposed wealth.

<figcaption>The late Franz Josef Strauss is still referred to as "Landesvater" despite heavy suspicions of corruption</figcaption>
The late Franz Josef Strauss is still referred to as "Landesvater" despite heavy suspicions of corruption

Observers of international politics would not have missed the myriad German media allegations regarding the Russian President's wealth, as mainstream news outlets which have not included this topic on their agenda scarcely exist. It is reminiscent of a gaggle of grannies sitting on a bench whilst indulging one another in gossip and rumour-mongering.

This endless media blabbering is based upon either the testimony of characters who fell out with Mr. Putin or on the musings of Russo-phobic 'experts'. These 'facts' hardly deserve consideration, at least not when a news outlet wants to maintain credibility with its readers.

It is doubtful whether anybody knows or will ever know exactly how much money Mr. Putin has. It would be senseless to speculate about it because it is unlikely that exact figures, apart from those published on the official Kremlin website, could be obtained. If such an insatiable media appetite for gossip must be pursued, why focus only on Putin? Why not cast a glance at the treasure chests of other potentates?

German journalists should be aware that once there lived a “King” in the Federal State of Bavaria with the name of Franz Josef Strauss. Although he passed away more than a quarter century ago, his memory is still held in high esteem in Bavaria with his popularity only being eclipsed by Franz Beckenbauer (the legendary former German footballer and manager) and Jesus Christ.

He was one of the most skilled German post-war politicians but failed to become chancellor, not least due to his choleric character. One particularly apt episode illustrating this dates back to 1987 when, on December 27th, he personally piloted a Cessna containing his party's top leadership to a snow covered Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.

Upon being welcomed by the Soviet delegation, including the head of state Mr. Gorbachev himself, Strauss was asked whether this had been his first visit to the Soviet Union. According to Edmund Stoiber, a former Bavarian minister-president, Strauss replied: "No, but the first time I only reached Stalingrad."

The CSU (Christian Social Union) is the sister party of Chancellor Merkel's governing CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and the indisputable political force in Bavaria. Strauss was its chairman from 1961 until his death in 1988, and was also minister-president of Bavaria from 1978 until 1988.

There is no doubt that, thanks to his policies, Bavaria became a leading German state, however, there is a darker side to the life of Franz Josef Strauss.

“Power and Abuse” is the name of a book, written by Wilhelm Schlötterer, that appeared in Germany in recent years. Schlötterer spent decades working as a tax inspector in the Bavarian Ministry of Finance under Strauss where he was privy to many of its activities.

In his book, Schlötterer describes the vast extent of Strauss's apparent involvement in corrupt machinations and affairs, including the amounts of money involved. Schlötterer claims a figure of about 300 million German marks which Strauss earned partially through criminal activities and tax evasion - money likely inherited by his children.

When the book was published, Strauss's children sued Schlötterer and sought an injunction against it. The case lasted five years after which the court decided in the children's favour. In May this year, Munich prosecutors made a request to criminally indict Mr Schlötterer at a district court on the grounds that he is 'denigrating Strauss's memory' - an action covered in the German criminal code.

Moreover, a recent revelation by DER SPIEGEL shows that, in the period from 1964 to 1968, Strauss ran a letterbox company (typically a business established in a tax domicile with only a mailing address - Ed.) to which named companies, amongst them BMW, Daimler-Benz and Dornier, paid money without any ostensible service being provided by him. The payments, made during this period alone, add up to approximately 490.000 German Marks. The annual salary of a German minister of finance - one of the positions held by Strauss at that time - was 90.000 German Marks. In light of the multiple accusations Schlötterer made against Strauss, it is tempting to conclude that this SPIEGEL revelation is only the tip of the iceberg.

Despite the allegations contained in Schlötterer’s book and Strauss's numerous financial affairs, the Bavarian political elites are unwilling to besmirch the nimbus of a Bavarian CSU icon. Many still refer to Strauss as the "Landesvater" or "father of the nation". Certain politicians even demand that Strauss's bust be placed in the Bavarian Hall of Fame - Valhalla. Air travellers to Munich land at Franz Josef Strauss airport.

If the German mass media and politicians weren't so busy applying double standards in their assessments of who is good or bad, then at least one of their future proposals will be to call for a newly built airport in the Russian Federation to be named after Vladimir Putin.

I am convinced that, sooner or later, the Russian people themselves will adequately honour their current president's legacy.

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