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June, 2004 - Nr. 6

 

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Concert Season's End
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Pearls in Color
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German Beauty in Troy
A Truly Canadian Experience
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Returned to Bremen
Bach Festival 100th
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New Immigration Law
US Author in Berlin
German Olympians
Training for Olympics
Bremen Captures Trophy

President Gives Farewell Pep Talk to Gloomy Germans

  TWIG - In his nationally televised farewell speech to the nation, President Johannes Rau took his fellow Germans to task for their stubborn tendency to see the glass as half empty.

Rau said that widespread gloom is hampering the countryís economic prospects and even threatening to undermine its post-war political order.

"I donít know of any other country where so many people in authority so eagerly talk down their own country," Rau, who will step down on May 23 after a single five-year term, said on Wednesday.

"Have we put ourselves down to the point that we donít believe in ourselves anymore?" Rau asked. "Arenít we sometimes approaching a kind of collective depression?"

Rauís speech came amidst a growing sense of doubt about the future of Germanyís powerhouse economy.

Europeí largest economy has only recently shown signs of a nascent recovery after three years of near-zero growth. Unemployment is still stubbornly high at over 10%, with the jobless rate much higher in the formerly communist eastern part of the country.

Afraid that jobs will be shifted abroad and unsettled by unpopular welfare cuts imposed by Chancellor Gerhard Schroederís government, cautious German consumers are saving, rather than spending, their disposable income.

While acknowledging peopleís fears, Rau warned that brooding pessimism could become a self-fulfilling prophesy by hampering investment and bring consumer spending to a standstill.

Rau, who has held the largely ceremonial post of head of state since 1999, said everyone shared the blame for a "deep crisis of confidence," but reserved his sharpest criticism for politicians.

Rau lambasted public officials and business executives who "unabashedly line their own pockets" while citizens are being asked to accept painful cuts to social welfare programs.

Attacking policy making failures by Chancellor Schroederís government and the conservative opposition alike, Rau said that cynicism and apathy were dangerously widespread.

"Habitual mistrust of politics undermines the foundations of democracy and is a wide open door for populists and terrible simplifiers of all kinds," he argued.

Rau said that there was no easy solution to the crisis, but he suggested that Germans should take personal responsibility and relearn the importance civic engagement by joining community groups.

He said Germans had good reason to hold their heads up high. "We have daring entrepreneurs, internationally renowned researchers and scientists, creative engineers and highly skilled employees."

Rau was holding the "Berlin Lecture," an annual tradition begun in the 1997 by his predecessor Roman Herzog to address pressing public policy issues.
Republished with permission from "The Week in Germany"

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