Death of a President

The death of a leader provides a moment to pause and reflect on the values, achievements and failures of the person leaving us. Johannes Rau, who died on January 27, 2006 made a deep impression on his fellow Germans during his time as president. Brought up in a Christian home his faith was an integr

al part of his public service. So evident was this that his fellow citizens used to jokingly – and affectionately – refer to him as Bruder Johannes, Brother John.

We too, even at a distance, can admire a man who lived his faith and expressed his convictions with courage, whether they pleased or angered his hearers. He was the first German leader to make an address in the Israeli parliament in German. He asked for forgiveness for the Holocaust when millions of Jews were killed during World War Two. Some Jewish MPs walked out at first but they came back when they realized the reconciliatory content of his message. In fact one of his great themes was ‘reconciliation not conflict.’

This did not prevent him from being fairly blunt when he felt called to be so. He took the Chinese leaders to task for the their human rights record when on a state visit there in 2003. His final address, before leaving office in 2004, was not a cosy ‘feel good’ message. He accused businessmen and officials in government of ‘shamelessly lining their own pockets’ while workers faced job insecurity.

Egotism, greed and self-righteousness in parts of the so-called elite are weakening people’s trust in institutions, especially when their representatives have clearly lost all sense of moderation. Citizens often don’t believe what they hear and see any more. All too often, they have the experience that they can’t trust what they’re being told.

Here was a man who had spent a lifetime in public service and constantly appealed to the higher nature in his hearers. He was not interested in telling them what would please them unless it was the truth. Often people, for example when jobs were scarce, could think of blaming the so-called ‘guest workers’ (immigrants from Turkey and other countries). A politician might feel the attraction of exploiting this public feeling but Bruder Johannes said, ‘No one with political responsibility must give in to the temptation to capitalize on anti-foreigner moods.’

We recognize integrity when we see it. And we can particularly rejoice when we see it in public life.

Post published in: Opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *