Friday, February 24, 2012

Joachim Gauck

Joachim Gauck (born 24 January 1940) is a German politician, Protestant pastor, and former anti-communist civil rights activist in East Germany. On 19 February 2012, he was agreed on as a nonpartisan consensus candidate for President of Germany in the 2012 election by the government parties CDU, CSU and FDP, and the opposition SPD and the Alliance '90/The Greens.

During the Revolutions of 1989, he was a co-founder of the New Forum opposition movement in East Germany, which contributed to the downfall of the Soviet-backed dictatorship of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In 1990 he served as a member of the only freely elected People's Chamber for the Alliance 90. Following the Reunification of Germany, he was elected by the Bundestag as the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, serving from 1990 to 2000. As Federal Commissioner, he earned recognition as a "Stasi hunter" and "tireless pro-democracy advocate," exposing the crimes of the former communist political police.

He was nominated as the candidate of the SPD and the Greens for President of Germany in the 2010 election, but narrowly lost to Christian Wulff, the candidate of the government coalition. However, his candidacy was met by significant approval of the population and the media; Der Spiegel described him as "the better President" and Bild called him "the president of hearts."

A son of a survivor of a Soviet Gulag concentration camp, Gauck's political life was heavily influenced by the suffering of his own family and his upbringing in the totalitarian communist regime of East Germany, where his family faced discrimination. A founding signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, together with Václav Havel and other statesmen, and the Declaration on Crimes of Communism, Gauck has called for increased awareness of communist crimes in Europe, the prosecution of communist criminals, and for the necessity of delegitimizing the communist era. He has written on Soviet-era concentration camps such as the NKVD Special Camp No. 1, the crimes of communism, and political oppression in East Germany, and contributed to The Black Book of Communism. Gauck has criticized the political left of ignoring communist crimes. His 2012 book Freedom. A Plea calls for the defense of freedom and human rights around the globe. The Independent has described him as "Germany's answer to Nelson Mandela." He has been described by Chancellor Angela Merkel as a "true teacher of democracy" and a "tireless advocate of freedom, democracy, and justice."

Since 2003, he has been chairman of the association Gegen Vergessen – Für Demokratie, and he served on the Management Board of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia 2001–2004.

Early Life
Joachim Gauck was born into a family of sailors in Rostock, the son of Joachim Gauck, Sr. (born 1907), and Olga Gauck (née Warremann, born 1910). His father was an experienced ship's captain and distinguished naval officer (Captain at Sea), who after World War II worked as an inspector at the Neptun Werft shipbuilding company. Following the Soviet occupation at the end of World War II, a communist regime was established in what became East Germany, backed by the Soviet Union. The family was a victim of Soviet persecution. When Joachim Gauck was eleven years old, in 1951, his father "disappeared" after being arrested by Soviet occupation forces. He was accused of espionage for receiving a letter from the West and also of "anti-Soviet demagogy" for being in the possession of a western journal on naval affairs (such accusations were common against people who were persecuted for being non-communists in all countries of eastern Europe under Soviet occupation) and deported to a Gulag in Siberia, where he was severely mistreated. For nearly three years, the family knew nothing about what had happened to him and whether he was still alive. Only in 1955, he was freed, following a state visit of Konrad Adenauer to Moscow, who negotiated the release of political prisoners (the Soviet Union released many political prisoners in the years following the death of Joseph Stalin).

He graduated with an Abitur from Innerstädtisches Gymnasium in Rostock. According to Joachim Gauck, his political activities were inspired by the ordeal of his father, and he stated that he grew up with a "well-founded anti-communism". Already in school in East Germany, he made no secret of his anti-communist position, and he steadfastly refused to join the communist youth movement, the Free German Youth. He wanted to study German and become a journalist, but because he wasn't a communist, he wasn't allowed to do so. Instead he chose to study theology and become a pastor in the Protestant church in Mecklenburg; he has stated that his primary intention was not to become a pastor, but the theology studies offered an opportunity to study philosophy and the church was one of the few institutions in East Germany where the communist ideology was not dominating. Nevertheless, he would eventually become a pastor; his work as a pastor in East Germany was very difficult due to the hostility of the communist regime towards the church, and for many years, he was under constant observation and was harassed by the Stasi secret police. The Stasi described Gauck in their file on him as an "incorrigible anti-communist" ("unverbesserlicher Antikommunist"). He has said that "at the age of nine, I knew socialism was an unjust system."

Personal Life
Gauck is legally married to Gerhild "Hansi" Gauck (née Radtke), his childhood sweetheart whom he met at ten, but the couple has been separated since 1991. They were married in 1959, at 19, despite his father's opposition, and have four children: sons Christian (born 1960) and Martin (born 1962), and daughters Gesine (born 1966) and Katharina (born 1979). Christian, Martin and Gesine were able to leave East Germany and emigrate to West Germany in the late 1980s, while Katharina, still a child, remained with her parents. His children were discriminated against and denied the right to education by the communist regime because their father was a pastor.

Since 2000, his domestic partner has been Daniela Schadt, a journalist.

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