By Uwe Siemon-Netto
Germany’s next vice chancellor will most likely be a young man who does not fit the stereotype of a German. Philipp Rösler, 38, looks Asian because he is a native Vietnamese, and he has a wonderful sense of humor utterly devoid of the political correctness that is currently stifling the country’s cultural climate. To the hilarity of a Bavarian audience he described the occasional tiffs between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her current deputy and foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, as “Zickenterror,” meaning a rapport of bickering bitches; Westerwelle is openly homosexual.
In May, the liberal Free Democrat Party (FDP), junior partner in Merkel’s coalition government, is expected to elect Rösler its new leader succeeding Westerwelle who has announced his intention to resign this position in the aftermath of the FDP’s crushing defeat in recent state elections. Rösler, an eye doctor, will also become vice chancellor while retaining his current position as health minister.
Westerwelle insists on remaining foreign minister, much to the dismay of prominent German commentators. Günther Nonnenmacher, publisher of the venerable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, bluntly called Westerwelle’s foreign policy a failure and accused him of clinging to his position solely for reasons of prestige. Westerwelle is generally held responsible for Germany’s disgraceful abstention in the U.N. Security Council’s vote to enforce a no-flying zone over Libya militarily thus breaking rank with her NATO partners.
Rösler, an orphan from in Soc Trang in southern Vietnam, was adopted by a German couple when he was nine months old. He grew up in Hamburg, did his military service in the German Army’s medical corps, studied medicine and specialized in ophthalmology. According to idea, a Protestant news service, he became a “committed Christian” 11 years ago while working in a catholic hospital where he was “confronted with suffering and death.”
When Rösler was baptized, his girlfriend Wiebke, who is also a physician, was his Godmother. The two later married and now have twin daughters. Rösler is now a member of the “Central Committee of German Catholics,” the umbrella organization of Catholic lay organizations.
A devout Catholic as leader of Germany’s pro-business liberal party is a novelty. The FDP used to have strong anti-clerical and antireligious currents. But this era is over, according to its general secretary Christian Lindner who announced that German liberalism should from now on be “post-secular.”
Rösler is the first Asian-born member of the federal government in Berlin. His stellar career from eye doctor to minister of economics in the northern state of Lower Saxony and then minister of health in Merkel’s cabinet is in line with the astounding success the 35,000 South Vietnamese immigrants who came for the former West Germany after the fall of Saigon to Communist forces in 1975, and have extraordinarily well in their host country’s professions, businesses and academia.
By contrast, the 70,000 North Vietnamese imported as “guest laborers” by the former East Germany have not done well because the Communist regime kept them largely segregated from the German population. To this day many eek out their living as black market cigarette vendors.
Rösler’s likely election to the presidency of his party is expected to herald a new era in Germany’s political style. Rösler is spearheading a growing movement among young politicians promoting “a softer discourse,” “more authentic warmth,” and “modesty,” according to the weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. This marks a welcome contrast to the shrillness and self-centeredness, which, along with a dearth of humor, is still typical of much of their nation’s public discourse.
With Rösler around, this is changing. Last year he amused an audience by remarking that Germans can now buy a Barbie doll with the features of Chancellor Merkel for only 20 Euros ($28). But then he added in reference to Merkel’s preferred garment, “The problem is that each of these dolls comes with 40 trouser suits, and that makes them really expensive.”
Uwe Siemon-Netto, the former religious affairs editor of United Press International, has been an international journalist for 54 years, covering North America, Vietnam, the Middle East and Europe for German publications. Dr. Siemon-Netto currently directs the League of Faithful Masks and Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in Irvine, California.