Politics and Plagiarism in Germany

There’s a new plagiarism scandal in the German Bundestag! [link in German]

“A nation reveals the nature of its political culture in its choice of scandals.” That’s not a maxim, but it ought to be. I first thought of it in 1992, when the German economics minister and vice-chancellor Jürgen Mölleman was forced to resign because of what was called the “Letterhead affair”: He had used departmental stationary to write in support of a relative’s business marketing to wholesalers a plastic chip that shoppers could keep in their wallets and use instead of a 1-mark coin as the deposit on a shopping trolley. “A clever idea!” he enthused. (“Eine pfiffige Idee.”) At the time I thought it reflected well on German politics, that they could hatch a scandal of such unrelieved banality; I compared it with Italy, where at the same time politicians in the pay of organised crime barely rated a mention in the national news unless underaged prostitutes were involved.

In the past couple of years the German government has been repeatedly roiled by plagiarism scandals. What? I hear you cry. How can a politician commit plagiarism? (Barack Obama refusing to admit that his first book was ghostwritten by Mumia Abu Jamal isn’t plagiarism.) Okay, there was Joseph Biden cribbing his stump speech from Neil Kinnock, but plagiarism is one of those crimes that only certain people can commit — like adultery, or violating the secrecy of the confessional — and those people are writers and academics. Politicians aren’t paid for original turns of phrase. Continue reading “Politics and Plagiarism in Germany”