Saturday, December 11, 2004

Follow-Up (Who Supports Yushchenko?): Geert Ahrens, German Foundations, and "Conspiracy Theories"

In a comment on Europe's Ukraine III: Who Supports Yushchenko? - Leftist Fantasies and German Realities, rabatjoie suggests: (1) that my remarks re. Germany amount to "a kind of conspiracy theory" a la Jonathan Steele's fable concerning American sponsorship of the "orange revolution"; (2) that Geert Ahrens is no more an agent of the German government than George Soros is one of the American government; and (3) that German political foundations like the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) are comparable to "big Washington think tanks". Well, uh: no, no and no. I have responded at length in the comments section, but since the response is precisely lengthy and since the details might have more general interest, I also reproduce it (slightly edited) here:

Geert-Hinrich Ahrens IS an agent of the German government. This is not part of any "conspiracy theory", it is quite simply and quite publicly the case. Ahrens is a long-time member of the German diplomatic corps and it was undoubtedly as such that he was seconded to the OSCE Ukraine Election Observer Mission, a decision which would normally have been made by the German Foreign Office. During his career in the German Foreign Service, Ahrens has held the following, among other, posts: Director for Asian Affairs in the Foreign Office, Ambassador to Colombia, and Ambassador to the International Conference for the Former Yugoslavia (in which capacity he was, frankly, intimately involved in creating the mess to which Niko alludes in his comment). What public function does George Soros discharge vis-a-vis the American government? Answer: none. So, let's get serious.

As for the political foundations, you are technically right that they have the nominal status of "non-governmental organizations" and as such are supposedly "independent". But such designations involve some remarkable conceptual contortions. The (massive) funding for the German foundations is systematically and by law assured out of the German federal budget, according to the calculus to which you allude: i.e. in proportion to the representation in the Bundestag of the parties with which they are associated. (And, btw, if the foundations are "independent" of the parties, why should such a calculus apply?) The Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), for instance, acknowledges that fully 97% of its financing comes from public sources [link in German]. There is no serious analogy to be drawn with American "think tanks", which are privately incorporated and privately funded (and none of which by the way have budgets on anywhere the order of the FES or the KAS). Moreover, unlike the German foundations, the American "think tanks" do not have any notable international presence or function.

Of course, the German political foundations are not organs of the German government in the narrow sense of the current red-green coalition. But, if one is not to twist the meaning of words beyond recognition, they quite obviously are organs of the German state. And when the government happens to be formed by the same party as, say, the party to which a given foundation is "near", then the, so to say, synergies are self-evident. The foundations are not directly subordinated to the respective party leaderships, but take a look sometime at the membership of their own directorships or assemblies: the degrees of separation are meager indeed. (Here, for instance, is the membership list for the KAS, which, unsurprisingly, reads like a veritable who's who of German Christian Democracy.)

Incidentally, a study published by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Office for Political Education) concludes - citing no less an authority than former German president Roman Herzog - that the political foundations constitute "the most effective and reliable instrument of German foreign policy" (hat tip [link in German]). Those who read German can consult the study here.

None of this has anything to do with “conspiracy theorizing” à la Jonathan Steele. Unlike Steele, all the facts I cite are public and can be easily verified by anyone with the requisite linguistic skills. Indeed, contrary to what you imply, I have not even proposed any particular interpretation of these facts. Your reaction suggests that perhaps they speak for themselves. But, in any case, readers may make of them whatever they like.