Column power: telegram to tehran

You don’t make foreign policy with fairy lights: It is ex officio right that President Steinmeier congratulated the regime in Tehran.

It’s all right, Frank-Walter Steinmeier: Often it’s simply a matter of friendly representation Photo: dpa

Be careful when introducing new traditions and habits. Once established, they are usually difficult to do away with without offending someone. Long-term upsets are often the result. What applies to unwaveringly loyal New Year’s Eve celebrations or the once seemingly romantic idea of forever celebrating one’s wedding anniversary at the same Italian restaurant around the corner also applies to relationships between states. The controversy surrounding German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s congratulatory telegram on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution is a case in point.

There are good, spontaneously wonderfully plausible reasons for criticizing Telegram. The Iranian regime systematically violates human rights in its own country and pursues an aggressive, militaristic course that has already claimed untold lives. Congratulations on the dictatorship? I’d rather not.

But it was precisely not Steinmeier who started this practice as German president, and this argument is not an attempt to point the finger at others in order to deflect attention from an individual’s mistake. Rather, it is politically relevant. Anyone who breaks with a tradition, however unfortunate it may be, sends out a signal.

Nothing but routine

The European Union regrets the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran. The differences of opinion between the transatlantic allies are – also – persistent and profound on this issue. And at this time of all times, the German head of state is not supposed to send a telegram that has been routinely sent in recent years without a cock or hen crowing about it so far? Anyone who thinks that this question is primarily about a principled discussion of values is also likely to believe that foreign policy can be shaped with fairy lights.

This text was taken from the taz am wochenende. Always available from Saturday on the newsstand, in the eKiosk or immediately in the practical weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

If Steinmeier had not telegraphed, he would have done something that is precisely not his office: Namely, he would have sent a political signal. There is a difference between the German Chancellor warmly congratulating the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on his election as chairman of the African Union and the German President sending his congratulations to the Iranian regime. She governs, he represents. Would the Foreign Office have been thrilled if Steinmeier had not telegraphed to Tehran this time? Hardly.

One can find the office of the Federal President superfluous. Another topic. At present, the office exists, and the basic idea behind its construction is the desire for a head of state who, beyond day-to-day political disputes, represents what unites the democratic public. To be able to do this, however, he or she also needs a certain amount of freedom. And a fund of trust that does not have to apply to the person. But the office does.

When the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany publicly expresses sharp criticism of the Federal President or – just as publicly – the question of whether he should be welcome at the Protestant Kirchentag is discussed, these are dramatic events. No matter how small the interest of a broad public in a democratic issue may be.

Were those involved aware of what they were doing? Did they want it? If not, and there is much to suggest that they were not, then they must ask themselves how much respect they have for the democratic institutions of this country. And the values associated with them.