What does it take to bring down a head of state? In Germany it took only nine days and 138 characters.
While the rest of the world’s media is busy following the Gaza flotilla raid, a different story dominated Germany’s news this week: Horst Köhler, German President, unexpectedly resigned on 31 May. This has never happened in the history of post-WW2 Germany. Some fear it might even shake the foundations of German democratic institutions.
Köhler resigned over a statement he gave in an interview to a German radio station about the country’s military mission in Afghanistan. In that interview on 22 May he suggested that military engagement is necessary to protect Germany’s economic interests. Considering the country’s history and the current debate about its military presence in Afghanistan, this was quite a surprising statement.
Now German public television channel ZDF has reconstructed what happened between the start – that is, the interview- and the end – the resignation- of this story. In its piece “Köhler von Blogger zu Fall gebracht?” (“did a blogger bring Köhler down?”) ZDF-reporter Florian Neuhann explains how a German blogger might be responsible for having started a wave of outcry that ended up in the President stepping down.
In fact, at first, no one took notice of Köhler’s words. No one, that is, in the mass media. In the internet, on blogs and on Twitter though, his statement was getting a lot of attention.
Then, a student wrote about it in his blog, criticizing German media for being silent on it. Frustrated, he sent a message through Twitter to all major German media outlets with a link to Köhler’s interview and demanded answers.
Only then, about five days after the interview took place, German media finally took a closer look at it.
From now on the topic dominated the headlines. The statement soon turned into a scandal and politicians from the opposition demanded an explanation from Köhler. Finally, on 31 May, the President resigned with immediate effect, over what he said was intense criticism about his comments on Germany’s military role in the world, which he said had been misunderstood.
It seems like only 138 characters on Twitter made the difference. It forced the mass media to put something on the agenda that it had overseen. It is another perfect example of how grassroots can use blogs and micro-blogging for spurring and influencing the public debate, as well as spreading the word. It is both a form of activism, as well as a provider of a control tool for the population towards their politicians.
by Gabriela Keseberg Dávalos, journalist