Gauck, Joachim (Germany)
Joachim Gauck was elected president on 18 March 2012. His appointment alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel meant that the two most senior positions in government were held by East Germans for the first time since reunification. Gauck is best known as a pro-democracy activist who has exposed crimes committed by the secret police (the Stasi) in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Gauck was born on 24 Jan. 1940 in the town of Rostock. In 1951 his father was arrested by Soviet forces on charges of espionage and served 3 years in a Soviet prison, an event that moulded Joachim’s political beliefs.
Gauck refused to join the communist Free German Youth movement and was denied the opportunity of becoming a journalist. Instead, he studied theology and became a Lutheran pastor, a position which brought him into conflict with the ruling communist regime and to the attention of the Stasi.
In 1989 Gauck became spokesman for the New Forum, a pro-democratic opposition movement, taking part in the series of peaceful demonstrations that led the way to the regime’s collapse. After the dissolution of the GDR in Oct. 1990, the new federal government appointed him as a special representative to research the Stasi archives. In this role, which he held until 2000, he investigated crimes perpetrated by the secret police in the period of communist rule.
Gauck ran for the presidency in 2010 backed by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens. He was narrowly defeated by the governing coalition candidate, Christian Wulff, after three parliamentary ballots. When Wulff resigned in Feb. 2012 in the wake of a corruption scandal, Gauck was again put forward by the SPD and Greens and this time gained the support of Merkel’s coalition. He faced one opponent, ‘Nazi hunter’ Beate Klarsfeld, who was proposed by the Left Party. In a vote by the Federal Assembly on 18 March, Gauck took 991 votes against 126 for Klarsfeld, with 108 abstentions.
A charismatic and popular figure, Gauck’s election was seen by some commentators as threatening the authority of Chancellor Merkel, who had opposed his initial candidacy in 2010. He has controversially called for a more vigorous German approach to, and involvement in, international diplomacy.
In June 2016 Gauck announced that he would not seek a second mandate. In Feb. 2017 Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected to succeed him. Gauck left office on 18 March 2017.