ARD documentary about the former chancellor: Gerhard Schröder supports the country – and unreasonable about Putin

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He had a decisive influence on the recent history of the Federal Republic: Gerhard Schröder polarized people like no other former chancellor – to this day. Erste is now dedicating a critical documentary to the troubled pensioner on his 80th birthday.

He rose from working-class child to chancellor, saw himself as a hard worker, but many saw him as Armani's chancellor and “comrade of the bosses”. He decided in favor of Agenda 2010 and refused to support the US in the Iraq war. He led the first red-green federal government, eventually becoming a business lobbyist and maintaining a close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Not only did Gerhard Schröder decisively influence the course of the country in the recent past, he polarized people like few other politicians during his career – and to this day. When he turns 80 on April 7, the full-length portraits will be collected, declassified and critically re-evaluated. In the meantime, the former chancellor himself has his say in the unusual television documentary “Out of duty? – Gerhard Schröder's story', filmed for the first time for a special day of honor and initially available in the media collection.

“I decided it was better to say something than to say nothing.”

“Lately, a lot has been said about him – rarely with him,” begins the documentary, for which the celebrant was followed on camera for months – from the Hanover golf course to far away China. The film was shot by Lucas Stratmann, who recently caused a stir with a worthy portrait of another, much younger social democrat: the filmmaker received a lot of praise and a German TV award for the documentary “Kevin Kühnert and the SPD” (2021). .

In his new documentary, Stratmann approaches the person of Schröder similarly intimately, critically and with a sense of strange details. Whether philosophizing about the right golf strategy, during a trip in the airport's VIP lounge or during interviews at the Schröder law office in Hanover: his wife Soyeon Schröder-Kim is almost always by his side and is also present in the documentary. public attention to his Instagram posts and political issues.

“Of course, people still see me as someone who played an important role in Germany,” Schröder describes his self-image. “That's exactly how it was.” He also presents himself as a pro-state figure, a play that author Stratmann, as with Kühnertig, cleverly and calmly reveals. The former chancellor doesn't much care for this exposure and probing – we know that from his tenure: “If the first one does something, it's critical anyway. But I decided that it's better to say something than not say anything,” Schröder arrogantly comments on the documentary, which is critical just because of the way of observation.

“I'm sometimes a little different than others”

Schröder has a lot to say. For example, about his 60-year membership in the SPD and his distancing from German politics in recent years. But above all, his friendship with Vladimir Putin after the Russian attack on Ukraine, his long silence about the war and his role in the peace talks between Istanbul and Moscow in March 2022. Exclusive private recordings from that time provide rare insights into Schröder's works. mediation attempts, who would have liked to portray themselves as peacekeepers. However, the former chancellor rejects the interviewer's blunders about whether he asked Putin in a conversation with Putin about the motives for attacking Ukraine, that it is not a “moral question”.

Of course, Putin's Russia is not a “Westminster democracy”, but it is also a “flaw” that he can change it. He continues to rely on dialogue, says Schröder, who is ambivalent about Russia. There's a reason why the documentary devotes so much space to Schröder's relationship with Putin: here, the controversial pensioner in the past and most recently offended, here the former chancellor's ambivalent relationship with German society comes out most clearly. “I'm a bit different than others sometimes,” he says knowingly at one point. In this sense, “Out of Service?” a regular documentary. But rather “an attempt to get closer to a former German statesman who is estranged from Germany,” as the announcement says.

He is still invited and received – for example at the German Unity Day ceremony at Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie. But every Schröder appearance, every handshake and public conversation can now turn into a scandal. The lobbying of Gazprom and Nordstream, the close relationship with Putin, the half-hearted condemnation of Russia's war of aggression (“There were many mistakes – on both sides”) – everything was and is being blamed on Schröder. One of the key questions the hour-long documentary explores is whether it will ultimately call into question his entire political legacy.

“It doesn't bother me at all”

The birthday boy himself seems at least at peace in front of the camera: “It doesn't bother me at all,” he says with a typical Schröder smile when he is once again publicly criticized. Doubts seem foreign to the out-of-work chancellor. He does not see himself isolated anyway, not even in the SPD – apart from “a few officials” who Schröder describes as “poor people”. His party leadership should wonder why the SPD is behind the AfD in the polls.

Perhaps the balance also has to do with the fact that Schröder does not have to complain about the lack of admirers outside of Germany. Although he is treated as persona non grata in this country, his ego is still played down elsewhere. As during his tenure, the former chancellor is committed to good economic relations with China. Schröder is proud to announce that he even has the honorary title of old friend of the Chinese people. Consequently, he considers it “extraordinary” that the German foreign minister would describe the Chinese head of state as a “dictator”.

In the Middle Kingdom, where the author Stratmann accompanies Schröder and his wife, the ex-politician, sometimes described as not exactly undemanding, is received with all the honor. Here, as the grotesque scenes show, Gerhard Schröder is still considered an old-school statesman. “Like he's still in office,” a voice says, while a flag-waving children's choir is seen singing and saluting Schröder. Does he travel to receptions and factory tours as Germany's representative in China? “I wouldn't claim that for myself,” Schröder replies with a phrase you hear very often in the documentary.

“I have had to endure a lot of injustice”

The film follows the most important stages of Gerhard Schröder's political career with the help of archival footage: his time with Jusode, his rise to the Bundestag and Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, the formation of a “friendship of men” with Putin, no to the Iraq war, the question of trust. Schröder has always been offended, as the reviews of the jovial character of the “new center” chancellor remind us. Also illustrated is the sometimes devastating criticism in the press and on television that Schröder encountered and has encountered. From a subjective point of view, he had to “endure a lot of injustice,” the former chancellor complains in the film.

But Gerhard Schröder also says: “I decide together with my wife what I think is right.” He “never allowed himself to be greatly impressed—and it remains so.” Even his 80th birthday “doesn't depend on who I get a congratulatory letter from.” These are claims that are readily accepted from the controversial jubilee.

“Out of work? – The story of Gerhard Schröder” can be seen on Monday, April 8 at 21:00 on Erste and in advance in the media library.

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This article, “Gerhard Schröder supports the state – and unreasonable on the Putin issue” was originally from Teleschau.

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