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NSA Scandal

Opinion: Germany's rejection of Snowden is cowardly

The German chancellor claims to have learned a lot of interesting facts through Edward Snowden. The fact that Germany is now refusing to take Snowden in shows a lack of political courage, writes DW's Jens Thurau.

No German politician knows him personally - except Hans-Christian Ströbele from the Green Party. Despite this, Berlin's political circles have hardly focused as much attention on any one person in the last 12 months as on Edward Snowden. Depending on the standpoint, he has been described as a former US intelligence service employee, an NSA snitch, a whistleblower, a lawbreaker, a hero of freedom and an asylum seeker.

The mainstream opinion of the pale young man currently receiving asylum in Russia has changed greatly since mid-2013. But one thing has remained the same: Germany has no intention to support him while the US, an important ally, makes attempts get him back on home soil to charge him with betraying state secrets. There is not enough courage and political will on the German side, and this doesn't make German politics look good.

A year ago, Germany was still ruled by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) - and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the opposition advocated the idea of granting Snowden asylum in Germany. But after the last federal election, when the SPD became part of the ruling coalition, the party dropped the topic altogether.

Jens Thurau
(Photo: DW/D. Engels)

DW's Jens Thurau

For the CDU, meanwhile, Snowden was first and foremost a suspicious figure - a person who betrayed the US, fled to Russia and was taken in by Vladimir Putin of all people. But then came the NSA scandal, one shocking report after another: systematic espionage by the NSA on German soil, including the bugging of the chancellor's cell phone. It was a wave of revelations, initiated by Snowden. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that as a result she learned things she didn't know before.

Not such great friends anymore

And the US? Washington is shrugging off the whole scandal and refuses to enter into a No-Spy-Agreement with Germany. On a scorching summer's day in Berlin in 2013, Barack Obama faced a crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate, removed his jacket and declared, "We can be a little more informal among friends."

Among friends? Is large-scale eavesdropping a part of friendship? America's image is rapidly deteriorating in Germany and a parliamentary inquiry committee is looking into the NSA matter. All parties, including the CDU, now want to hear Snowden speak as a witness. Despite this, the stance against him remains firm: Snowden must not come to Germany - neither as an asylum seeker nor as anything else. Sorry, but German-American relations are just too important.

Justice minister aggravates the situation

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has now packed the knockout punch, saying that Snowden should return to the US if Russia doesn't extend his asylum permit. Well, thank you, how kind! Although Snowden probably does want to return home some day, it's probably not at this point in time, when he faces a possible life prison sentence.

But Maas' statements most likely reflect the attitude of many German politicians: a bit of gratitude for Snowden's NSA disclosures but a refusal to help him. "Others" should help him - maybe Brazil. And for now he can stay in Moscow, under the protection of the press-despising Putin. You can hear the German politicians exhale.

None of this brings any glory to German politics. But despite the government's attitude, 55 percent of those surveyed in Germany are in favor of granting asylum to Snowden. I am one of them.

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