Schadenfreude, the enjoyment of others' suffering, may be a famously German concept, but it is apparently not a feeling that many Germans aspire to. The political and public fallout following Chancellor Angela Merkel's statement on Monday that she was "glad" Osama bin Laden had been killed was among the most hotly debated topics in the German media this week.
Politicians, including those within her own center-right coalition, said that no death was cause for celebration, and reproved the remark as un-Christian and vengeful.
But Hamburg judge Heinz Uthmann went even further. He alleges that the chancellor's statement was nothing short of illegal, and filed a criminal complaint against Merkel midweek, the daily Hamburger Morgenpost reported Friday.
"I am a law-abiding citizen and as a judge, sworn to justice and law," the 54-year-old told the paper, adding that Merkel's words were "tacky and undignified."
In his two-page document, Uthmann, a judge for 21 years, cites section 140 of the German Criminal Code, which forbids the "rewarding and approving" of crimes. In this case, Merkel endorsed a "homicide," Uthmann claimed. The violation is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment or a fine.
"For the daughter of a Christian pastor, the comment is astonishing and at odds with the values of human dignity, charity and the rule of law," Uthmann told the newspaper.
A Sober German Reaction
While the judge's reaction may seem extreme, his sentiments are apparently shared by 64 percent of the German population. That was the proportion of Germans who said bin Laden's death was "no reason to rejoice" in a poll published by broadcaster ARD on Friday.
Among respondents who said they identified with Germany's three main opposition parties, an even greater proportion were disgusted with the jubilation over the al-Qaida leader's death. Their views mirror recent comments made by opposition politicians on the issue.
But even among supporters of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), barely half of those polled said they empathized with Merkel's view.
The chancellor has declined to withdraw her statement, but the outcry prompted government press spokesman Steffen Seibert to defend her on Thursday. "The reason for her happiness was the thought that this man would no longer pose any danger," he said, adding that her statement had been reported out of context.
Seibert added that Merkel "appreciates that those who heard only this sentence ... might have found the combination of the words 'death' and 'glad' in one phrase to be inappropriate."