Gigantic, multi-billion-euro bank bailouts are one thing. But if we are to truly get a grip on the financial crisis, we might have to take more drastic action. Why not throw a few bankers behind bars -- starting with Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank?
Sure, it sounds absurd. But Germany's far-left Left Party has never been a group to shy away from a bit of populism. The idea to arrest Ackermann comes from the party's newly crowned candidate for the German presidency, Peter Sodann.
If he were a (fictional) federal police commissioner, Sodann said, "I would arrest Mr. Ackermann, the head of Deutsche Bank," he told the Sächsische Zeitung on Thurdsay. "They would throw me out, of course, but at least I would have done it."
Germany, of course, doesn't have a federal police commissioner. But until last year Peter Sodann played a fictional police commissioner in Germany's top television crime show called "Tatort" (or "Scene of the Crime" as it was known when it became one of the few German serials to cross the Atlantic and played on a minor PBS affiliate in Virginia). Sodann is the German equivalent of the folksy actor Fred Thompson running for U.S. president last year -- with the difference that Sodann has even less chance of being elected.
Still, his comments have generated a minor media storm in Germany. Ackermann immediately fired back, saying in the tabloid Bild that it was "outrageous that someone who is running for the highest office in a democratic state says such a thing." He added, "I am gradually becoming worried about this country."
But so is the Left Party, as its leaders have made known. Party co-chair Gregor Gysi thinks the media storm has been augmented by the fact that Sodann grew up in the former East Germany. Referring to the critical firestorm over Sodann's comments, Gysi told the magazine Super Illu, "If a similar personality came from the west, such insulting comments (in the media) would not have been made."
The Left-Party's other co-chair, Oskar Lafontaine -- never one to miss a chance for a headline -- went one better. "Unfortunately, the regulations we have for manager accountability are too modest. And the ones we do have aren't even used," he told the Stuttgarter Zeitung over the weekend. "If we had decent laws, then a number of them would have to be put behind bars."
The clash is unlikely to have repercussions. The term of Germany's current president, Horst Köhler, expires next year. The Social Democrats have nominated the respected academic Gesine Schwan to run against Köhler, though her chances appear to be slim. Germany's president is elected by parliament in conjunction with a number of politicians from each state. Because the position is largely symbolic, candidates do not normally do much campaigning.
The only reason the Left Party decided to name its own candidate is that Schwan made skeptical remarks about the Left Party -- which is a mixture of former communists from eastern German and disgruntled leftists from the west, among other elements. Schwan called Lafontaine a "demagogue" in a SPIEGEL interview earlier this year.
But the Left Party's search for a candidate proved something of a PR disaster when a number of potential candidates declined the offer. Sodann, 72, was the last man standing. And since his image has flickered across prime-time TV screens for 16 years in Germany, his candidacy has generated at least a modicum of interest.
So have his political views. In the same interview in which he fantasized about arresting Ackermann, Sodann commented on modern-day Germany. "I'm not a fan of our lifestyle these days," he said. "I don't think that the system we currently have can be called a democracy."