'Problematic Mixing of Politics and Religion' German Politician Compares Dalai Lama to Ayatollah Khomeini

A German Left Party politician has caused controversy with a speech in which she indirectly compared the Dalai Lama to Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She also claims the Dalai Lama represents the "deification of political power."

Politicians from Germany's main political parties have condemned a member of the far-left Left Party after she compared the Dalai Lama to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Christiane Schneider, the deputy floor leader for the Left Party in Hamburg's state assembly, sparked controversy with a speech she gave to the assembly Wednesday on the issue of how China is dealing with the ongoing Tibet crisis.

"A black-and-white depiction of the terrible events in Tibet and a one-sided partisan view of things is neither appropriate nor helpful," she said. She paid tribute to China and its efforts to open up the country by bidding to host the Olympic Games.

"The People's Republic of China freed itself from the humiliation of colonial dependence on foreign imperialists through a long war," Schneider continued. She also said she was unable to share the "lack of preconditions with which the Green Party is calling for solidarity with Tibet."

Then came the most controversial passage: "In recent decades, the international community has not had many good experiences with religious leaders who are forced into politics as representatives of opposition movements in society. I remember, for example, Khomeini."

Schneider's comments provoked angry reactions in the state assembly. Members of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, the center-left Social Democratic Party and the Green Party all condemned her remarks.

SPD floor leader Michael Neumann left the room in protest during Schneider's speech. Left Party members in Hamburg have "let their mask fall," Neumann told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They have proven that they have not yet embraced democracy," he added, in a reference to the Left Party's role as the successor to the East German Communist Party. He said he was "speechless": "You can't compare the terror regime in Iran with the Dalai Lama."

Other Left Party members also condemned Schneider's remarks. "Comparing the Dalai Lama with Khomeini is not acceptable," Bodo Ramelow, deputy floor leader for the Left Party in the German parliament, the Bundestag, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the political leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and was the country's Supreme Leader until 1989. With the help of his Revolutionary Guards, Khomeini had members of the monarchy and opposition imprisoned after the fall of the Shah's regime in 1989. Many people were executed as a result.

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile from Tibet in 1959 and has lived in Dharamsala, India ever since, has always promoted non-violent resistance and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Schneider has apologized for her remarks. She told SPIEGEL ONLINE Thursday that her reference to Khomeini was "unfortunate." "I did not consider that properly," she said. "I'm sorry."

However Schneider also complained that she was not able to deliver her full speech in the assembly because of a five-minute time limit. Otherwise, she said, it would have been clear that she did not want to compare the Dalai Lama with Khomeini, but rather explain that she found the "mixing of politics and religion" problematic.

In the original text of her speech, she told SPIEGEL ONLINE, she wanted to add: "I have personally never understood the broad veneration for the Dalai Lama here in Germany. The figure -- I am not talking here about the person, rather about the role -- of the Dalai Lama embodies the unity of a religious and political leader. It symbolizes the deification of political power ... and has something thoroughly pre-democratic about it."

It was only in February that another politician in state parliament under the auspices of the Left Party caused an uproar . Christel Wegner -- a member of the German Communist Party who entered Lower Saxony parliament on the Left Party list in exchange for campaign assistance -- expressed approval of the East German secret police, the Stasi. She also said that the Berlin Wall was to keep West Germans out of East Germany. She was jettisoned by the Left Party faction as a result.

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