Joachim Gauck

President of Germany

Joachim Gauck  (born 24 January 1940) is the President of Germany, elected on 18 March 2012. A former Lutheran pastor, he came to prominence as an anti-communist civil rights activist in East Germany.

During the Peaceful Revolution, he was a co-founder of the New Forum opposition movement in East Germany, which contributed to the downfall of the Soviet-backed dictatorship of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In 1990 he served as a member of the only freely elected People's Chamber for the Alliance 90. Following the Reunification of Germany, he was elected by the Bundestag as the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, serving from 1990 to 2000. As Federal Commissioner, he earned recognition as a "Stasi hunter" and "tireless pro-democracy advocate," exposing the crimes of the former communist political police.

He was nominated as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance '90/The Greens for President of Germany in the 2010 election, but narrowly lost to Christian Wulff, the candidate of the government coalition. However, his candidacy was met by significant approval of the population and the media; Der Spiegel described him as "the better President" and the Bild called him "the president of hearts." After Christian Wulff had stepped down, Gauck was elected President with 991 of 1228 votes in the Federal Convention in the 2012 election, as a nonpartisan consensus candidate of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Alliance '90/The Greens.

Gauck's political life was strongly influenced by the fate of his family and his upbringing in totalitarian communist East Germany; his father suffered five years in a Soviet Gulag and the family faced discrimination in East Germany.Gauck was a founding signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, together with Václav Havel and other statesmen, and the Declaration on Crimes of Communism. He has called for increased awareness of communist crimes in Europe, the prosecution of communist criminals, and for the necessity of delegitimizing the communist era. He has written on Soviet-era concentration camps such as the NKVD Special Camp No. 1, the crimes of communism, and political oppression in East Germany, and contributed to The Black Book of Communism. Gauck has accused the political left of ignoring communist crimes.His 2012 book Freedom. A Plea calls for the defense of freedom and human rights around the globe. He has been described by Chancellor Angela Merkel as a "true teacher of democracy" and a "tireless advocate of freedom, democracy, and justice." The Wall Street Journal has described him as "the last of a breed: the leaders of protest movements behind the Iron Curtain who went on to lead their countries after 1989."

Since 2003, he has been chairman of the association Gegen Vergessen Für Demokratie ("Against Forgetting For Democracy"), and he served on the Management Board of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia 20012004. He has received numerous honors, including the 1997 Hannah Arendt Prize.

Personal life

Gauck married Gerhild "Hansi" Gauck (née Radtke), his childhood sweetheart whom he met at age ten, but the couple has been separated since 1991. They were married in 1959, at 19, despite his father's opposition, and have four children: sons Christian (born 1960) and Martin (born 1962), and daughters Gesine (born 1966) and Katharina (born 1979). Christian, Martin and Gesine were able to leave East Germany and emigrate to West Germany in the late 1980s, while Katharina, still a child, remained with her parents. His children were discriminated against and denied the right to education by the communist regime because their father was a pastor. His son Christian, who along with his brother decided to leave the GDR in early 1984 and was able to do so in 1987, studied medicine in West Germany and became a physician. Since 2000, his domestic partner has been Daniela Schadt, a journalist.

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