Friedrich Hitzer’s compass

By January 23, 2007Article, Atlantic Eye

PRAGUE, Jan. 23 (UPI) — Friedrich Hitzer, the German publicist, translator and journalist — and someone I greatly respected — has died unexpectedly. He was 72.

A renaissance man and free thinker, Friedrich served with me on the board of the International Baden-Baden Foundation. We disagreed on almost everything, especially international affairs. Yet, like many Germans of his generation, Friedrich was a loyal, if critical, supporter of the United States.

Born Jan. 9, 1935, in Ulm, Hitzer took degrees in American, Russian, and Latin-American Studies in the Untied States, Soviet Union and Germany. In 1965, he helped found the literary-quarterly Kuerbiskern, serving as co-publisher and editor-in-chief until 1987. In his lifetime, he authored 26 books, translated 28 classic Russian film-scripts into German, and penned hundreds of articles.

Our last conversations focused on the Iraq War and the U.S. conduct of foreign policy. Only recently, he had sent an email criticizing President Bush’s “new” Iraq strategy, published in the Munich-based conservative-leaning Suddeutsche Zeitung. All over Europe, President Bush’s new Iraq strategy has left the public confused and governments annoyed. Even his last supporters wonder if he is completely out-of-touch.

Vladimir Lomeiko, Mikhail Gorbachev’s former press secretary, an old friend of Hitzer’s and member of Global Panel’s Board, described Hitzer as “a man of great humanity and sensitivity.” I had met Hitzer through Lomeiko — they had been colleagues during the Cold War. Lomeiko, who had been a ranking Soviet, later Russian, diplomat and journalist, respected Hitzer’s creativity and lingual prowess. They were known to have verbal bouts of the highest order; debates, which left neither taking prisoner’s; verbal exchanges, fit for the Oxford Union.

During the Cold War, Hitzer belonged to a small group that was Germany’s main behind-the-scenes conduit to the Soviet cultural elite. During those days, personal contacts were of the utmost importance — especially those that were not official. It was during this time that Hitzer established contact with leading players in culture and the party apparatus. He developed a strong rapport with those who would become reformers. When key information needed to be delivered or received, Hitzer could be counted on.

I last saw Friedrich Hitzer in Baden-Baden in March 2006. We had just finished a board meeting and were breaking for dinner. He had just signed a letter with other European authors, publishers and scientists criticizing the conduct of the Iraq War and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As often, he made a bee-line for me; I expected a vociferous discussion about world affairs.
He had just read my column “The politics of small steps” and “Democracy versus the rule of law” both of which addressed my thoughts on certain aspects of dealing with Islam and democracy. Hitzer had already sent me a scathing email criticizing my advocacy of a troop increase of 200,000 in Iraq. So, I was prepared for a full-frontal assault on my views.

Instead, with his majestic gate and meaty hands, he hugged me and said, “I knew I could still count on America. Why have you left this voice hidden for so long?” I reminded Friedrich that I was not a representative of the U.S. government. In fact, I had only just joined the National Advisory Board of the Democratic Party. “I am not exactly a key player in Washington.” “Ja, ja,” Hitzer said, with clear, pronounced sarcasm. Friedrich always knew better. And he often did, but not on this occasion.

We were joined by Henrikas Yushkiavitschus, a senior adviser to UNESCO (an old-hand and board member), and Vladimir Lomeiko. I advocated special envoys for Syria, Iran and the Middle East peace process, criticizing the lack of direct negotiations as a crucial missing ingredient to U.S. efforts. I suggested the president should appoint two special envoys each, one European and one American — possibly even former prime ministers. After all, European governments had used the services of former U.S. presidents and secretaries. Why should the United States not use European expertise on this occasion. I was pleased, but also half-annoyed, that they agreed with me.

Hitzer felt the United States had lost its moral compass since the end of the Cold War. The United States, he stated, “had missed many opportunities, even during the Clinton administration.” He queried: “Why are you not using more effective, subtle diplomacy?”, adding that “if the United States had been this incompetent during the Cold War the Soviets would have won.” And the Middle East, “Mein Gott, it is a total disaster. When will they start listening to people like you?” I grimaced.

Friedrich Hitzer belonged to a dying breed of those who were liberated by the United States after World War II. He knew he owed his future to her people; he owed his life to her soldiers.

Hitzer respected the United States as a wise, ethical and mostly fair super-power. He especially respected her values.

He so wondered where the America who rescued him had disappeared to.

Friedrich, I miss that America as well.

And, I promise you, we will bring her back again.

(UPI columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and President of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party.)