Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Skoda-VW Scandal (III) - Pischetsrieder Sends Ex-Ambassador Elbe to "Pacify India"

One of the Skoda/Volkswagen scandal's many shameful aspects is that corruption and bribery are alleged to have been rampant not merely in the heartland of Rhineland capitalism, but have spread out across the globe, to the Indian province of Andrha Pradesh, for example, where a planned VW factory has been put on the back burner in the wake of unsavoury allegations.

This has done VW's image no favours in India. So the Volkswagen chief, Bernd Pischetsrieder, has hired Germany's ex-ambassador to India, Frank Elbe (posted to New Delhi 1993-7), to help out.

Earlier this year, Elbe clashed with Germany's Foreign Minister, the policeman-beating Green pacifist Joschka Fischer. Fischer had already demoted Elbe: the Indian posting was followed by Switzerland, a bit of a come-down. But this year, when Elbe protested against Fischer's determination to humiliate diplomats who had been Nazi party members as kids, Fischer grabbed his chance and sacked Elbe for his lèse-majesté. (see Elbe-Fischer background here)

This skeleton-filled past shouldn't prove too much of a handicap for Elbe, though. He is being hired for his connections in India, not his relationship with the doomed German administration. And a bit of diplomatic plain-speaking - if such a thing exists - might just do the trick.

Anecdotal comment/historical parallels by the blog's historical correspondent, Claude de Bigny:

For all that he is trying to expunge his company's guilt, Herr Elbe should avoid saying "peccavi" too often, as this will raise quite the wrong kind of imperial associations. As it happens, there are some intriguing parallels between this Volkswagen scandal - insofar as it concerns India - and the conquest of the Indian province of Sind on behalf of the East India Company.

When Sir Charles "Fagin" Napier conquered Sind, it was as much through bribery as valour, critics claimed. The conquest completed, Sir Charles is said to have sent the East India Company's Governor General the famous laconic message Peccavi - "I have sinned". It is a pun "familiar to generations of schoolboys". At any rate, a contemporary cartoon in Punch (critical of the action) publicised the pun, either referring to Napier's actual message, or setting the apocryphal anecdote in motion.

The invasion of Sind appears to have featured notable instances of hypocrisy, if the link above is to be believed. The historical parallels are piquant, if unsurprising:
- Both Volkswagen and Napier allegedly used bribery to secure kickbacks and profit;
- Both the East India Company and Volkswagen had intimate connections with the highest echelons of their respective governments.

Skoda-Volkswagen Scandal (I)
Skoda-Volkswagen Scandal (II)
Fischer Sacks Elbe

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