Dienstag, 31. Mai 2016

Rupert Neudeck, death of a Green Helmet

The death of Rupert Neudeck at age 77 is worth remembering, with regard to Afghanistan but also on an international scale as an example of radical humanitairan aid. A fervent human rights activist his philosophical and religious studies shaped him in the same way as did his encounters with the French intellectuals Sartre and the reading of Camus in the 70ies. Late in the 70ies and as a journalist, he founded the committee for Vietnam together with humanitarian doctors and other aids, who immediately afterwards would save the lives of more than ten thousand Vietnamese Boat People through means of the Cap Anamur, a frighter boat they had bought, to try and solve the crisis in this early flow of refugees coming from the far East. Interestingly, his biggest supporter in shipping the Vietnamese refugees to Germany became Ernst Albrecht, a conservative politician of the center-right CDU and the father of the current German secretary for Defense, Ursula von der Leyen. Albrecht acted pretty unconventionally at that time, allowing for the immigration of many of Cap Anamur's Boat People, as his organisation later on was to be called. Neudeck motivated many with his dauntlessness and optimism. It might be that even my father, a navy officer than in the cold war, converted to more reasonable work as part of the German civil society as a result of the encounter with the Cap Anamur in the Atlantic sea, as his vessel and Neudeck's boat closely met to exchange a salute. Later, Neudeck, with whom I have shared a decade together as editor at German National Broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, went on to found the Grünhelme or Green Helmets (kulha sabs in Persian/Dari), a relief organisation that he founded together with his wife and that since tries to build bridges between Western and Islamic societies, building hospitals, schools, health facilities and housing in more than 20 countries arount the world. More than 30 of these schools are in Afghanistan and were built especially in the region of rural Herat, some of which I could witness in the last years. Thousands of young Afghan children find a way to nurse their hunger for education in these schools. Though we currently see loads of young Afghans leave - illiterate and educated ones, who migrate to Europe as a result the lack of security in vast parts of the country, due to a deep economical crisis and as a consequence of a subjectively felt lack of perspectives in a corrupt society - schooling and education remain the crucial challenge and achievements in post-Taliban Afghanistan. For good reasons, Neudeck mistrusted the Kabul bureaucracy, be it Afghan governmental or Western aid driven. His organisation, like many others of small size and without costy offices, cars and administrative budgets, stood for money directly chanelled to those in need as compared to the major players. As with quite a few remarkable human rights activists, Neudeck was disputatious and reacted sensitively to criticism. This does not alter his record as a person serving human and humanitarian values and the understanding between cultures often alienated by means of politics and public media. Neudeck was stubborn in the eyes of my Afghan friends. He would not pay more than the equivalent of three US-Dollars (or 150 Afghanis) for workers who built the schools in Herat province out of the earth, water and mud of the deserty plains. Everything more than that he considered probably ruining the prices of the local construction industry, as he could witness through the years of foreign aid being shipped by billions into the country. Neudeck demanded a lot of his teams on site and in the conflicts, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or in Africa. Luck and success were on his side most often in this. He payed it back to them by intervening actively into German politics in some of the important debates on war, rescue aid and refugees. He was far from being a pacifist, often actually misunderstood in this. One of his outstanding qualities was a sense of natural mistrust towards major organisations and governments who often claim to have the solution right at hand as a conflict begins. His experiences in World War II shaped him. He narrowly escaped to go on board of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a rescue ship in the fleet of the German Reich, bombarded and sunk in the Russian advance in Poland and that he luckily missed as a child with his family. His wife Christel was a congenial partner for him. Was motivated both, besides the desire to help without false Western martyrism, was the complacency and smugness of many of his German compatirots, he used to tell. The home of the Neudecks is still a model of modesty. A second name, Hamidi, has come to figure on the door bell. The family hosts a young Afghan migrant now. Rupert would probably say that in doing so, they only act up to their own responsability.