The fa­ther of Ger­man uni­fi­ca­tion

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES - RO­MAN PLETTER

HEL­MUT Kohl, the West Ger­man po­lit­i­cal leader who be­came an un­likely in­ter­na­tional states­man when he helped unite Com­mu­nist East Ger­many with the West af­ter the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and served as chan­cel­lor of a uni­fied Ger­many for much of the 1990s, died at his home in Lud­wigshafen. He was 87.

Af­ter suc­ceed­ing the worldly Hel­mut Sch­midt as chan­cel­lor in 1982, Kohl was some­times per­ceived as a clumsy politi­cian with an unin­spir­ing speak­ing style and a pen­chant for pub­lic re­la­tions gaffes, such as his in­sis­tence that US Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan visit the Ger­man mil­i­tary ceme­tery in Bit­burg, where mem­bers of the Waf­fen-SS were buried.

Kohl’s legacy seemed to change overnight with the col­lapse of the Berlin Wall on Novem­ber 9, 1989. For 28 years, the wall had stood as one of the most vis­i­ble sym­bols of sepa­ra­tion be­tween Western Europe and the Com­mu­nist bloc of eastern Euro­pean coun­tries.

Kohl seized the op­por­tu­nity to trans­form him­self into a leader of in­ter­na­tional stature. Many Ger­mans on both sides of the wall that di­vided the na­tion dur­ing the Cold War found Kohl’s sham­bling, dif­fi­dent man­ner a com­fort­ing re­lief from the charis­matic style of politi­cians that had be­come nearly taboo in the post-Hitler pe­riod.

When Kohl made a dra­matic ap­pear­ance be­fore 50 000 East Ger­mans in Dres­den just six weeks af­ter the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was greeted with tears and chants of “our chan­cel­lor”. He drew roar­ing ap­proval from East Ger­man res­i­dents by say­ing, “When the his­toric moment al­lows it, let us have the unity of our coun­try.”

He added, “We won’t leave our coun­try­men in the lurch.”

Kohl made good on that prom­ise by wel­com­ing East Ger­mans into the West with an ex­pen­sive but pow­er­ful gift – agree­ing to let East Ger­mans ex­change their vir­tu­ally worth­less Com­mu­nist marks for West Ger­many’s valu­able Deutsche marks on a one-to-one ba­sis. Econ­o­mists ar­gued he was risk­ing his coun­try’s most cher­ished as­set but the bet paid off in po­lit­i­cal calm and sta­bil­ity.

Kohl was elected chan­cel­lor four times and held Ger­many’s top po­lit­i­cal of­fice un­til 1998.

He was care­ful to po­si­tion his coun­try’s ex­pan­sion and re­uni­fi­ca­tion in the post-war struc­tures of the EU and Nato, de­vot­ing much of his en­ergy to re­as­sur­ing France, Bri­tain, the US and the Soviet Union Ger­many still knew its place.

“We are not a world power and I con­sider it fool­ish to dream world­power dreams,” he said im­me­di­ately af­ter Soviet Pres­i­dent Mikhail Gor­bachev gave his sur­prise en­dorse­ment of Ger­man unity in 1990.

Dur­ing the Cold War, a di­vided Ger­many had played host to the most de­struc­tive weapons and most concentrated col­lec­tion of forces on the planet. The new Ger­many, Kohl told his part­ners, would be a suc­cess­ful mer­chant with a mod­est diplo­matic front, a limited mil­i­tary and a deep fear of get­ting in­volved in in­ter­na­tional con­flicts.

Kohl re­peat­edly promised that the new na­tion would be a Euro­pean Ger­many, with­out any am­bi­tion of cre­at­ing a Ger­man Europe.

Uni­fi­ca­tion was com­pleted by Oc­to­ber 1990 in part be­cause Kohl ini­ti­ated pay­ments of bil­lions of Deutsche marks to the Soviet Union to with­draw troops.

Kohl hoped to be re­mem­bered for uni­fy­ing the two Ger­manys and ush­er­ing the united coun­try into the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

“We Ger­mans have learnt from his­tory,” he said. “We are a peacelov­ing, free­dom-lov­ing peo­ple. There is only one place for us in the world: at the side of the free na­tions.” – Wash­ing­ton Post

Former Ger­man chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl with his mem­oir in 2014.

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