Tuesday, June 27, 2017


"When Helmut Kohl was wooing the woman who would become his wife of more than 40 years, by her account he sent her 2,000 love letters. It is a measure of the passion, persistence and sheer persuasiveness of the man who orchestrated the unification of Germany and established himself as the dominant European statesman of his time. Kohl, who has died aged 87, began his first term as chancellor in the Bonn of 1982. By the time he left office 16 years later, parliament was about to move to a Berlin no longer divided by a wall or entrenched ideology. His populace had swollen by more than a quarter to 80m with the reintegration, after 45 years, of the Moscow-influenced east. Beyond this expanded frontier, Kohl strove to supplant — yet mourn and learn from — the evils of the century’s two world wars. His determination did much to embed a friendship with France and a Europe of closer ties, at the same time smoothing relations between Russia and the world’s main western democracies. Taking office at the head of a coalition of his own Christian Democrats, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria and the liberal Free Democratic party, he led this sometimes quarrelsome combination to a succession of election victories. In doing so he surpassed the tenure of Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first leader and Kohl’s model and mentor. A substantial figure in all senses (at the height of his power he carried at least 120kg on his 1.93m frame), Kohl was an instinctive wielder of power. He would often prevaricate, as befits a politician schooled in the tortuous ways of coalition government and a federal constitution cluttered with checks and balances. Yet he could move with decisive speed to achieve his objectives, relying on his instinct for the possible and a talent for timing. Despite a near total lack of foreign language skills, he struck up warm relations with counterparts as varied as François Mitterrand, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, convincing each in turn that a united Germany was a trustworthy partner and no threat to peace".
Peter Norman, Jeevan Vasagar and Gordon Cramb, "Helmut Kohl, first chancellor of a reunified Germany". The Financial Times. 16 June 2017, in www.ft.com.
I was of course one of those who looked down upon the seemingly provincial looking and sounding Helmut Kohl. Which was enough to do considering who his predecessor was: the intellectually superior if not brilliant Helmut Schmidt 1. However, as I stated here when talking about Schmidt after his demise, intellectual brilliance and cultural arrogance were not what was needed in the Fall of 1989 and the Spring of 1990. What was needed in that short period of time, that small window that 'history' suddenly opened up, was an ability to read the minds of the common people, and to sense that things which were impossible, nay unthinkable yesterday or the day before yesterday, were now on the table and that if one did not pick-up and move, and indeed move aggressively, then one could have very well thrown-away whatever was possible. Or as Henry Kissinger noted in comparing Kohl and Schmidt: "to achieve greatness, a statesman must possess not only knowledge and character; he needs to be blessed with the opportunity for a heroic response" 2.Kohl, provincial, and un-intellectual though he was, sensed (how we are not quite sure), that the poor people of the DDR were ready to drop their benighted state and merge with Federal Republic. Or as the British Ambassador to Bonn remarked on Kohl's initial speech on the 28th of November 1989, wherein Kohl first laid out a programme for German unity:
"The key point is that the pressures have reached a level where Kohl has felt obliged to make a high profile statement of a policy expressly intended to lead in time to German unit. And he has done so on his own authority, not on behalf of the whole coalition [Christian Democrats-Free Democrats coalition government], and without prior consultation with the Allies [UK, USA, France] having responsibility for the German question. It shows how fast the German question is moving" 3.
Schmidt for all his brilliance and vast experience could not sense this. Or at least see it immediately. That is au fond, Helmut Kohl's true claim to historical fame. Making him along with Konrad Adenauer (in the words of Churchill) 'the greatest Chancellor[s] since Bismarck'.
1. As shown by witticism about Schmidt that: "What is the difference between God and Schmidt' the answer was, 'God knows everything, but Schmidt knows it better'". From Sir Nicholas Henderson. Mandarin: the Diaries of an Ambassador, 1969-1982. (1994), p. 144.
2. Henry A. Kissinger. Years of Renewal. (1999), p. 610.
3. See: Sir Christopher Mallaby (Bonn) to Douglas Hurd (Foreign Office), 28 November 1989, in Documents on British Policy Overseas. Series III, Volume VII: German Unification, 1989-1990. Edited P. Salmon, et. al., p. 140.


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