DW’s former editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff, pays tribute to Germany’s longest-serving chancellor.
Helmut Kohl was the chancellor of both German and European unification. He held office for 16 years, and spent a quarter of a century as party chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). That alone demonstrates incredible stamina, great assertiveness and a determination for power, but it also reveals his democratic luck at the ballot box. He was reelected to the country’s top job four times, which is an impressive political achievement by any standard.
In his apparently eternal role as CDU chairman, his nose for developments within his own rank and file and his mistrust of critical currents became legendary. That said, in 1989, he was fighting for survival as chairman at a CDU convention in Bremen. The collapse of the Iron Curtain came at the right moment, and Kohl used the opportunity presented by the fall of the communist dictatorships both to his own and to Germany’s advantage. He shaped history. And during those months, he became a statesman.
Helmut Kohl was, without a doubt, the chancellor of German reunification. He ignored the reluctance, fear and reservations – both at home and abroad – and from November 1989 onwards, worked determinedly towards that goal. On October 3, 1990, he achieved it. He demonstrated political, even historic instincts, at exactly the right moment. And for some, that made him a 20th-century Bismarck.
But Kohl was not only a German patriot who accepted the gift offered by those historic revolutions in eastern Europe, he was also a true European. For 16 years, and at numerous European summits, he continued to promote the European project.
He was also – and this is decisive for his stature as a statesman – a co-founder of the single European currency, the euro. Thinking along broad historical lines, he understood that a common currency was the only way to overcome the issues of a strong German deutschmark, and possible resentment in France, the UK and other EU countries.
Helmut Kohl was a statesman. He was a politician who favored both German reunification and a greater European union. He was a resolute man, who recognized what had to be done, and did it. And that’s what gave him – regardless of the criticism leveled at him within Germany – an international reputation as a well-respected and highly regarded political leader.