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Opinion

Opinion: A man who loved freedom

Guido Westerwelle - a contradictory figure. He led the liberals to undreamt-of pinnacles and plunged them into the worst crisis in the party's history. A personal tribute by DW's editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff.

Guido Westerwelle was one of the most successful liberal politicians in post-WWII Germany - and one of the unluckiest. He led the Free Democratic Party (FDP) to incredible heights and was responsible for its deep fall in the last general election. He stood for liberalism in politics and his private life, a liberalism that was focused on only one thing: freedom. The freedom of the individual citizen and the freedom of society. He set an example by outing himself as gay - for a politician, that's still a courageous step to make on the public stage.

Feared orator

But Guido Westerwelle also polarized. Frank, generous, open and approachable in his private life, the man was regarded as an ice-cold neo-liberal. This was also down to a rhetoric that was as brilliant as it was cutting. There were few who could speak as well, or were as nimble with repartee or as incisive as Westerwelle. It won him fear and respect, but it didn't make him popular. Opponents interpreted his trenchant remarks in speeches before the Bundestag and in election campaigns as arrogance, when in reality, he often simply outclassed them.

Kudascheff Alexander Kommentarbild App

DW's editor-in-chief, Alexander Kudascheff

His greatest hour came in the 2009 general election, when he led his FDP to win almost 15 percent of the vote - a previously unimaginable achievement. It's a figure the FDP had never reached since its founding in 1948. The liberals seemed to be on their way to becoming more than a mere kingmaker party. Westerwelle won the election with the promise of a tax reform that would create a just, simple, fair and understandable tax system for the citizens. But as the weeks of coalition talks stretched on, Westerwelle gave in and passed on the reform, agreeing instead to a reduction of value-added tax on hotel accommodation. An irreparable political mistake. And the main reason he agreed was because he wanted to be foreign minister.

A life-long dream

That appears to have been a life-long dream: to be German foreign minister, following in the footsteps of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who held the position for 18 years and was - and still is - the father figure of the FDP.

As foreign minister, however, his actions were unfortunate. Even reasonable decisions, such as not participating in the military bombing of Libya, for instance, turned into political disasters. After two years and a series of major election losses, he gave up the position of party leader. He stayed on as foreign minister, but no longer left a real mark in the position. His political career ended with the FDP's devastating election defeat in the 2013 parliamentary polls, when the party for the first time failed to garner the five percent of the vote needed to enter parliament. Westerwelle hit rock bottom: it was he who was held responsible for the party's unprecedented downfall. He retired from politics.

And was hit by leukemia. He fought it, to no avail. Westerwelle was a politician with extraordinary talents. He was a brilliant orator, a man who stood for freedom, and lived what he stood for. He was unorthodox and courageous. A man who sought the limelight, even loved it - but smarted under the media's hurtful criticism. The often gutsy, self-confident way he presented himself hid a vulnerable character. What remains is a politician who dared a great deal, who stirred the country. And who showed the liberals that even what was previously unthinkable is possible in Germany.

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