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Germany

Opinion: The self-destruction of Helmut Kohl's legacy

Neither Helmut Kohl nor his widow wanted anything to do with a German state burial. This arrogant attitude reveals a unsettling insight into Kohl's view of his own role in the unification process, says Jens Thurau.

It is a tragedy. Assembled last Thursday in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, were the current and two former federal presidents, the entire cabinet and almost all parliamentarians. Norbert Lammert, Bundestag president, spoke about Helmut Kohl in what not only seemed like an official tribute: it was one - albeit an awkward one, of course. Lammert honored Kohl's life work, something that anyone with a halfway sound mind should do on this day. But Lammert was also critical when speaking of the former chancellor's - put mildly - questionable social behavior. None of Kohl's family was present. And that is pretty much all that the state had to say about a man that was in large part responsible for ensuring that Germany was once again united after decades of suffering, all without a shot being fired.

A European act of state to avoid a German one

It does not matter who is at fault, whether it was Kohl's will or that of his widow. The fact is that whatever kind of ceremony it may be, a European act of state honoring Kohl will be staged on July 1, in Strasbourg. It took a great deal of effort, and the utmost discretion, for the Federal Office of the Chancellery to secure the opportunity for Angela Merkel to speak at the ceremony. In other words, Kohl, or his family, did not want any German speakers at the event. And they were absolutely opposed to any official ceremony on German soil. There is not a single German politician today that the former chancellor did not view as a traitor. Instead, Hungarian President Viktor Orban was invited to speak. Orban is a man that has trampled the rules of democracy in his own country, but he also fulfilled the primary criteria of Helmut Kohl's view of the world: He never ever voiced even the slightest hint of criticism toward the former chancellor.

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App

DW's Jens Thurau

Norbert Lammert found the appropriate words: "With all due respect," honoring Helmut Kohl "is not simply a family matter." Although, in this case, the word family refers to one person: Kohl's widow, Maike Kohl-Richter. Currently, Kohl's eldest son, Walter, has been denied access to the family home due to a restraining order. Just how deep are the chasms that are now opening up? 

One must indeed ask whether it really matters to the average citizen today, some 27 years after reunification, that the architect of that historical event apparently wanted nothing to do with the country's current representatives - even in death. The situation does, however, tell us a lot about Helmut Kohl's world view. Those who failed to stand behind him, come hell or high water, belonged to the dark side. All of Kohl's successors - whether in the chancellery or his CDU party - paid homage to the important role he played during German reunification, and they did so while he was alive. Yet that was not enough for him; and not nearly enough for his widow.

Egomaniacal and self-righteous

That attitude is egomaniacal and self-righteous. For Helmut Kohl will go down in history as the chancellor of German reunification, but the wheels were put in motion by a peaceful revolution carried out by courageous men and women on the streets of East Germany. And the unification treaty is intrinsically linked to the name Wolfgang Schäuble, with whom Kohl later broke off all contact with as well. In any case, it must be clear that many people were involved in making that moment of German joy a reality.

Now the Germans among them are to be denied an official German state funeral. That is foolish and arrogant. And it also shines a light on Kohl's view of reunification, perhaps even his entire political career: He alone was right, whatever the issue may have been. How pathetic.    

 

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