Key eastern German politician Reinhard Höppner dies | News | DW | 09.06.2014
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Key eastern German politician Reinhard Höppner dies

A senior German politician who risked controversy after the Berlin Wall's fall by drawing on support from ex-communists for his regional government has died. Reinhard Höppner, 65, had reportedly suffered from cancer.

Theologian turned politician Reinhard Höppner was praised on Monday for his role in talking straight in repressive former communist East Germany and helping prepare the Protestant church's 500th anniversary in 2017.

For eight years Höppner (pictured left) was the premier of Germany's eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt based in Magdeburg.

His first minority coalition government, comprising his Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens depended on support from opposition PDS ex-communists. From 1998, he headed a SPD government, again with PDS toleration.

Social Democrat leader in post-communist phase

As communism collapsed in East Germany in 1989, Höppner joined a newly created branch of the Social Democrats and in March 1990 became vice-president of East Germany's brief post-communist assembly in the months before German reunification.

Before that Höppner belonged to an ecumenical assembly, including Protestants and Catholics, in East Germany which was widely credited by historians for advancing the need for political change.

Höppner's conservative Christian Democrat adversary, Wolfgang Böhmer, whose team won Saxony-Anhalt's election in 2002, praised Höppner on Monday for ensuring that initially run-down eastern German regions got funding from Germany's western states.

Böhmer, however, reiterated criticism of the dependence of Höppner's cabinets on support from the ex-communists, now known as The Left or Die Linke.

Strove for consensus

Federal Social Democrat chairman Sigmar Gabriel said Höppner's mediatory tone and ability to work across party lines was "highly appreciated."

"He was an upright Social Democrat with a great heart," said Gabriel.

Regional bishop Ilse Junkermann said Höppner had taken on responsibilities in church and political spheres in times of difficulty.

The chairman of the German EKD Protestant church council, Nikolaus Schneider (pictured right), said its combined congregation was highly thankful for Höppner's contributions over the years.

Initial reports on Monday quoted family members only as saying Höppner had suffered a long and difficult illness. The newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung said Höppner underwent the first in a series of cancer treatments in 2006.

Despite his condition, Höppner last year took on the chairmanship of a committee preparing for the Reformation Jubillee in 2017.

That's when Protestants will mark the schism in Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther in 1517 when he published his 95 theses in defiance of Roman Catholic teachings.

ipj/kms (AFP, epd, kna)

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