Face of the Day

Helmut Kohl, who died on [yesterday] aged 87, was one of a trio of dominant western conservative politicians – along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – whose determined ideological and practical opposition to the Soviet Union helped lead in the closing months of 1989 to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent end of the cold war that had gripped Europe since 1945.

Germany has slowly lost its way since then.

But despite his reputation as a hardliner and his achievement as Germany’s longest-serving chancellor since Bismarck, Kohl in person was a shambling bear of a man (he was 193cm or 6’4” tall) who often did not take himself too seriously. Rather than claim a perspicacity he did not possess, Kohl freely admitted later that he did not foresee the sudden Soviet implosion and was as surprised as anyone when it happened.

It is difficult to imagine Angela Merkel, Kohl’s protege and now chancellor herself, behaving so artlessly in public. Unprepared though he might have been, Kohl rose to the occasion presented by East Germany’s collapse with a purposeful single-mindedness that shocked and alarmed many in the west, not least Margaret Thatcher.

For her part, Thatcher remained opposed to reunification throughout, fearing that a resurgent, reviving Germany would once again dominate Europe. She was comprehensively out-manoeuvred by Kohl. But 25 years later, it could be said that Thatcher’s premonition has proved accurate.

The world that followed Reagan, Kohl and Thatcher simply has gone backwards in every conceivable way.

It would not be unfair to say that leaders that have not been part of WWII haven’t valued freedom nor understood what it takes to keep it.


The Guardian


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