When the English speaking world talks about the winning Cold War leadership, we usually talk about Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. But Helmut Kohl was a rock in Germany, and it’s hard to say what would have happened without his leadership.
Kohl died on Friday at the age of 87. He had been Chancellor of Germany for 16 years. His Christian Democratic Union (with the Christian Social Union) first beat the Social Democratic Party in 1976, but coalition politics kept him from becoming Chancellor. That coalition was finally only toppled in 1982, electing him Chancellor in October of that year. He then won the next 4 elections (1983, 1987, 1990, and 1994), meaning his party was the #1 party for 6 straight elections in West Germany and the reunified Germany.
Only Bismarck served as Chancellor of Germany longer, and he didn’t have to face elections. He was appointed by King Wilhelm I, and served that the pleasure of the monarch.
Kohl provided stability and support for the anti-Communist forces in the European theater when they were badly needed. Willy Brandt, prominent Social Democrat and former Chancellor, showed the risks that the opposition posed to NATO, when it was revealed that he had a mole high up in his administration, even traveling with him.
Kohl worked to unite the west against the Soviet bloc. He teamed with Ronald Reagan, making shows of unity with the United States, making it clear that he and his nation stood for peace and freedom. He made similar shows with French President François Mitterrand. He was a key force behind the Maastricht treaty which, while controversial now, cemented western Europe as a prosperous, unified force that would not be defeated by the Communists.
Finally, he oversaw the rapid reunification of Germany (known as die Wende – the Turnaround), recreating the east German states dissolved by the Communists, integrating them into the Federal Republic, and holding new, free, united German elections. He did his best to bring the east Germans into the peace and prosperity of the west.
The work that long-time Chancellor Konrad Adenauer started, when he oversaw the German Economic Miracle and the first olive branches to Germany’s neighbors, was finished by Helmut Kohl with the EU and German Reunification. He was a giant, and on the occasion of his death, that is what we remember.