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Thursday, 27 January, 2000, 14:46 GMT
Can Kohl still be Germany's hero?

With the political demise of the former German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, should his international reputation be reconsidered?

The politician who was a main architect of both German unification and European integration is now in domestic disgrace.

He has resigned his position as honorary chairman of the main opposition Christian Democrats after he admitted accepting illegal payments to party funds.

In this week's Europewide debate, Europe Today asks: should Helmut Kohl still be seen as Germany's hero?

Kohl under fire
  • Reputation at risk
  • The scandal so far
  • The unification

  • How far are his achievements as a statesman undermined by his misdemeanours? Have you lost faith in politicians?

    German journalist, Thomas Kielinger, of Die Welt newspaper, discusses the question with Christian Malar, French political analyst. Mark Reid chairs the discussion.

    Your Reaction

    Why not the same outcry over politicians such as Blair et al who spend money, apparently legally obtained, to bomb another nation without international legal right, maiming and killing in so doing? At least it is not Kohl who has assumed the mantle of Hitler, a man who did not achieve notoriety for his sources of funding
    F. Stewart, Britain

    I posit that Helmut Kohl should be revered as Europe's, if not the entire World's hero!
    Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK in US
    Maybe it is because I do not fully discern politics - yet, but I fail to understand why accepting bribes as a way of funding should wreck the man's entire career? He unified Germany, thereby making geographer's lives easier, and defeating the evil Soviet Empire, single-handedly. I posit that Helmut Kohl should be revered as Europe's, if not the entire World's hero!
    Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK in US

    I was suspicious from the start that some of the money came from the French. Imagine if in England (or the USA!) that foreign contributions were responsible for determining which party was elected. This is subversion of the State and the democratic rights of the people. He should go to jail as should any corrupt politician.
    Anon, Switzerland

    Kudos to Manmohansinghji from India. He did a very astute job of saying what every person in the West has problems admitting. Political corruption is a global phenomenon and is not just restricted to the developing world. The cases of Kohl in Germany and Craxi in Italy only prove this point beyond any reasonable doubt.
    However, at the same time, the major achievements of Kohl should not be undermined at the same time. He deserves the title of Mr. Europe for his relentless pursuit of European integration and harmony. And he certainly left Germany on a much more sound footing than his predecessors.
    Akbar Wajahat, India/Canada

    Politicians who remain in power for too long risk succumbing to the lure of putting themselves and their needs above the law. Helmut Kohl's posturing regarding "loyalty" to the "friends" that provided his slush fund is ludicrous. His accomplishments will always be overshadowed by this indignity.
    Maria Gleason, USA

    I am not surprised with the recent scandals. Kohl wasn't that great a politician after all. And let me tell you that the real hero of German re-unification is Gorbachev
    Ridvan Turkmen, North Cyprus

    Could his problem be that he promised not to expose CIA funding of most political parties?
    David de Vere Webb, UK

    There is something eminently distasteful about the current fashion for retrospective criticism.
    Ron Bentham, UK
    There is something eminently distasteful about the current fashion for retrospective criticism and condemnation of great statesmen like Helmut Kohl. How deeply wounding to a man who has achieved so much and how hypocritical to applaud his accomplishments whilst expressing distaste on discovering that he cut a few corners.
    Politics is undoubtedly the art of the possible and nothing is possible without money. Kohl will take his place in history alongside the great statesmen that Germany has produced since the war.
    Ron Bentham, UK

    The only thing Kohl did differently than most politicians of our time is: He got caught!!! Politicians are corrupt by very nature. We know this, so why are we pretending to be shocked or surprised? There is only one valid rule (don't get caught). Too bad Kohl slipped up!
    Vivien Cooksley, Cyprus

    How should he be listed in the history books? As a dirty hero.
    Thomas Seubert, USA
    It truly is a sad day when someone like Kohl, the architect of a positive unification movement in Germany and Europe, is guilty of a crime. However, history is filled with plenty of people who have done great things only to sink into disrepute because of bad decisions.
    The bottom line is that I believe that he was in office too long (16 years as chancellor) and because of that, he got soft. How should he be listed in the history books? As a dirty hero.
    Thomas Seubert, USA

    You cannot imagine how disappointed I was with the news of Helmut Kohl's fall from grace due to a financial scandal involving secret party bank accounts. As a strong believer in a United Europe I admired him and all of the great leaders of his generation that made this a reality. What worries me the most is that someone of his political stature was in many respects an icon of democratic government. I think that scandals of this magnitude make people more sceptical about the party systems we have in Europe, adding to the wave of discontent that is putting so many of our democracies at stake. If we cannot trust someone like Helmut Kohl, who can we trust?
    Luis Amorim, Belgium

    It is sad to watch how one of the great statesmen of our time makes a complete fool of himself. It seems like that absolutely no-one can be trusted anymore - which is deeply troubling for the democracy of our continent. It was a very sad end to a brilliant career...
    Ola Jönsson, Sweden

    Helmut Kohl should be considered next Bismarck. I stand by it. I lived in Germany for two years and missed its reunification by two months. Just for this one event, he should be remembered. And politics, excuse me, it's a dirty business, but in the end only major historical events will be remembered.
    Artur, USA

    It is the end of a career that has value, not the beginning. Is there any integrity left in people who lead?
    H. Trebe, USA

    I'm amazed that a few million dollars in questionable, irregular or illegal political contributions can call into question the accomplishments of a man. Not to suggest that the end justifies the means, had the illegal contributions not been revealed, not controversy would exist. Other than violating some law, which is a subjective issue, what harm has been done?
    Ron Dickerson, USA

    There can not be any doubt that H. Kohl will be kept in mind as a politician who contributed to the German reunification. Nevertheless, Kohl has damaged the German party system immensely. His actions were illegal, even now he doesn't seem to believe his actions to be against the constitution. Though being a member of the Social Democrats, I am heavily disappointed.
    Johannes Klomann, Germany

    It is to be doubted that Kohl was ever a hero. His merits for Europe are laudable but regarding the unification of Germany was simply pure coincidence that he was in power at that time. The damage to democracy by criminal and careless practices are a disaster.
    Brigitte Steffen, Germany

    As the foundation party of modern Germany, the CDU and her corrupt financial management are really the looking glass of our whole political system and its errors, to be seen in Great Britain as well in other countries of our free world. We are strongly in the need to create a new grass root democracy in order to form new ideals and new faces.
    Dr. Kian-Harald KARIMI, Germany

    The example of Helmut Kohl is a splendid example of the short term nature of journalistic reporting. Helmut Kohl was for many years the international buffoon among the World's statesmen. Then the chance of history thrust unification into his lap and he suddenly became the respected elder statesman. Apart from unification he has done nothing but harm to the German society and economy not because, like Thatcher, he actively tried to make negative changes where he could. How did a buffoon retain power for so long? Now we know.
    Malcolm Agnew, Germany

    Was Kohl ever a hero? Here is the man who did more to destroy the nation states of Europe on the federalist altar, than perhaps any politician since Hitler. What sort of a hero is that?
    Alex Stanway, England

    Such a person, no matter how powerful, should be punished for the same crimes that an ordinary person would. He should not, and never be considered a hero for this. Letting someone of his status "off the hook" would explain to leaders that Germany cares little for its people's money and therefore cares little for its people
    Mark Isaacson, USA

    We should not regard this as an isolated or surprising event. German politics has traditionally separated statesmanship from honesty, and has evaluated each in a separate way. Even Bismarck took bribes in the form of free shares in new railroads to which he himself granted the licenses to operate, and Bismarck gave tips to his friends when German bond rates were about to go up or down. Some societies consider that personal corruption outweighs patriotism, and some consider that devotion to the state is so important that it makes personal corruption a footnote.
    Jon Livesey, USA

    Helmut Kohl should be awarded as Europe's Man of the Decade. Look at so many good things he did for Europe. Be thankful to him. On the other side nobody suffered from his illegal fund raising. He didn't rob you. No political leader has enough money to run today's wild elections.
    Rafey, United States

    Herr Kohl's actions involving secret donations are indeed, a disgrace to his party and to Germany. But, one must remember Herr Kohl's more significant actions. Helmut Kohl was one of the most renowned statesmen in post-war Europe, and his accomplishments are more significant than most former heads of governments can boast.
    Karel, Canada

    It's a pity that Kohl's political career has come to such a bitter end. It was his drive and energy that made unification possible and, although there are still problems in the east, I believe that Kohl will be looked upon favourably by historians in 20 or 50 years time.
    Jon Worth, UK

    All over Europe the fight against corruption is on. The European Commission resigns, Belgian government crumbles under scandals, Kohl admits to accepting bribes. Where will it end? Kohl can do his country one other great service and that is to name the other persons involved. Protecting people who did things like this is not honourable: it is illegal and Kohl's silence is the only bad choice he can make. Europe needs a great future and that needs clean politics. That future is now and European politicians must understand that.
    Broeckx Pascal, France

    Whatever might surface relating the corruption allegation, Mr. Kohl will still be seen in history as an important founding father for a United Europe.
    H. J., Portugal

    Although I do not think we can see Helmut Kohl as "Germany's hero", we cannot deny that he has done a lot for Germany and Europe, in general. And I think it is not fair that, he alone is represented as a kind of scapegoat by his party members and the media, as I believe that there are definitely more people involved.
    Mary, Europe

    No politician is above the law, as Kohl would like to have it. Now we know why he was able to wield such influence in German politics.
    Clive Parfitt, UK

    What is somewhat worrisome to me is that the 'Third Way' will end up without opposition in Germany. I can't say whether I am sympathetic towards the ideology of the CDU, but it seems that the 'Third Way' represents corporations only and in that sense I prefer both the traditional left and the CDU, since they seek to represent people.
    Bill, USA

    "Helmut Kohl has done a lot of good things in Germany", well this statement must be questioned now. It is tremedously important to investigate the whole CDU apparatus to find out wheter Helmut Kohl was corrupt or not. It is far too early to judge if Helmut Kohl lost his "face" or not! One thing, however, is very sad, that Helmut Kohl wants to keep his oath on the one hand side with not saying the names of responsible people, thus clarifying the whole disaster; but on the other side he is betraying 80 million German people in his country by not clarifying from where the money actually comes from. I am sure, Germany would never forgive a Chancellor who was corrupt, financed and supported dirty weapon deals, and who misused the trust of his people for nearly 20 years.
    Boris B. Krey, Europe

    In my opinion Kohl has an unique merit for a statesman to approach his duty as a service. Many statesmen wish to have power, not to serve with the consequence that democracy is often empoisoned. This was never the case with elmut Kohl. Whatever mistake he could have made, this would always remain, his sense of service.
    Ana Gonzalo, Belgium

    The former Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, has dealt a serious blow to modern statesmanship. It is very disheartening and tragic for the man who tried to be "Father of a Nation". Can Kohl still be Germany's hero? Well, I would hold my breath and think about it, but I have a doubt, because "Good beginning has made bad end".
    Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

    I have lived a number of years in Germany and understand "from inside" how the German mind works. As it comes to acquiring finances, or profit of the businesses for that matter, it is very pragmatic and accepts whatever is necessary to be done. (Wat mutt, dat mutt). The majority of Germans will silently accept what Mr. Kohl has done with the party finances. His many other achievements will outweigh the thing that everybody knows everybody who is able is doing. Also, in my eyes, Mr. Kohl's reputation has not suffered at all even though I would never allow myself be corrupted; it is corruption after all. He was a good chancellor. His problem was the common problem for strong leaders, he clung too long to the power. I suspect that if the current governing party would be investigated after 6 years in power, similar malpractices would surface unless already there.
    Mikko Toivonen, Finland

    During the recent Asian economic crisis, the cherubims of the World Bank, the seraphims of IMF and the gods and demigods of freedom and democracy from the west started preaching to the people and politicians of Asia that it is corruption, cronyism, nepotism, opaqueness in government etc., that were at the root of the problems of Asia. However, as Helmut Kohl's stewardship of Deutscheland shows, the German economic miracle seems to have continued despite corruption and lack of transparency at the very heart of government. Is it possible to trace the true causes of the l997 financial collapse in Asia instead of vacuous nonsense?
    Mohansingh, India

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    These weekly debates are produced in association with BBC World Service. Europe Today is broadcast Mon- Fri at 1700 GMT/1800 CET

    See also:
    18 Jan 00 |  Europe
    Kohl resigns party post
    04 Jan 00 |  Europe
    Kohl's mark on history
    21 Jan 00 |  Europe
    Huellen's lawyer challenges CDU claim
    04 Jan 00 |  Europe
    German sleaze: The story so far

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