Reunification and Kohl

Kul Bhushan —

Letter from New Delhi

Dr Helmut Kohl, who died on 16 June 2017 aged 87 years, was a big man. At six feet four inches, he towered above most people and I just managed to reach his shoulders when I met him in Nairobi in November 1987 during his state visit to Kenya.

The West German Chancellor attended an informal event with selected locals, mostly Germans, in Kenya. He looked serious but delivered a very simple speech praising the locals for working to develop Kenya and promote friendship between the two peoples. On being presented with my publication, ‘Kenya Factbook’, he commended this effort as it had a section about bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Little did anyone realise that in another two years in November 1989, Kohl would be able to bring down the Berlin Wall and unite Germany after 45 years. I had visited the wall and East Berlin a few years before this and seen the stark contrast between the bustling neon lit West Berlin and dark East Berlin.

Kohl did not foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union but grabbed the opportunity to bring down the Berlin Wall which ended the Cold War between the East or the Communist states and the West, the capitalist states. This seismic event happened with the single-minded persistence of Kohl against massive opposition both from within and outside Germany.

On another visit to Germany a few years later, I toured the former East German city of Dresden and the surrounding region to see stark contrast between underdeveloped east and prosperous West Germany. Over the years, East Germany caught up.

German Reunification proved to be a huge burden on West Germany in developing the poor, polluted and backward East Germany that I saw on my trip. The West Germans had to pay high taxes to pay for developing East Germany and also face hordes of East Germans clamouring for jobs in West Germany. Kohl persisted and ultimately succeeded.

The single visa and the single currency for Europe can be traced to the first steps taken by Kohl who laid the foundation for the European Union in 1992. During sixteen years as Chancellor from 1982 onwards, he took bold steps: made friends with France, met Russian leader Gorbachev, stood up to US President Reagan, and, most of all, had the guts to address the Israeli parliament on a state visit.

Kohl’s influence lives on. The current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from what was East Germany, is Kohl’s protégé.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

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