воскресенье, 5 октября 2014 г.

Helmut Kohl chides Angela Merkel and Mikhail Gorbachev in new book

By Philip Oltermann

Former German chancellor in less than charitable mood in interview transcripts to be published without his permission

Angela Merkel could barely hold a knife and fork properly, while Mikhail Gorbachev left behind a pretty forgettable legacy.

Such are the musings of Helmut Kohl according to a new book, which also shows the formidable former German chancellor in less than charitable mood towards the East German civil rights activists who helped bring down the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.

In “Legacy: the Kohl Transcripts”, a series of interview transcripts to be published without Kohl’s consent this week, the longest serving German chancellor cautions against overestimating the role of the civil rights movement, which sprung up in cities like Dresden and Leipzig in the late 1980s, in bringing about German reunification.

“It would be wrong to pretend that the Holy Ghost has suddenly descended over Leipzig and changed the world”, Kohl said in reference to the 1989 protests that saw hundreds of thousands of citizens take to the street against the East German regime.

Instead, he the fall of the wall was above all the result of the Soviet Union’s struggling economy. “Gorbachev went through the books and had to concede that his game was up, and that he could not prop up the regime”.

The former German chancellor’s verdict on his Soviet counterpart is surprisingly reserved. “Gorbachev’s legacy is that he called time on Communism, partially against his will, but de facto he finished it off. Without violence. Without bloodshed. Beyond that I am struggling to think of much else in terms of real legacy.”

The current chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Kohl promoted but turned against after an expenses scandal in 1999, is described in even less flattering terms: “Ms Merkel couldn’t even hold her fork and knife properly. She loitered at state dinners so that I had to repeatedly tell her to pull herself together.”

The frank tone of the 84-year-old’s comments suggests that he probably never expected them to be published in his lifetime. Recorded during a series of more than 100 interviews with the journalist Heribert Schwan in 2001 and 2002 after the suicide of his first wife Hannelore, the transcripts were originally intended to form the basis for the fourth volume of his autobiography.

Schwan claims that he was sacked as Kohl’s biographer and ordered to return the tapes after falling out with his new wife, Maike Kohl-Richter. Now Schwan has gone ahead and published the tapes anyway, a decision that could yet have legal repercussions.

According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, which has printed excerpts from the book in its current edition, the Kohl Transcripts show a man smarting from not having received the full recognition he felt he deserved.

His Social Democrat predecessors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt enjoyed reputations as cosmopolitan statesman, but Kohl’s bulky frame, strong regional accent and taste for hearty German cuisine often invited ridicule in Germany, meaning his reputation abroad often exceeded that in his home country.

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