selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
I was born in 1969, which means I was in school and just making the transition from child to teenager when Helmut Kohl became chancellor. By the time he was voted out of office, he’d been Chancellor for sixteen years. (Hence one of his nicknames: The Eternal Chancellor.) He died yesterday, the tributes haven’t stopped coming in, and as when Genscher and before him Helmut Schmidt died, I feel both a bit of history and a part of what formed my life when I was young has gone; I feel my own mortality.

Not because I was a fan. I never voted for him, not being a conservative. I disagreed with various of his policies. But when I look back, it occurs to me that growing up when I did, I internalized at least two of his core beliefs – that the European Union is our future, central to avoiding the horrors of the past (by which I don’t just mean WWII but centuries of European warfare), and that the French-German relationship is central for this. It’s no accident that probably the Kohl photograph included the most in the tributes both national and international was the one depicting him holding hands with Mitterand at Verdun. Of course, no post war German chancellor was likely to neglect France for obvious reasons, but Kohl, hailing from the Palatinate near the French border which during various French-German wars was always likely to be among the first regions to be devastated during those centuries of warfare, really made wooing the French personal. (And kept it up beyond office; till Mitterand’s death, they met at least once a month.)

(My favourite Kohl and Mitterand joke goes somewhat like this: Kohl during a state visit in Speyer inflicts his favourite dish, stuffed belly of pork, on Mitterand , who first looks appalled. Then Kohl whispers something into his ear, and suddenly Mitterand eats with all signs of enthusiasm and finishes the meal. Later, Kohl’s sidekicks want to know what he said, and Kohl reveals: “I said: If you don’t eat up, Francois, you’re getting the Saarland back.”)

Among the many obituaries trying to sum up the man, from chronically underestimated hedgehog to everyone else’s hare outmanoeuvring all rivals to lonely giant incapable of admitting mistakes or accepting criticism, I think this one works best for me, not uncritical (unsurprisingly, since it’s by Der Spiegel, a magazine Kohl saw as the enemy, but also respectful of his achievements. (Whereas, say, the obituary in the Guardian felt downright mean spirited.) I’m still trying to figure out what I feel. Not sadness; both because there would have had to have been affection first, and because he was in a very bad physical state, and had been for years. It is more like what you feel when you see a giant glacier which had been melting for many years at last dissolving into water and earth, and only then you understand that the sight of the glacier, the awareness of it, had been part of the landscape that told you who you were.
selenak: (Bilbo Baggins)
You may or may not know that Obama, on his farewell tour, was in Germany on Thursday and Friday. What struck me (again) was the difference in reporting in English speaking and German media, to wit:

NY Times, New Yorker (and Guardian in Britain): Obama hails Merkel as his closest international ally in these last eight years, basically hands over job as leader of the free world because nominal successor not up to job.

German media: Obama compliments Merkel with nice lie, grossly overestimates power of embattled German chancellor (again).

Seriously though, all this "last remamaining champion of the free world" stuff got a resounding "Um..." over here, or at best "that's it, the US hasn't just voted T into office but decided for Merkel whether or not she'll run for a fourth term". Which, btw, Angela Merkel officially hasn't confirmed yet. The bitter irony is that in almost all other circumstances, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't. Four terms are too many, no matter whether you're good or bad at the job. And Angela Merkel, of all the people, has good reason to remember that even Helmut Kohl, once upon a time seemingly untouchable conservative chancellor, got to the point where people were heartily sick of him (and ultimately voted him out of office); she was the first conservative cabinet member to go up against him, that's how she first came to national attention (and Kohl never forgave her for it). Not to mention that her fellow conservatives have just spent a year relentlessly attacking her in a manner unheard of in post war German history as far as members of the CDU/CSU coalition and a sitting chancellor were concerned. Yes, then CSU head Strauß also bitched about and attacked CDU ruler Helmut Kohl, but not in public once Kohl was in office. Strauß flirted with a break of the coalition at one point, and then drew back, because he knew something that's still true - if the CSU breaks away from the CDU for good, and competes on a national German level, they'll never get their absolute majority in Bavaria again and they're just too used to that fiefdom to relinquish it. What Strauß did NOT do to Kohl, no matter how much he was convinced that he'd have been the better conservative chancellor, was what the current CSU boss, Seehofer, did to Angela Merkel last year at the annual big CSU convention. He made her listen on stage with him for a 15 minutes "the reason you suck" attack speech addressed to her (re: refugee crisis and Merkel's support for Syrian refugees), in front of a live audience of thousands plus a tv audience of millions. (This year's CSU convention didn't even invite her, because Seehofer now has the problem that he's whipped up Merkel hatred to the nth degree in his party, yet now has to sell her as the Chancellor candidate to back in next year's election.) With "friends" like these, you certainly don't need enemies. It made the "most powerful woman of Europe" accolades from US papers look a bit hollow. (Not to mention that this whole idea of Angela Merkel running Europe ignores that if she was, the rest of the EU would have accepted a refugee quota according to each country's means instead of refusing, after which Merkel made her Faustian deal with Erdogan instead.)

So given all of that, you can see why it's by no means certain Merkel would run again...or wasn't until the US elections. Because now you have the situation looking like: Britain out of commission for anything constructive, France with the even more emboldened spectre of Marine Le Pen on the horizon, Poland and Hungary compete as to who's getting rid of more civil rights in a EU member country first...and across the ocean, there's President Agent Orange. I've never voted for Angela Merkel (I'm not a conservative), but I don't doubt that she has a deep distaste for chaos and disorder, and what's often called a Protestant sense of duty. (As our papers occasionally point out, we currently have a Protestant clergyman as head of state - President Gauck - and a Protestant clergyman's daughter as head of government - Chancellor Merkel, and she got quite Lutherian in the "Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders" - "here I stand and can do no other" - in the last year.) There isn't anyone the two conservative parties could run as chancellor instead of her (for all his ego, Seehofer hasn't forgotten what happened to the two Bavarians who did run for Chancellor, Strauß and Stoiber - they were soundly defeated, because one of the unwritten rules of post war German history seems to be that no one will ever vote for a Bavarian outside Bavaria). And while a Left-Left-Green coalition (meaning a coalition of the SPD, which is currently ruling together with the CDU and CSU, the Greens and Die Linke) could then succeed in winning a national election next year, I suspect Merkel has enough party loyalty (despite all the bashings) to wish this to happen. So she'll probably run again, yes. But will she win? I'm not sure. The T factor might affect the election either way - strengthening the radical right, or motivating moderate voters seeing her as the last stable element in world politics.

Trivia: Something else Merkel has an instinctive distaste for, btw, as our papers noted in their retrospective of the Obama & Merkel relationship, are charismatic saviour figures drawing huge crowds. (And yes, it's a historical thing.) It made her a bit cool at the start re: Obama until, as her advisors noted, they actually met and it turned out that in person Obama was the cerebral distant type (which she also is), not the huggy, chummy, backslapping type that Dubya was. Given that at the time she also had to deal with Berlusconi in Italy and Sarkozy in France, it must have made quite the "at last, another adult!" sensation. And of course she got on famously with Hillary Clinton from the get go for just that reason. Then there was the NSA interlude, which made the nation cool off Obama in a hurry, but not Merkel, who made a token protest and sent the CIA chief in Germany packing but then went back to business as usual while the rest of the nation still seethed. And in the last two years, I can well believe the two got to regard each other as beacons of sanity in an increasingly mad world.

The British writer Robert Harris wondered whether Obama's "closest international ally" phrase was a snub of Cameron, and honestly, I don't think so, not least because I doubt Obama bothers much with thinking about Cameron one way or the other these days, not with the presidency of T on the horizon. Aside from wanting to be nice to Angela M on his farewell visit, I can't imagine another motivation than it being the truth as he sees it. And well, the "special relationship" seems to have been existing mostly in the head of British PMs for a good while now anyway.

Though it did occur to me that Angela Merkel might be following a very British precedent, because I can imagine her saying "Adventures, nasty things" as Bilbo does at the start of The Hobbit. Conservative person to the point of complacency, determinedly unglamorous, suddenly whisked out of her comfort zone and forced to step up in a world where the big folk around her fail? Tolkien help us, Merkel is a hobbit. (I should have known when that guy whom Edogan promptly sued proved that Erdogan = Gollum.)

Lastly, on a non-German note, re: the American past and future, and Drumpf as well as various minions apparantly regarding the US interning Japanese-Americans as the sole Roosevelt policy they want to emulate:

George Takei: They interned my family. Don't let them do it to Muslims.
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
Helmut Schmidt has died, and [personal profile] jo_lasalle wrote a fantastic post saying very much what I feel, which you can read here. That sense of public duty, yes.

It wasn't unexpected at all, but it's the type of death that makes you feel a big part of your life has just become history.

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