Helmut Kohl praised former President Bush as his staunchest ally in reuniting Germany while he recalled Margaret Thatcher stomping her feet in resistance to the idea in his new memoirs released Wednesday.
Kohl told reporters in presenting the 1,133-page book that it reflects the “fateful years” that led to the creation of the present-day German state.
The book, “Helmut Kohl, Memories 1982-1990,” is peppered with memories of the former German chancellor’s working relationships and personal friendships with Bush, Thatcher and other world leaders during his 16-year tenure.
“It was a stroke of luck that there were about four to six leaders in power in the mid-80s who really trusted one another and could really make things happen,” Kohl said.
Thatcher stamps her feet
But not every meeting was easy. Kohl wrote that the former British prime minister, who was opposed to the reunification of East and West Germany, confronted him during dessert at a dinner in Paris nine days after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
“I cited a 1970s-era NATO statement and said that NATO supported reunification. ... Thatcher stamped her feet in anger and screamed at me, ’That’s how you see it! That’s how you see it,”’ he said in the book.
Yet he offered Thatcher some praise during the news conference Wednesday, conceding that while “to have her as an opponent was very, very disagreeable, she was always very honest.”
Former President Bush as friend
He had warmer memories of George H.W. Bush. “George Bush was for me the most important ally on the road to German unity,” Kohl wrote.
He also recalled Bush’s wife, Barbara, as a particularly close friend of his and his late wife, Hannelore.
“We were united not only by political respect for each other, but also by deep mutual sympathy as people,” Kohl said.
Kohl said he initially mistook Mikhail Gorbachev for an orthodox communist but developed a straight-talking discourse with the Soviet leader.
“By 1988 I realized that my estimation ... was wrong. I had underestimated Gorbachev’s ability and strength to initiate a change in Soviet politics.”
Kohl said he was triumphant on his return from a visit to Moscow in February 1990 after winning a grudging green light from Gorbachev for German reunification.
“He was enough of a realist to know what was happening in East Germany, that developments couldn’t be stopped. It was easier for him to open the way to German unity because he trusted me.”
While some experts have already criticized the book for painting an overly rosy picture of Germany’s relations with France, Kohl defended the book as a “subjective” account of the time.
“I did not write a history book, but have recounted the situations as I experienced them,” Kohl told reporters. He added that he had thoroughly researched the work, relying on archives and old press clippings when his memory failed him.
Embroidery on truth?
Some German historians said Kohl embellished or otherwise inaccurately recalled the events surrounding meetings with former French President Francois Mitterand, who became a great friend of Kohl.
Like his first book, published in 2004, Kohl dedicated the volume to his wife, who committed suicide in 2001 after suffering for years from a rare, incurable allergy to sunlight. Her desire for him to write his memoirs kept him going, Kohl said.
A third volume already is in the works, Kohl said, though he refused to give a date for its release. It will encompass the years from 1990 through 1999, when a slush fund scandal tainted his legacy.