Special Forum: In Memory of the “Two Helmuts”: The Lives, Legacies, and Historical Impact of Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl
This blog post is taken from the ‘Introduction by Andrew I. Port’ on a special forum that looks at the lives and legacies of Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl.
Most observers would likely agree, regardless of political couleur, that the Federal Republic of 1998—Helmut Kohl’s final year as chancellor—was, in most respects, a much different country from the Federal Republic of 1974, the year that his immediate predecessor, Helmut Schmidt, assumed the reigns of political power. Governing successively for almost a quarter-century, the “two Helmuts”—the subject of the following forum—led the Federal Republic during what were, no doubt, some of its most turbulent years; this included the so-called German Autumn of 1977, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the protracted process of unification that followed. To mark their recent deaths (Schmidt in November 2015, Kohl in June 2017), Central European History invited a half dozen experts—five historians and one political scientist, all based in the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands—to comment on the lives, legacies, and historical impact of these two major political figures.
Each of the participants—Clayton Clemens, Ronald Granieri, Mathias Haeussler, Mary EliseSarotte, Kristina Spohr, and Christian Wicke—was given wide latitude to approach this cluster of issues and themes in any way he or she saw fit, but the results are still, in some ways, surprising. For one, only half the contributors consider both chancellors in their initial statements, whereas the other three focus almost exclusively on Kohl. Given his role as the so-called Chancellor of Unity, this might speak to Kohl’s greater historical importance—though it might also merely reflect the scholarly interests of the participants. In any event, Spohr, who recently published a major study of Helmut Schmidt as “the global chancellor,” vigorously defends the legacy of the latter, arguing that Schmidt was “no less of a pioneer in international politics” than his successor. That assessment draws attention to another unanticipated feature of this forum: its focus, by and large, on the international roles of the “two Helmuts,” rather than on their domestic legacies (apart from unification and “memory politics”). But this, too, is not entirely surprising or unwarranted: after all, as Clemens observes, both politicians saw their actions in that arena as their “main legacy.”
Taken together, the contributions to this forum have a number of other features in common. They all go beyond the prevailing hoary stereotypes—Schmidt as a “pragmatic” and “rational” Macher, Kohl as someone driven by more “emotive” considerations; they argue, furthermore, that the approaches and Taken together, the contributions to this forum have a number of other features in common. They all go beyond the prevailing hoary stereotypes—Schmidt as a “pragmatic” and “rational” Macher, Kohl as someone driven by more “emotive” considerations; they argue, furthermore, that the approaches and policies of the two men were more similar, in the end, than commonly assumed…
Read the rest of the introduction here.