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Harmed the Party (December 22, 1999)

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People – especially those in the party – are attached to Helmut Kohl. The twenty-five years that Kohl served as party chair certainly cannot be adequately described by the issue of unlisted secret accounts alone. Perhaps it is adequate for the tax office or the Bundestag administration, but not for a member of the CDU community. Our experience with Helmut Kohl and our memories of him are very different. The party has a soul. Therefore, for us, it is not a matter of choosing between “clearing up errors” or “preserving the legacy.” When it is a matter of Helmut Kohl’s image and achievements and of the CDU, it is clear that the two belong together. For an accurate historical picture can emerge only on a foundation of truthfulness. We can only build a future on a foundation of truthfulness. Helmut Kohl must accept this realization; the CDU must accept this realization. Incidentally, only by doing so will the party manage to avoid exposing itself to attack every time another news item about alleged donations surfaces. Instead, it will step out of the line of fire of those who feign interest in clarification but in fact only want to take advantage of these events in order to destroy the CDU in Germany.

Perhaps after a political life as long as Helmut Kohl’s, it really is asking too much of him to demand that he relinquish all his offices from one day to the next, totally withdraw from politics, and quickly cede the stage to his successors, the younger generation. And therefore deciding how to begin the new era is less up to Helmut Kohl than to us, we who have assumed responsibility in the party. We cannot avoid taking the party’s future into our own hands. This year we did not win the elections because or in spite of Helmut Kohl. Instead, we won because of our resolve and our campaigns against the chaotic policies of Gerhard Schröder. The party must therefore learn to walk; it must dare to take up the struggle with political adversaries even without its old warhorse, as Helmut Kohl often liked to call himself. Like a pubescent youth, it must break away from the parental home and go its own way. Nevertheless, it will always remain true to the person who has made a lasting impression on it – maybe even more so in the future than now.

Such a process necessarily inflicts wounds and injuries. But how we in the party decide to deal with it – whether we demonize the seemingly inconceivable as a breach of trust or view it as part of a fluid and necessary development, not only since November 30, 1999 – will determine our prospects in the next state elections and in the 2002 federal elections. There is no way to sidestep this process anyway, and, incidentally, Helmut Kohl would certainly be the first person to understand this.

If we accept this process, then our party will change, yet its core will remain the same – magnificent basic values, self-assured members, a proud tradition, a mixture of older things worth preserving and of new experiences from the era after Helmut Kohl’s party chairmanship – and it will have a design for the future.

Source: Angela Merkel, “Die von Helmut Kohl eingeräumten Vorgänge haben der Partei Schaden zugefügt” [“The Actions to which Helmut Kohl Admitted Have Harmed the Party”], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, December 22, 1999, p. 2.

Translation: Allison Brown

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