- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 1999

Grab the cameras, news hounds, the German Man of the Century was just discovered to be human. Germany’s former chancellor Helmut Kohl admitted recently that he was less than transparent about certain secret party funds and that he may have violated his own party finance rules. The fact that he only admitted this after some of his fellow Christian Democratic party (CDU) members came forward with their own questions about the funds doesn’t win Germany’s chancellor of 16 years any points with the press, or with his own party members, for that matter. Nor does it rebuild the Berlin Wall, usher back in a Cold War, or revoke the Euro.
The way Germany’s ruling socialist SPD party is talking, one would think the achievements of the man celebrated just last month during the tenth anniversary of the fall of the wall as a father of Germany’s and Europe’s reunification could be undone by this singular revelation. But the SPD has its own reason to revel in the CDU’s current miserable straights. Beaten fiercely by the Christian Democrats in state elections this fall, the SPD’s political stability was threatened by infighting over reform to Germany’s welfare state. Now it has the perfect cause to rally around. But Mr. Kohl himself acknowledges the realm to which the finger-wagging must be confined:
“Bearing in mind the current public debate, it is important to prevent my party suffering damage,” he said at a press conference Dec. 1. “I say this with regard to my party, its nearly 640,000 members and the new party leadership. Therefore it is important for me to take political responsibility for the mistakes made during my term of office.”
Of course, his failure to take his seat in the lower house of parliament the day it voted to open the investigation into the secret accounts and his first absence in 25 years at a rally of his party Monday doesn’t bode well as a first step toward rebuilding trust. For his party to be able to enjoy the renewed surge of support witnessed this fall, he and the party as a whole must be as forthcoming as possible on the details of the funds: how much money was involved, where it went, and who put it there.
There are numerous ghosts hovering around the investigation, which could implicate the former chancellor and other party officials, but as yet they have not become flesh. There is no proof that Mr. Kohl or other CDU members used the funds for their own advancement, and Mr. Kohl denied yesterday that he had ever taken the money for himself or used it as a bribe.
Tax investigators have charged that the former treasurer did not pay taxes on a donation of 1 million marks to the party from a man who was lobbying for the sale of tanks to Saudi Arabia while Mr. Kohl was chancellor and party chairman. Whether the chancellor knew about the money, or whether the money was used as a kickback for the arms sale has yet to be proven.
In the months to come, Germany, and the world, can ruminate about the worst case scenario. It can create ghost stories from silence and the fall of an empire from the disobedience of certain party rules. Or it can encourage the forthrightness of all parties both during the investigation and in the future, refusing to undo history because it has suddenly realized that one of its gods was indeed fallible. For the sake of the unity of Germany, which is Mr. Kohl’s historic legacy, it owes it to itself to make the latter choice.

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