Kohl under the microscope

INVESTIGATION: Political slush fund tarnishes image of West's high-achieving statesman.

January 01, 2000

HELMUT Kohl was one of the great statesmen of the second half of the 20th century. He unified Germany when others thought it impossible or undesirable. He was the chief architect of European monetary and economic union.

His stage-German bumpkin manner hides a fine mind. His preoccupation with nuts-and-bolts politics covered a far-sighted vision that was clearer and more purposeful than his adversaries'.

That makes the Bonn prosecutors' decision to investigate the $1 million political slush fund that Mr. Kohl admits maintaining from 1993 to 1998 a tragedy -- not only for this 69-year-old gentleman and his Christian Democratic Party, but for Germany and the West.

That fund is what he admitted to on television. An investigation may look deeper into his quarter-century domination of Germany's dominant party, and his 16 years of unquestioned rule as chancellor (prime minister) of West Germany and united Germany.

Now the party that he nurtured shuns him. To his proteges, he is pariah. To the Social Democratic successor, Gerhard Schroeder, the pressure of comparison is easing.

To allies of the Western cause, this investigation is a reminder that no one is above the law. But there is no joy in Mr. Kohl's embarrassment, even for those who feared Germany's economic domination of Europe.

Mr. Kohl has said he worked by "trust rather than strict formalities," in flouting the law governing financial record-keeping for political parties. He is not shown to have profited personally. But he has not told all. The truth, whatever it turns out to be, should come out.

Helmut Kohl always wanted the German people to face the truth about the worst and best of their national heritage.

They can do no less for the evidently flawed politician who guided them to this stage of their national fortune.

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