The Man Who Wore the Mantle of History

Guests received an invitation to welcome the newcomer. As usual, feelings of anxiety surrounded the History Hotel. A fierce wave of anger swept through Joseph Stalin. He considered the invitation an insult. History is not a home to the elderly and not a retirement break. It is not a charitable organization. The name of the newcomer was not mentioned in big wars. We did not hear of his victims. He did not crush any country or nation. He did not dispel nationalists. He did not cause a tsunami of coffins. He was not present at major turning points.

Stalin ignites his pipe and walks angrily. The invitation is provocative by excellence. The newcomer is an insidious enemy. He marked down the sacrifices and achievements of the Red Army. He ignored the fact that we have paid an expensive price for following Adolf Hitler to his nest. The newcomer is a detestable man. He saw the Berlin Wall swinging and he pounced on the prey. He struck the wall that represented the borders of the state, the borders of a model, the borders of an empire… He dragged East Germany into the motherland and pushed the empire to death.

The comrades fell as the leaves of history and the Soviet Union disappeared. History is a master of deception of insults. You have the illusion that you have booked your final seat in it. Suddenly, it shows you new stories. It brings back to your ears the voices of your victims. It restores events and roles. And who knows: perhaps tomorrow we will receive an invitation to welcome the big traitor who drew the storm; the traitor, who wasted the land, the blood and the esteem, and his name is Mikhail Gorbachev.

Charles de Gaulle flipped the invitation card. He knows nothing about Helmut Kohl. But he read in the papers that the man is called the “Chancellor for Reunification”.

It is not simple that newspapers give today’s man the title that was exclusive to Bismarck. De Gaulle smiles. He considers that he encouraged Germany to sleep in the European cuddle when he turned, with Konrad Adenauer, the page of chronic enmity between the two countries. He smiles again. He finds it difficult to remember the new man who sneaked into the Elysee Palace. The world has changed. New leaders emerge from “social media” and not from battles of world wars. In any case, he will participate in the reception ceremony.

Francois Mitterrand will be present to welcome the man. The picture of the famous handshake near Verdun is still fresh in his mind. He also contributed to the ripening of Kohl’s options, in his siding with the choice of European Germany and staying away from committing the dream of German Europe. Margaret Thatcher will also be present. It was no secret that she did not indulge in Kohl’s style. She was disgusted by the dishes presented at his table. However, she cannot ignore that the man succeeded in changing Germany and Europe, and with them the world.

Saddam Hussein reread the invitation. He opened his hands in wonder. How could a man be called a historic leader when he enters and exits the palace through ballot boxes? A man who did not fire a bullet and did not devour his comrades, his party and his country? History has changed, so did the newcomers. Nothing in the man’s biography is like the long war with Iran, the Halabja station or the Kuwait invasion. The world is unjust. Kohl returned the branch to its origin and nobody punished him. He will accept the invitation despite his preoccupations. Accepting Kohl in the History Club is a thousand times easier than seeing the picture of Qassem Suleimani dancing with weapons in Anbar and over its ruins.

When Helmut Kohl was residing at the Chancellery (1982-1998), Libya was under the grip of Muammar al-Gadhafi. The latter did not like the invitation. Who is Helmut Kohl to reside in a hotel that accommodates men, whom history sent to accomplish important missions and then brought back to live in its nestle? We did not hear that he had a universal theory, or that he wrote a book that is equivalent to the “Green Book”. We didn’t hear that the man has set fire to air, land, and sea. Kohl is an ordinary man, whose likes can be found in universities or on the streets. He can be a chairman of a company or a bank. A historic leader is something else. Anyway, he will attend the event. He will wear the outfit of the king of kings of Africa.

It is not surprising that guests are stupefied by the name of the newcomer. He himself did not expect to be summoned to a role as huge as his stature. He did not dare to dream that Germany would be reunified during his days and under his term. When he assumed the Chancellery, he was busy with weaving relations here and there; promoting openness towards the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; consolidating ties with the US and Europe and maintaining the Atlantic spirit. He did not expect what Putin would later describe as the century’s biggest geostrategic catastrophe, which is the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kohl was on a visit to Poland when his aides told him on November 9 that there was a hole in the Berlin wall and that people from eastern Germany were preparing to infiltrate. He decided, as he said, to wear the “mantle of history” and to return to his country. He decided to grab the historic opportunity. He had to convince Mikhail Gorbachev to ease the concerns of Thatcher and Mitterrand and to win the support of Georges H. W. Bush. It was necessary to make a bribe to Moscow, and he did. He also gave guarantees to the Europeans. Through ballot boxes, Eastern Germany threw itself back into the homeland.

When the wall of Berlin fell, a spy with the rank of colonel threw the secret papers he was keeping in the country of the wall, and returned to the KGB headquarters in Moscow. His name was Vladimir Putin.

Democracies are dispassionate about figures of exceptional stature. They are afraid to suffocate under their presence. In 1998, the elections forced Kohl to leave the Chancellery. The man’s reputation will be stained by the black boxes he used to receive donations for his party. But the last blow will come from the woman whom he supported and encouraged. Her name is Angela Merkel. For that, he did not pity her in his memoirs. He recounted that when he met her, she had no idea, and she did not know how to use a fork and knife.

They welcomed him in the hotel courtyard. Kohl arrived wearing the mantle of history.

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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