Helmut Schmidt, former West German chancellor, dies aged 96

时间:2019-10-01  作者:钱抉  来源:美高梅  浏览:163次  评论:112条

Helmut Schmidt, the West German chancellor from 1974 to 1982 and one of Germany’s most respected postwar politicians, has died at the age of 96.

The health of Germany’s longest-surviving chancellor deteriorated rapidly in the last few days and he died at his home in Hamburg-Langenhorn of an infection following a long illness, his doctor, Heiner Greten, said.

Although Schmidt was sometimes criticised during his time in power, which included eight critical years during the cold war, for his aloofness, vanity and rudeness, in retirement he became a hugely loved and respected elder statesman whose popularity seemed to grow from year to year.

Schmidt served as defence minister, then minister for finance and economy under Social Democrat chancellor Willy Brandt before rising to the top job when Brandt resigned in 1974 after a top aide was unmasked as a Stasi agent.

As chancellor, among the challenges the trained economist had to face was the worldwide oil crisis in the 1970s and the fight against the Red Army Faction (RAF), which terrorised in the late 70s and 80s.

Schmidt was voted out of office in 1982 after the Free Democrats, the junior partners in his coalition government, turned their loyalty towards his conservative rival Helmut Kohl, who stayed in office for the next 16 years.

Schmidt was a popular guest on late night talkshows in recent years, ever keen to offer his opinion on world affairs while chain smoking. He insisted on being given an ashtray wherever he was, blatantly ignoring all smoking bans. A leading proponent of the European project, he heaped both praise and criticism on Angela Merkel’s handling of the Greek euro crisis.

Helmut Schmidt dancing with his wife Loki at a ball in Berlin in January 1977. Photograph: Chris Hoffmann/AFP/Getty Images

Highly quotable, among his most memorable phrases was the remark: “People with visions should go to the doctor.” He said he feared death, referring to it as “finally having to change addresses”.

His weekly column – called Having a cigarette with Helmut Schmidt – appeared in the magazine of the Hamburg newspaper Die Zeit, where Schmidt had become one of the publishers in the mid 1980s. It allowed him to air his sometimes uppity, often pithy views on life and politics in an interview with the paper’s editor in chief, Giovanni di Lorenzo, who reported having to air his office for hours after Schmidt’s smoky visits.

Born in Hamburg in 1918, the grandson of a docker, Schmidt married Hannelore Glaser in 1942, a union that both described as extremely happy and which lasted for 68 years until the death of Loki, as she was popularly known, in 2010. He surprised the public by remarrying just two years later.

During the second world war Schmidt served as a soldier in a tank division on the eastern front, later on the western front. He repeatedly said he had been shaped by the “shit of the war”. He admitted that he had marched with the naval branch of the Hitler Youth movement in the 1930s, but was repeatedly heard saying during the war how grotesque he found the Nazi regime. Army generals intervened on his behalf to insist he had an anti-Nazi stance, so he avoided being put on trial following the war. He spent a short time as a prisoner of war under the British in 1945.

Schmidt often referred to the fact that it was his time as a PoW that politicised him and persuaded him to become a Social Democrat in 1946. Thereafter he had a rapid career, studying political science and economics before entering the Bundestag in 1953.

The way he skilfully took charge of managing the crisis caused by the great floods of Hamburg in 1962 first secured his reputation as someone with solid leadership skills.

He later became something of a hero in German eyes for his dealing with two hostage crises in 1977: the capture of a Lufthansa plane by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was linked to the RAF’s imprisonment of German Employers’ president Hanns Martin Schleyer. A day after the airplane hostages were released in Mogadishu, Schleyer was found dead in the boot of a car. Schmidt took full responsibility for the political decision not to give in to the RAF’s demands.

Following his retirement from the Bundestag in 1986, he became one of the founding supporters of the European Monetary Union and the creation of the European Central Bank. It was often pointed out they were odd things for a man who said he did not believe in visions to support.

Schmidt, who wrote many bestselling books, repeatedly said that people were to be divided into two categories: those who had experienced the war and those who “approach political tasks with a large amount of impartiality and naivety”.

His modest home, a semi-detached house in the Langenhorn district of Hamburg, is to be kept by its current owner as a small museum in honour of Germany’s fifth postwar chancellor, where parts of his estate will be on display.