LamplighterIt could be worse, I guess – we could be Germany; no, this isn’t anything to do with the War, not the 1939-’45 one, anyway. Events in Ukraine that have been in full swing for six months now have undoubtedly impacted on life in Western Europe, especially when it comes to the import & export trade, though Tsar Vlad’s invasion does provide politicians with a convenient get-out-of-jail card, one that serves to obscure their own failings over the past two or three years. Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times – blame it on Ukraine. Don’t blame it on the lockdown, don’t blame it on Covid, don’t blame it on Net Zero – blame it on Ukraine. Considering Germany’s somewhat…er…problematic history with Russia, perhaps Frau Merkel reckoned it was a nice reconciliatory gesture to entrust the old enemy with providing the majority of Germany’s gas imports. She obviously (not to say inexplicably) didn’t foresee a time when Comrade Putin might use this to his advantage; after all, it’s not as if he hasn’t sought to extend his nation’s current borders via military means in the past, is it?

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Mrs Merkel eagerly embraced the ‘renewable energy’ agenda and announced all of Germany’s nuclear power plants would be gone by…well…this year. Eight of the country’s 17 were permanently closed in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s very own Chernobyl, yet the alternative to the system being phased-out overnight wasn’t necessarily very ‘Green’, reliant as it is on coal-fired electricity production; since 2011, this has led to an increase in deaths caused by fossil fuel pollution. Is the idea to save the planet by killing its inhabitants? Like many a political leader, Merkel seized upon renewable energy as a move to boost her short-term popularity, yet the swift winding-down of the nuclear power industry in Germany continued apace throughout her lengthy tenure in office; as things stand, there are a mere three remaining plants still operational today. Reliance on Russia for natural gas was underlined by the controversial Nord 2 pipeline project, which has yet to open for business; largely financed by Russian-owned energy giant Gazprom, final construction on the pipeline was suspended when Russia invaded Ukraine; Russia responded by slashing supplies of gas to Germany down to 20% of its capacity.

Despite pleas by the German nuclear power industry to extend the life of the three plants left when confronted by the prospect of an energy emergency following Russia’s response to sanctions, the German Government is refusing to budge and waver from its rigid Green commitments. Instead, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration has announced severe restrictions on the use of electricity that will come into effect this winter. Anyone who either lived through – or has experienced second-hand via numerous TV documentaries – the power-cuts imposed upon the UK during the 1972 Miners’ Strike and the 1974 Three-Day Week will recognise some of the measures. To the no-doubt relief of muggers and cat burglars, street lighting will be one of the first casualties; this blackout will also be extended to the illumination of monuments, buildings and shop-fronts; moreover, heating of public buildings will be reduced with the exception of hospitals. Anyone wondering what these measures will make the German capital look like at night need only track down the footage of Piccadilly Circus deprived of its gaudy light-show 50 years ago. But it’s hoped the restrictions will save upwards of €10.8bn, so that’s alright.

Prior to the closure of three further plants at the end of last year, nuclear power was responsible for 13.3% of Germany’s electricity, whilst up until the fallout from the Ukraine situation, Russia was providing Germany with as much as 55% of its gas supplies; yes, it doesn’t exactly sound like economic sense to be dependent on such a notoriously untrustworthy foreign power for your fuel, but that’s the position Germany finds itself in. And it’s not alone. Russia was supplying the best part of 40% of gas across the EU before sanctions provoked a hasty reduction, and despite Monsieur Macron’s much-publicised freezing of gas prices and a cap on energy increases, neither measure will see out the winter, when gas and electricity will naturally be far more in demand that they are at the moment. The French are already switching off street lighting every night for around three-and-a-half hours in parts of Paris, but most are more concerned with the impact of restrictions in the workplace, and especially the home. Mind you, the Germans are way ahead in their Project Fear preparations, for the country is also looking forward to a fresh wave of Covid infections come the autumn, giving the population something else to look forward to before the fun-packed winter arrives.

According to the German Government, lockdowns will not constitute their strategy this time round. They’ve left such a damaging legacy in every country that imposed them that even Rishi Sunak, desperately seeking an 89th minute winner against ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ Thatcher Ms Liz, has publicly declared he thought they were a mistake. Any further school closures have also been frowned upon by German Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach; let’s be honest, the disastrous interrupting of children’s education all over again would hardly be a vote-winner. Instead, Germany has opted for the safe option of reintroducing and reinforcing mask-wearing on public transport as well as Covid tests being a requisite for entering any institution housing the vulnerable, such as hospitals or care homes. The World Health Organisation has also got its scaremongering hat on once more re the coronavirus; perhaps disappointed that Monkey-pox has been such an anticlimactic sequel to 2020’s blockbuster, the WHO has this week been issuing melodramatic predictions all over again.

‘It is now abundantly clear we’re in a similar situation to last summer,’ read the WHO statement, ‘only, this time the ongoing Covid-19 wave is being propelled by sub-lineages of the omicron variant…with rising cases, we’re also seeing a rise in hospitalisations, which are only set to increase further in the autumn and winter months as schools reopen, people return from holidays and social mixing moves indoors with the onset of colder weather.’ Yeah, move indoors to escape that colder weather, only to find it’s colder in than out due to power-cuts. At least the persistent lobbying of the pharmaceutical industry will be rewarded with the announcement that a new booster jab for the over-50s will be available in Blighty as of September, though cases here have fallen anyway, without the aid of yet another booster; stats show infections have declined nationwide across all age groups, with children unsurprisingly boasting the lowest levels – just as they always have done.

Alas, Covid can’t be blamed on Ukraine, even if the ill-thought-out policies to combat it that we endured in 2020 and ’21 are more responsible for the state we’re in (and the state we’ll be in this winter) than what’s currently going on in Eastern Europe. Still, entrusting Russia with the contract to supply Western Europe with so much of its gas was an arrangement that was hardly guaranteed to progress along a smooth, uneventful course with a man like Vlad at the helm, and the whole Ukraine situation is clearly playing no small part in the gloomy narrative of the moment. But the futile pursuit of the Green dream that has taken possession of so many Western Governments is one that can also take its fair share of the blame; our own Net Zero fantasy threatens to condemn more to fuel poverty than anything Russia can use as a bargaining chip, whereas Germany’s determination to exclude nuclear power as a viable option when its suicidal reliance on Russia for energy was destined to end in tears is an extreme example of what can happen when just the one basket contains all your eggs.

© The Editor





Prone as I am to watching the odd foreign-language drama series as an alternative to some of the dreary offerings churned out by our home-grown broadcasters, I stumbled upon a new German one the other night. I was probably drawn to the programme on account of it starring Sofia Helin, who played one of TV’s most original and unforgettable characters in recent years, Saga from ‘The Bridge’. Anyway, the story is set on either side of the Berlin Wall in the mid-70s and concerns an East German spy sent beyond Checkpoint Charlie to seduce a Western intelligence operative and hopefully acquire some vital information for the GDR as well as getting his leg over. It captured time and place really well in its slightly grubby, bruised-fruit colours and general air of despair, though it’s becoming increasingly impossible to watch anything concerning the Stasi and not draw contemporary parallels with the ‘free society’ we’re lucky enough to call our own in the here and now.

There was one character in it who appeared to be a State-employed caretaker in one of those archetypal Brutalist housing complexes that sprang up across the post-war East German urban landscape like concrete mushrooms. He’s first spotted standing on the rooftops with a pair of binoculars, focusing in on a TV aerial allegedly pointing towards the West and able to illicitly pick-up ZDF broadcasts. When he knocks on the door to alert the householder that this is against the law, she protests the wind blows the aerial in the wrong direction and then sends him on his way with a derisive ‘Haven’t you got anything better to do?’ He doesn’t reply, but the viewer knows he hasn’t indeed got anything better to do. He’s just another minor cog in the surveillance state, keeping an eye on the populace to ensure they don’t betray the founding principles of the GDR. Ditto the sinister schools inspector who patrols the corridors and peers in through classroom windows to ensure teachers aren’t veering from the script. One is immediately aware everyone in this series on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain is completely conscious of their every move being monitored and documented, constantly having to watch what they say for fear of reprisals. Imagine living like that.

A seemingly throwaway line relating to an unfortunate pubescent girl poised to begin the gruelling training that will eventually result in her being on the East German swimming team for the 1976 Montreal Olympics referred to her receiving an ‘ideological education’ as part of the process. Straight away I’m thinking of British kids in 2020 exposed to the corrosive cancer of Critical Race Theory in their curriculum, sneaked-in by teachers who themselves were indoctrinated at university and whose fellow former students have already introduced ‘unconscious bias training’ into the corporate world. When even a pussy-whipped halfwit like Prince Harry has caught the bug, you know this malignant philosophy has embedded itself deep, despite the admirable denunciation by Kemi Badenock (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities) in the Commons last week, making it clear the ‘white privilege’ narrative has no place in British schools. This insidious ideology may not be official state-sponsored policy, but if it’s not nipped in the bud in time it soon will be – especially if Starmer’s authoritarian excuse for an Opposition ever grabs power.

Not that we require a Labour Government to strengthen the worrying parallels with the GDR; the Tories, along with all the devolved administrations in the UK, are doing a sound enough job as it is. Britain’s own ‘Surveillance State’ was coming along in leaps and bounds even before Covid-19 intervened, but since then it has been presented with the perfect excuse to extend its powers as the ‘don’t kill granny’ storyline enables it to spread its nosy tentacles into every facet of private life with the minimum of public resistance. Digital technology may not be much use in testing – despite the billions handed over to useless companies whose qualifications for the task appear to be how much they’ve donated to the Conservative Party – but when it comes to tracking and tracing, one can be sure we’re being very effectively tracked and traced; and policemen who clearly have nothing else to occupy their time are happy to be dispatched as enforcers of unprecedented, astronomical fines for anyone daring to question the wisdom of the new normal. And despite their numbers being so depleted these days, the police have nonetheless been bolstered by the recruitment into the ‘Covid Marshal’ ranks of every Jobsworth busybody long yearning for an official badge to vindicate their self-importance.

In Soviet Scotland, the miserable population has a ‘Digital Christmas’ to look forward to as the strict rules keeping family and friends divided look set to be extended into the festive season. Jason Leitch, a man boasting the unnerving job title of ‘National Clinical Director’ has warned that large family get-togethers are ‘fiction for this year’. For anyone who recognises chatting to someone on Skype or Zoom is a poor substitute for being in the same room as the person on the other end of the line, this essentially means Nicola Sturgeon has achieved what no British political figure has managed since Oliver Cromwell; mind you, his administration closed theatres and all other palaces of entertainment as well, so maybe it didn’t even require the cancellation of Christmas north of the border for the Lord Protector’s policies to be successfully revived. And, remarkably, it doesn’t take long for any of this to be normalised either; what would have been unimaginable less than twelve months ago is already accepted and largely unchallenged. Giant tampons covering the lower half of the face are now socially compulsory on any outdoor excursion requiring setting foot in a shop – and to think I laughed at the first person I saw wearing one at the beginning of the year.

However, the undisputed winner of the competition between the devolved administrations to see who can emulate North Korean democracy is Wales, which has essentially become sealed-off from the rest of the country; few are being allowed in or out, and anyone venturing into England to stock-up faces a hefty fine upon their return; just to make sure, police are patrolling the border and have free rein to snoop in shopping bags. No, I can’t quite believe this is happening either. Wales is, of course, the only corner of the kingdom governed by the Labour Party, and it perhaps gives us an impression of how things might have been nationwide had Corbyn won the last General Election. Churches, pubs, gyms, hair salons and hotels have all been forced to close their doors during the 17-day (yeah, right) ‘firebreak’ lockdown as books, clothes and sanitary towels are deemed ‘non-essential’. ‘This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods,’ declared Wales’ very own staggeringly arrogant Lord Protector, Mark Drakeford, as the State outlaws individual personal judgement and assumes the role of arbiter of what is and isn’t important.

But, of course, if a discredited charlatan like Neil ‘massage the Staats’ Ferguson is still being given a platform to air his Doomsday fantasies, what can we expect? Lest we forget, this is a man who predicted 50,000-150,000 would die of Mad Cow Disease in 2002 – actual deaths: 177. He warned 200 million would die of Bird Flu in 2005 – actual deaths: 282. He prophesised 65,000 would succumb to Swine Flu in 2009 – actual deaths: 457. With a track record like that, why on earth is this joker still being listened to? Well, I guess he and his ilk are providing the scientific support to legitimise the erosion of civil liberties and freedoms that the pro-lockdown fanatics need. And it does seem that pro-lockdown Vs anti-lockdown is the latest manifestation of the seemingly limitless tribal polarisation that has become the norm ever since the 2016 EU Referendum – or ever since the Brexit verdict pushed pre-existing divisions over-ground. If we were thought we were a disunited kingdom in the last years of the 2010s, we didn’t have a clue what the 2020s had waiting for us.

© The Editor


We’re currently witnessing the weaponising of optimism, as is par for the course during a General Election campaign. Less than a week in and I’ve already lost count of the endless billions being promised for all the public services the incumbent administration appear to have forgotten they’ve been responsible for underfunding over the past decade. Not that they’re alone in this imaginary lottery, mind; the other side are also hoping the electorate are suffering from amnesia by falling for it this time round – something that’s harder to achieve when it’s barely two years since the last visit to the polling station. But, hey, that’s politics – selling dreams when seeking office and selling nightmares once in it.

This weekend has given us a sober reminder of how optimism can spontaneously emanate from the street without any political salesman, yet still leave a lingering taste of thwarted possibilities. I’m talking Berlin 1989. Had I been born and raised in the GDR, would I feel the demolition of the Berlin Wall a worthwhile exercise if the first sight to greet me upon finally crossing into the fabled West was the mullet-haired star of ‘Knight Rider’ singing some awful 80s AOR homage to ‘freedom’? It’d get even better once the bloody Scorpions commented on the state of play with their excruciating, lighters-aloft anthem, ‘Wind of Change’. No wonder some displaced East German citizens found their first experience on the other side of the Iron Curtain somewhat overwhelming and soon began to harbour an inexplicable nostalgia for the world they’d left behind.

Not that the most repressive regime outside of North Korea would be necessarily mourned for its least celebrated aspects. In terms of eliminating ‘subversion’ by keeping tabs on its people and effectively treating them as inmates by playing a ruthless, inflexible gaoler, East Germany had few rivals during the Cold War era. Long after Uncle Joe was dead and discredited in the Soviet Union, the GDR stuck more rigidly to Stalinist notions of state control than any other nation housed within the Soviet Bloc. The limitations placed upon the personal freedoms and aspirations of those closest to the dividing line of Europe were uniquely cruel. Any East Berliner born after 1961 would never have known any different, so suddenly being free to stroll into the half of their city that hadn’t been locked in the deep-freeze of 1940s totalitarianism must have been one hell of a culture shock.

Yet, a felicitous portrait of East Germans crossing into West Germany as though they were a lost tribe of savages encountering civilisation for the first time isn’t entirely accurate, for many in the GDR were able to receive TV transmissions from the West, and consequently had a rough idea of how the other half lived. With old Berlin physically obliterated by Allied air-raids and the invading Red Army at the end of WWII, the Brutalist landscape that arose from the ashes once the city was split in two included one notable landmark that inadvertently backfired on architects and planners seeking to instil pride in the alleged beneficiaries of the great Communist experiment. East Berlin’s impressive TV Tower – the Fernsehturm – opened for business in 1969, yet its public observation deck offered GDR natives a view beyond their side of the city, as did the pictures it enabled them to pick-up on their television sets.

However, seeing something presented as a rather abstract image via the cathode ray tube and then being able to observe it in the flesh are two very different experiences. Once the barrier to the West was abruptly gone, GDR viewers of the West German way of life were finally able to see that life for themselves. Those belonging to the first wave of East Germans to pass through the holes in the Wall without being shot at often speak of supermarket shelves, of being beguiled and bedazzled by the abundance of choice when it came to a solitary item. Westerners naturally took it for granted that there might be half-a-dozen different brands of baked beans on offer; not so East Germans.

But what could have been a gradual, sensible transition to democracy in the East – leading to the eventual and inevitable unification of Germany – was scuppered by the short-sighted intransigence of the East German authorities. Deliberate misreporting by West German TV of a bumbling announcement on the slight relaxation of travel restrictions from East to West provoked an unstoppable march to the Wall by the people in November 1989; had the East German Government accepted the wind direction provoked by Gorbachev’s reforming agenda and dismantled the system with delicacy long before, instead of being reluctantly pushed into abandoning it overnight by the impatient masses, perhaps three decades later the former GDR wouldn’t still be the poor relation of its neighbour. But they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) loosen their grip on power until the eleventh hour, so whilst the rightly unlamented Stasi vanished from East German lives, so too did the more benevolent elements of the State that the people had become dependent upon.

The West German Government handed out cash incentives to the newcomers in the wake of the Wall’s removal, hoping it would help complete the absorption into the bosom of capitalism. Malnourished by their exclusion from the seductive extremes of the material world, many understandably became drunk on an excess of luxury items as though they were contestants grabbing the goods on the ‘Generation Game’ conveyor belt; meanwhile, the long-term security the GDR at its best had given them swiftly evaporated. But with the Wall gone, the domino effect across Eastern Europe was set in rapid motion; in many of those countries, revolution was already brewing; it merely took events in Berlin to legitimise the overthrow of the old order. The virus of democracy eventually made it to the gates of Moscow within a couple of years and Europe was a united continent again for the first time in half-a-century.

As with the 2008 election of Obama as US President or the end of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall was one of those remarkable events that spread beyond the emotional euphoria of those witnesses to it at the scene and become communal experiences for worldwide audiences to share as a rare reference point of collective optimism. Most generations have one such moment – VE Day, the first Moon Landing etc. Such moments tend to simultaneously mark the death of bad old orders it had been difficult to imagine ever been overthrown and signal the dawn of a better age in which so many hopes and dreams are invested. Unfortunately, these moments invariably fail to live up to their promise, yet that doesn’t prevent the deep desire for them to realise their potential to change the world for the better.

When one looks at Eastern Europe today, with the malevolent spectre of a former GDR-based KGB man hovering over it, and when one considers the traumatic carnage in the Balkans that the collapse of the Soviet Empire unleashed, it’s understandable that some find curious comfort in the certainties that a black & white division between East and West represented. But we can’t go back to that Cold War. We’ve got one all of our own.

© The Editor


This has not been a good week for world leaders who’ve overstayed their welcome. Robert Mugabe had to be effectively woken-up in order to be notified he’d been overthrown by a military coup; and Angela Merkel’s twelve-year reign as German Chancellor seems less secure now than it has at any time since her rise to power. Not that you’d know it from her body language, however; with the characteristic arrogance that has become a hallmark of the institution Frau Merkel sponsors – the EU – Germany’s figurehead is carrying on regardless. Her party achieved its lowest share of the popular vote since 1949 in September’s Federal Election and a Government still hasn’t been formed, yet Merkel’s failure to cobble together a coalition from the chaos appears to be a mere storm in a democratic teacup to a woman whose dominance of German politics in the post-war era can only be matched by that of her one-time mentor, the late Helmut Kohl.

One thing you can say in Tony Blair’s favour (okay, I realise that’s not easy) is that he timed his exit at precisely the right moment, just on the cusp of an imminent economic crash he left his hapless successor to deal with. He didn’t wait to be pushed; he jumped. For politicians with a decade or more as top man to their name, such second-sense skills are rare. After that long in power, the talent that propelled them to the pinnacle is usually numbed by a notion of unassailable invincibility that generally tends to constitute their downfall; Mrs T inevitably springs to mind. One wonders if Angela Merkel has finally reached the point in 2017 that Maggie reached in 1990.

Theresa May’s unconvincing assertion that she intends to go ‘on and on’ a few months back was either a grandiose act of self-delusion on the part of the PM or Central Office propaganda that few of even her most devoted insiders swallowed without coughing-up again seconds later. When it comes to her counterpart in Central Europe, however, I have little doubt Merkel herself is a serious subscriber to her own political immortality. September’s abysmal election result, especially following the historic landslide victory of four years before, doesn’t seem to have dented Merkel’s conviction that nobody else is capable of controlling her country, and she’s prepared to go back to the German electorate if need be to ensure her survival after the collapse of coalition negotiations.

At a time when many Western Governments were practising understandable caution when it came to relaxing their immigration rules for admitting Syrian refugees, Merkel embarked upon a grandstand gesture in the wake of 2015’s European migrant crisis that masked the motivation behind the opening of Germany’s gates – i.e. the fact that the nation has an ageing population and too many jobs for too few young natives to fill. The plaudits she received beyond Germany for the publicised arrival of people fleeing Middle Eastern and African war zones also conveniently contradicted Merkel’s own opinions on multiculturalism, expressed in 2010. Addressing the youth wing of her Christian Democratic Union party, Merkel said attempts to construct a multicultural society in Germany had failed. ‘The concept that we are now living side-by-side and are happy about it does not work’, she said, before going on to emphasise immigrants should integrate and adopt German values, something she evidently believed they hadn’t up to that point.

Seven years later, Merkel’s previous beliefs were ironically expanded by the right-wing party Alternative for Germany in the Federal Election, claiming 94 seats in the Bundestag and making AfG the third largest party. Needless to say, Merkel is not looking to form a coalition with them. Up until AfG’s success in September’s Federal Election, they were led by Frauke Petry; but Frau Petry, whose views are far-from ‘moderate’, nevertheless announced she would sit in the Bundestag as an independent for fear of her political career being tarred with the kind of extremist far-right brush parties such as AfG invariably attract. The surge of support for AfG, however, undoubtedly represents the first real electoral backlash against the policies Merkel has pursued on immigration in the last few years; and as someone so closely associated with the EU, Merkel for many represents a strain of European politician whose pursuance of economic, social and racial integration between nations overrides concerns for home-grown natives left behind by the great Brussels gravy-train.

The success of such a project is rarely judged on the impact it has on those directly affected by it, anyway. An arch-advocate of the EU, Angela Merkel is as detached from the mindset that propelled AfG to such a strong showing in the Federal Election as one or two of our own broadsheet ‘cultural commentators’ are from some of the less-publicised negative effects that EU membership has had on Britain – mainly because they largely reside in wealthy, all-white neighbourhoods in which Eastern European immigrants have a fixed and lowly subservient role as au-pairs and nannies, glorified coolies for the post-imperial nouveau-riche, representing no threat to the position of those who employ them. As a ‘Question Time’ audience member recently memorably observed, who will serve us our café lattes in the event of an open-door policy being abandoned courtesy of Brexit?

Angela Merkel is no idiot; she is perhaps the most skilful professional politician of the past decade, one who has used her considerable talents to keep herself at the top of the tree whilst so many of her contemporaries and counterparts – Sarkozy, Cameron, Berlusconi et al – have fallen by the wayside. Yet even the greatest of political sagas has to have an end as well as a beginning and a middle. Merkel’s journey from the GDR has been one of the stories of our times; but nothing lasts forever, as Echo and the Bunnymen once said, and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that another one of this year’s Ms – along with May and Mugabe – is reaching the end of the road. What that might mean for Germany, for Europe, and for the EU, is too early to say; but maybe we’ll find out if the Germans are poised to go to the polls again before 2017 is out.

© The Editor


The death of Helmut Kohl last week was understandably overshadowed by more dramatic events in Blighty, but I’ll be fair and declare that Kohl (for good or ill) was the most influential German since Franz Beckenbauer or the collective members of Kraftwerk, rather than that funny fellow with the toothbrush moustache – who was really an Austrian, anyway. Kohl passed away on Friday at the age of 87, having retired from public office in 1998; but he was German Chancellor at the most crucial stage of the country’s post-war existence, overseeing unification in 1990 and consequently becoming the first properly elected Chancellor of a united Germany since a certain Mr Hitler in 1933.

Born in Bavaria in 1930, the timing of his birth meant Kohl was legally required to join the Hitler Youth when turning fifteen, though he avoided being recruited into Adolf’s increasingly juvenile forces on account of the Second World War ending at the moment he was drafted. As with many factors in the life of Helmut Kohl – including growing up in West rather than East Germany – he found himself in the right place at the right time. Spared military service, he studied Law in Frankfurt and then history and political science in Heidelberg before entering the business world, though he’d been active in politics from university onwards, joining the newly-formed Christian Democratic Union Party. In divided post-war Germany, the legacy of the recent past necessitated a clean slate in politics as much as every other aspect of daily life, and Helmut Kohl was in attendance right at the very birth of modern German politics.

Kohl’s professional political career began in earnest with his election to the state assembly of the Rhineland-Palatinate Landtag in 1959, and he moved up the greasy pole of federal government throughout the 60s, elected Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate in 1969. With his centre-right stance, Kohl was at odds with the more conservative wing of the CDU; but the loss of power for the party after twenty years to the Social Democrats of Willie Brandt was compounded by Brandt’s attitude towards the GDR, which the CDU (unlike Kohl himself) officially opposed. In 1972, as West German Chancellor, Brandt instigated the Ostpolitik, a programme of rapprochement towards East Germany that attempted to establish formal relations between the two separate German states for the first time since their division.

The CDU leader Rainer Barzel gambled on public opposition to Brandt’s East German policies when he first provoked a vote of no-confidence in Brandt’s government (which he lost) and then ran as the CDU candidate for Chancellor in the 1972 federal elections; the gamble backfired again and Brandt was re-elected. Barzel’s failure gifted Helmut Kohl a clear run to becoming West Germany’s effective opposition leader, elected as Chairman of the CDU in 1973. After being a prominent figure on the German political scene for the best part of twenty years, Kohl finally led his party back into power in October 1982 at the expense of a coalition led by the Social Democrats’ Helmut Schmidt, which collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence; and Kohl then strengthened his position via the ballot-box in the federal elections of 1983.

The previous decade had been a traumatic one for West Germany; the country’s economy may have emerged as one of Central Europe’s strongest (certainly when compared to the UK’s at the time), but the nation was as vulnerable to terrorist assaults as we were. The notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang – or, as they were more commonly known in Germany, the Red Army Faction – had repeatedly targeted holders of public office they claimed had been Nazi Party members during WWII; whatever legitimate grievances they may have held, however, were undermined by the violent means with which they addressed Germany’s recent past. Those born either during or after the war carried the guilt of their parents and resented the fact; Helmut Kohl, born before it, was equally determined to address Germany’s recent past, but by diplomatic and economic means.

Keen to forge a stronger bond with one of Germany’s oldest enemies, Kohl developed a close friendship with French President François Mitterrand; but Kohl’s plans for greater European integration and Germany being central to it were hampered by the inconvenient fact that his country remained divided. However, when the Berlin Wall tumbled down following the unexpected collapse of the East German Government in the autumn of 1989, Kohl had the opportunity he’d been waiting for. After eliciting the support of the USSR, Kohl wasted little time in drafting a reunification treaty that was signed within a year of the first civilian hammer hitting the Berlin Wall. Germany was back in one piece and Helmut Kohl now had the chance to, well, ‘make Germany great again’.

Along with Mitterrand, Kohl was the prime mover behind the Maastricht Treaty, the evolution of the EEC into the EU, and the creation of the Euro. Angela Merkel, an East German whose entry onto the national stage of German politics was as a member of Kohl’s first post-unification administration, is the most notable beneficiary of the rebirth of Germany her former boss instigated, whereas the rest of Europe now views Kohl’s achievement with decidedly mixed emotions.

Wherever one stands on the EU issue, however, there’s no denying Helmut Kohl was perhaps the most influential European politician of his generation, a man whose career spans the entire post-war history of Europe, and a man who played a major part in shaping that history by remaking the continent in his own image. That’s no mean feat.

© The Editor


cunt-2The decision of the ‘Newsnight’ production team and presenters to take an early holiday as of last Friday seemed to suggest 2016 had finished slinging shit at the world; paid vacations for BBC freeloaders doesn’t mean the most unpleasant twelve months in living memory has completed its catalogue of carnage, however, as yesterday’s events both in the centre and on the fringes of Europe indicated in the worst possible way. The assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in full view of TV cameras, swiftly followed by another horrible massacre – this time on the streets of a city with its fair share of past atrocities, Berlin – confirmed this year’s obituaries have been prematurely penned.

Not dissimilar to the gruesome scenes that accompanied the murder of Lee Rigby three years ago, the brazen pride in the killer of Andrei Karlov as he waved his weapon and ranted whilst the dying ambassador lay at his feet was an irredeemably ugly exhibition that suggested the secular constitution of Turkey isn’t merely under threat from the country’s dictatorial President Erdogan. The assassin, disconcertingly dressed like an extra from ‘Reservoir Dogs’, was apparently a serving police officer who quickly met the same fate as the man he shot in the back once Turkish security forces gate-crashed the incongruous surroundings of the Ankara art gallery where the murder took place.

Turkey has been a tense nation (to put it mildly) since the failed coup several months ago, but the ongoing crisis in Syria has added to the strained relations between the Turks and the Russians; lest we forget, it was only a year ago that a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey on the border with Syria. As Syria is on Turkey’s doorstep, a leader who makes no bones about his religious leanings, not to mention having purged the police, armed forces and judiciary of his enemies, is hardly in a position to dissuade his underlings from expressing similar beliefs with the kind of violent force Russia has unsurprisingly labelled ‘terrorism’.

Barely had the international community had the chance to react to that awful act before news began breaking of the latest slaughter of civilians on a European street. Echoing appalling events in Nice last July, the same method of murder was employed in an effort to maximise the body count, i.e. a lorry ploughing pedestrians down. Mercifully, the numbers killed at the Berlin Christmas Market were far lower than the 89 in France, but the incident will no doubt place further pressure upon Frau Merkel and her benign approach to immigration on the eve of a General Election in Germany, not to mention gifting Madame le Pen a fresh batch of headlines rich in exploitative potential when she prepares to sell herself to France’s own electorate next year.

Neither incident yesterday has yet to be connected to ISIS or any other Middle Eastern paramilitary organisation with a grudge against the west, though the one in Berlin does bear all the hallmarks. Mevlut Mert Altintas, the assassin of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, had included the words ‘Syria’ and ‘Aleppo’ in his post-assassination rant as well as the popular Radical Islam catchphrase ‘Allahu Akbar’, yet his actions seem more reflective of anti-Assad, anti-Russia/pro-Syrian Rebel Forces protests in Turkey over the days leading up to the murder rather than any suggestions of ISIS sympathies. Nevertheless, all major European cities are on high alert again, anticipating sleeper cells being triggered into action by news from Berlin in particular.

If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that all the worst bits of 2015 have simply been taken to the next level, and there’s little evidence that 2017 will see any improvement. Those keen to see the back of this year will probably find next year just as gloomy, but to turn Harold Macmillan’s trademark sound-bite on its head and say we’ve never had it so bad is to betray an ignorance of the past. The world has been here before, but I suppose to anyone born after, say, 1985, the current global turmoil is unprecedented within that short lifetime.

On a trivial, mildly inconvenient level, the concerns that claim tabloid column inches such as train and postal strikes were considerably more far-reaching forty-odd years ago. In the case of Southern Rail’s ongoing chaos, a nationalised railway industry would have seen the entire nationwide workforce come out in solidarity with their London colleagues and the whole country would have been affected over the Christmas holidays rather than just the capital and its Metroland commuter belt. But I wouldn’t expect people who weren’t even a twinkle in the milkman’s eye in 1974 to grasp that fact. Equally, the Daily Mail mindset that is forever lecturing those struggling in a zero-hours minimum wage ghetto where owning one’s home is a pipe-dream merely shows how long some have resided in a cosseted cocoon from the harsh realities of trying to make an honest living when wages and prices are such distant bedfellows.

It would be jumping the gun to compare 2016 to other seismic shifts in the world order – 1848 being the most obvious; a degree of distance is really required in order to measure the after-effects once the dust has settled, and we’re still too in the thick of it to make neat summaries of how this or that event altered things forever thereafter. But the pace of change, and the periodic bursts of violence that have characterised the change as it has unfolded with relentless aggression would, as I pointed out in a post a few months ago, make for a cracking edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ were we lucky enough to have some decent Rock n Roll; that we’re not seems to emphasise the absence of alternatives to the grim world about us; we’ve had to make do with overgrown school-kids dressing as clowns and people playing at statues for yet another tedious selfie fad; so much for cultural salvation.

Anyway, as the previous post attracted little in the way of attention, I’m optimistic enough to put that down to people having several distractions during a time of year when there are numerous demands on their time rather than attributing it to an especially uninspiring piece of writing. With that in mind, it’s probably best if I take a few days off myself – not that I don’t expect something else characteristically awful to occur before we hit January 1; and if it does, I’ll probably be compelled to comment, whether or not anyone is listening. Merry Xmas everybody.

© The Editor