His vision and achievements place him among the giants of modern European history. He championed the cause of Europe for 16 years as the chancellor of Germany and remained determined that in a Europe whole and free Germany must be united and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe free and independent.
“Kohl unified Germany and made the European ‘communists down, Soviets out’ policy irreversible,” said Viktor Orbán in a speech earlier this week.
“Tearing down the Berlin Wall began in Hungary,” Chancellor Kohl said, “it was during the Paneuropean Picnic [which took place on the Austrian-Hungarian border in August 1989] that we took the first step towards the German reunification.” He understood in a way that few others could the historical significance of that picnic and that act of courage when Hungary opened its borders for East German refugees to cross to the West.
“Hungary,” said Chancellor Kohl, “knocked the first brick out of the Berlin Wall.”
That’s one of the reasons for the special friendship that Chancellor Kohl and Prime Minister Orbán shared.
“It was barely a year ago that we met in your home in Oggersheim,” the prime minister wrote a few days ago in his letter of condolence to the chancellor’s widow, Frau Kohl-Richter. “In my mind’s eye I can still see the face of the Chancellor, my dear friend Helmut, as he bade me farewell, and I can hear the words he repeated to me: Europe, Europe,” he added.
“One more debt we owe to the memory of the great Chancellor,” Prime Minister Orbán pledged, is “to preserve and deepen this alliance between Germany and Central Europe in the future.”
The two met for the first time in 1998, just before Prime Minister Orbán formed his government. The then 35 year-old prime minister was looking for advice on good governance and he knew who to call. “We were talking for hours, I simply wanted to know how to do this right,” he recalled in his remarks in 2015 at the conference celebrating the 85th birthday of the Chancellor. Since then, PM Orbán regarded him as a friend, an invaluable advisor and a mentor unlike any other.
A European Ceremony of Honour will honour the legacy of Helmut Kohl on July 1st in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The event will be attended by many European heads of state and government. The chancellor’s widow, according to reports, had requested that Prime Minister Orbán and other foreign guests speak at the memorial service, but the program was changed contrary to her wishes. The list will include European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former US President Bill Clinton.