Prague, 28 September 1998 (RFE/RL) --Yesterday's national election in Germany, which ended Helmut Kohl's stay in power after 16 years, is the chief subject of Western press commentary today. Elections in Slovakia, which were completed Saturday, also attract some comment.
NEW YORK TIMES: German unification was Kohl's singular achievement
The New York Times calls its editorial today "End of an Era in Germany." The paper writes: "A German politician once said of Chancellor Helmut Kohl that if he had been the Titanic, the iceberg would have sunk. So it seemed for 16 years as Kohl barreled over one opponent after another to lead Germany for longer than any man since Otto von Bismarck a century ago. But the Kohl winning streak was broken Sunday, and with it ended one of the most eventful and fateful periods in postwar German and European history."
The NYT editorial goes on: "Kohl deftly directed the peaceful re-unification of Germany, helped fashion the political architecture for a united Europe and led the way to economic cooperation on the continent and the adoption of a common currency. In Germany itself, he instilled a sense of confidence and accomplishment that helped overcome the burden of Germany's role in World War II and the Holocaust. German unification was Kohl's singular achievement, even if it turned out to be one of the causes of his defeat."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: Kohl was a big enough man to be two Chancellors
Britain's conservative Daily Telegraph also pays tribute to the outgoing chancellor in an editorial entitled "The End of King Kohl." The DT says Kohl "deserves his place as one of the greatest figures in European political life." The editorial continues: "(Kohl) led his party, the CDU, for 26 years (and) was on intimate terms with every leading politician of his generation....Only Lady (Margaret) Thatcher, with whom he was so often at odds, is comparable among the postwar generation of Western statesmen."
The editorial adds: "It is an achievement all the more remarkable since Kohl was required to be two Chancellors: of West Germany since 1982, and, since October 3, 1990, of a united Germany. He was a big enough man for the job."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Gerhard Schroeder faces challenge to match the qualities of his predecessor
The Financial Times looks forward to what it calls "Life After Helmut Kohl." The paper writes: "Gerhard Schroeder, the victorious challenger for the Social Democrats, is the first man to defeat an incumbent chancellor in the life of the Bonn republic. That is no mean achievement. But he has yet to persuade the outside world, and many Germans, that he had qualities to match those of his predecessor."
The FT editorial continues: "Mr. Schroeder has yet to reveal much of his fundamental agenda....He heads a party which shares Mr. Kohl's commitment to European integration, and to a strong trans-Atlantic relationship....At home, however, the new government will be less clear....Unless Mr. Schroeder moves fast to give his government a clear sense of direction, he could find himself hostage to his fractious friend (SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine)and allies."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Kohl's lack of interest in economics proved to be grave handicap
In a news analysis in the same paper, correspondent Peter Norman writes from Bonn that "Kohl's lack of interest in economics and his disregard of details proved to be grave handicaps." Norman writes further: "The more (Kohl) acquired recognition and celebrity abroad, the more difficult conditions became at home....The man who took office in 1982 promising a 'turn-around' in economic policies with less state intervention and less deficit spending...was eventually to preside over record unemployment, soaring public indebtedness and a gradual relative decline of Germany's international competitiveness."
Norman concludes: "In his final years of domestic politics, Mr. Kohl often seemed out of touch....He paid the price yesterday."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The days of the open German checkbook are clearly numbered
In a news analysis for the International Herald Tribune today, Barry James notes that "Schroeder's victory moves the EU's balance of power sharply Leftward." He writes: "Mr. Schroeder, a relative novice in foreign affairs, has committed himself to the main directions of EU policy, including monetary union...and enlargement toward Eastern and Central Europe after the turn of the century. The EU expects Germany to become increasingly intransigent in demanding a substantial reduction of its share of the EU budget....The matter had been on hold pending the German election but is now virtually certain to come to the fore when heads of state and government meet in Austria next month and in December."
James adds: "Political Analysts (say that Germany will) now be more assertive about defending its interests --particularly its economic interests --in (EU) councils. The days of the open German checkbook are clearly numbered."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The electorate wanted a change
Two major German dailies also comment on their country's watershed election. In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, under the title "The Change is Here," Heribert Prantl writes: "This federal election voiced a much stronger Kohl-must-go vote than was expected, and his final protestations could no longer help the Chancellor. The public knew that his last-ditch defense did not add up to a political offensive, but only that an old warrior was mobilizing his final resources. This earned him respect once more, but no new voters."
Prantl's commentary goes on: "The electorate wanted a change, and they wanted it more urgently than was thought. It was a courageous choice. Adding up the votes of the Left-of-Center spectrum, we can note a swing that was larger than in the days of the legendary Willy Brandt elections. Is this a strong signal for the Red-Green (coalition)? The result is surely a sign of a genuine change, not just a slight shift. But constructing a majority for a Red-Green (partnership) will probably require a great deal of discipline, and that will mean it will take some time to build a coalition."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Schroeder has to realize the other half of his promises
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's editorial speaks of "Schroeder's Difficult Victory." The paper writes: "The change has been effected. The new chancellor is called Schroeder. The other half of his promises --that is, that he will not permit the change to lead to a political convulsion-- remains for Schroeder to realize. Red-Green has (now) become politically normal... But in the election campaign the Greens showed...how alien they are to the nation's basic political tenets."
GUARDIAN: An SDK-led government is also likely to improve Slovakia's image
Turning to Slovakia's elections, some analysts credit the country's voters with having "put (Vladimir) Meciar out in the cold." That's the title of an analysis in the Guardian today by Nick Thorpe, who writes: "Meciar, the authoritarian nationalist who dominated Slovak politics since the fall of Communism in 1989, was left politically isolated...as opposition parties claimed victory..."
Thorpe goes on: "Slovakia's new prime minister is likely to be the 43-year-old tele-communications expert Milulas Dzurinda, leader of the SDK (Slovak Democratic Coalition, which received the largest vote among the four opposition parties)....An SDK-led government will start work with the goodwill of the West....A place in the new government for politicians from Slovakia's large Hungarian minority, whose party won nine percent of the vote, is also likely to improve Slovakia's image radically."
WASHINGTON POST: Slovakia is on the verge of a new era
In a news analysis for the Washington Post, Peter Finn writes from Bratislava: "Following national elections over the weekend, there is a sense, especially among the young of this striving city, that Slovakia is on the verge of a new era with a new government."
Finn continues: "According to one Western diplomat, there is virtually no money in government coffers for the remaining months of the current budget year. The Slovak currency, the koruna, is dropping to the bottom of its fluctuation band, amid fears it may have to be devalued....(This) has led to some speculation...that Meciar, in opposition, will benefit from his own financial misrule and return triumphant when any new government collapses under the weight of an economic crisis. Western diplomats, however, said the new government, after emphasizing its commitment to democratic change, would likely be well received by international financial institutions if it faced a severe fiscal crisis."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Dzurinda is the hottest candidate for the post of prime minister
Also writing from Bratislava today, Berthed Kohler says in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that Dzurinda managed to give "the people the impression that he was speaking their language and understood their problems." He goes on: "The father of two children, (Dzurinda) represents a new generation of politicians without a communist imprint, who until now have only stood in the second row."
Kohler adds: "As the chairman of the strongest (former opposition) party, Dzurinda is the hottest candidate for the post of prime minister. The SDK (needs the) support of the several parties behind it....If Dzurinda succeeds in becoming prime minister, his most important task will be to bind together this multi-colored group."
(Dora Slaba translated the German press excerpts in this report.)