Helmut Kohl: Large and in Charge
Surely most politicians would not let such an opportunity slip, a milestone in a record-breaking political career. If Bill Clinton, for instance, had been the longest-serving president in the 20th century (a prospect mercifully made impossible by the 22nd Amendment), the Hollywood-staged celebrations and hoopla would certainly put the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympic Games to shame.
But that is not the way of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a man known better for sturdiness and political savvy than for a passion for publicity or fondness for movie stars. On the day - today -when Mr. Kohl after 14 years in office overtakes the record for political longevity set by post-war German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Mr. Kohl isn't even in the country. Instead, he is traveling on state business in Asia. He's got work to do, Mr. Kohl has announced, and is not inclined to sit around counting the days like some green recruit.
Nor has Mr. Kohl indicated whether he is aiming for another first, breaking the all-time 19-year record of German Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, a record that has stood for 125 years. The 66-year old German leader is, however, going strong and is expected to lead his party, the Christian Democrats (CDU) into the next election in 1998. All of which puts Mr. Kohl in very distinguished company indeed: Bismarck was the founder of the modern German state; Adenauer presided over the post-World War II rebuilding of Germany's democratic institutions and economy. Helmut Kohl, for his part, will go down in history as the man who engineered the unification of the two Germanies - and with it the unification of Europe - after 45 years of Cold-War division.
When he came to power in 1982, no one suspected that such accolades would one day be heaped upon Mr. Kohl - or indeed that he would last this long. He faced a formidable challenge, ensuring Germany's safety through the installation of Pershing II medium-range nuclear missiles to counter the Soviet Union's missiles aimed at Europe. This, despite the loud and intimidating growling of Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. Yet at the same time, Mr. …