Don't mention the war to Thatcher

Chancellor's memoirs: He thanks Gorbachev, but says British PM's prejudices made her an obstruction to German unity
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Bonn - The Berlin Wall was collapsing, communism was in retreat, but there was one person determined to keep the most vivid emblem of the Cold War alive, writes Imre Karacs. Margaret Thatcher was the toughest opponent of unification, Chancellor Kohl reveals.

According to his book, the crunch came at the European Union summit in Strasbourg on 8 December 1989. Germany's leader had high hopes of persuading the Russians to consign East Germany to the dustbin of history, and had travelled to Strasbourg expecting a round of applause for his feat.

What he got was a great deal of embarrassed silence, some mild expressions of concern and, particularly from one quarter, outright opposition. While nobody mentioned the war, it was very clearly on the participants' mind.

"The strongest reservations came from Number 10 Downing Street," Mr Kohl writes, according to extracts published by the magazine Der Spiegel. The Chancellor had already been at the receiving end of the famous handbag many times, so he had learnt to treat Mrs Thatcher with "respect and sympathy", but there was no getting away from what can only be described as a "clash of cultures".

"On many questions of fact, of course, my opinion was completely different from hers," he writes. "Like many of her generation, she was deeply distrustful of Germans, and I constantly tried to see things from her viewpoint. She did not want to take on board that Germany, at the end of a century of defeats in two world wars, should appear to be the big winner."

Mr Kohl also encountered hostility in Paris, but in deference to his deceased friend, Francois Mitterrand, the French President in 1989, Chancellor Kohl attributes this to the French press.