At the age of 78, Willy Brandt died late on Thursday night at his home outside Bonn, having refused a third operation against the cancer which had already ravaged his body.
At a time when Germany is plagued by the deepest doubts, searching both for a balanced role in the world, and an antidote against the resurgent spectre of intolerance and xenophobic violence at home, it has lost a most powerful and authoritative advocate of reason. And at a time when the standing of the entire political class in Germany is so perilously low, countless ordinary people yesterday paid tribute to a man who, reaching across generations and party lines, stood for integrity and honour - a sense of honour which, when a spy was uncovered in his personal office in 1974, led Brandt to resign his position as the first Social Democratic Chancellor of West Germany.
His experience under two dictatorships on German soil enabled Brandt to make an important contribution to reconciling the German people with their history. Particularly during 1990, while the Social Democrats in opposition tore themselves apart over unification, Willy Brandt enthusiastically and passionately welcomed and worked for the coming together of East and West Germany.
'At last, what belongs together can grow together,' he declared at the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. 'It has always been my conviction that this concrete division, this division of barbed wire and death strips, stood against the current of history.'
Brandt saw the unexpected achievement of unification as the fulfilment of his pioneering, and at the time hugely controversial, policy in the Sixties and early Seventies of reconciliation with East Germany and Eastern Europe, known as Ostpolitik.
But the joy soon gave way to disenchantment. Well before his illness struck just over a year ago, Brandt's presence in German politics became much rarer. His disappointment with a Social Democratic party that he felt had lost touch with reality, both nationally and internationally, was palpable.
He forsook his role as 'stepfather' to the rising generation of young SPD leaders. In many of the important issues of the past three years, such as unification and Germany's international security responsibilities, Brandt stood closer to the right-wing Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, than his own party. Most of all, the growing problems of unification, the tensions which have surfaced in both east and west, had devastated his ideals of the new Germany.
In paying tribute to Brandt yesterday, Mr Kohl described him as a man who managed to be 'always a patriot, a European and a citizen of the world at the same time'.
President Richard von Weizsacker praised how 'he fought with his visionary strength and certain instincts for understanding with our former enemies and the rehabilitation of Germany's name'.
The historic achievement of Brandt was, according to the former Foreign Minister, Hans- Dietrich Genscher, the fact that through him 'Germany regained the confidence of the world, so that it could open up to the East, without alarming our Western partners'.
Brandt experienced East-West confrontation at the closest of quarters and from the outset - in Berlin, first as ordinary member of parliament and then mayor during the time when the Wall was built.
It was there that his policy of reconciliation, of 'change through small steps' was forged. Ostpolitik reached its high-point when as Chancellor after 1969, Brandt signed the non-aggression treaty with Moscow, visited East Germany, and in a gesture which moved the world, fell to his knees before the monument to the victims of Nazism at the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw.
In 1971 Brandt became the first and only post-war German politician to win the Nobel Peace Prize. 'Willy Brandt made amends for a great deal of the blame which Germans had heaped on themselves through war, devastation and genocide,' Helmut Schmidt, his successor as chancellor, said yesterday.
Since retiring from the chairmanship of the SPD in 1987, Brandt dedicated himself more to world affairs, notably as president of the Socialist International (SI), a post which he had held since 1976.
Brandt was too ill to attend the SI meeting in Berlin last month, where, amidst stirring tributes, he finally stepped down. Brandt is to be buried in Berlin, where there will also be, next Saturday a state memorial service at the Reichstag.
Obituary, page 45
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