Plea for unity from a failed candidate: The east-west split is still an issue, Steffan Heitmann tells Steve Crawshaw

Sitting in Dresden in near-obscurity once more is the spectre at the feast - the man who became the symbol of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's determination to get his way, against all the odds, and whose defeat as presidential candidate provided Mr Kohl with one of the worst humiliations in his 12 years as German leader. Steffan Heitmann, Justice Minister of the east German state of Saxony, is the man who Mr Kohl, the man who never loses, would dearly love to forget.

In addition to the 'loser' tag, the embarrassment is twofold. On the one hand, Mr Heitmann's perceived 'go- soft' approach on the Nazi era damaged Mr Kohl, who continued to insist that Mr Heitmann was the best possible president. And, on the other hand, he represents a broken promise. Mr Kohl repeatedly insisted that the next German president should come from the east, to help the process of social healing. He has now abandoned that commitment, and does not wish to be reminded of it.

Mr Heitmann's comments, when he was in the presidential race, have left a legacy of uncertainty and bitterness. When Mr Heitmann talked, in a newspaper interview, of 'dealing with' or 'coming to terms with' the Nazi legacy, the result was national uproar. Many saw this as an attempt to shrug off the horrors of the past. His talk of allowing the 'normal citizen' to be heard was interpreted, too, as legitimising racist bar-room talk.

The soft-spoken and slightly nervous Mr Heitmann seemed to wander into controversies, almost unawares. As he himself now admits, 'maybe sometimes I expressed myself clumsily. I am not a professional politician. I came from outside, like all of us here (in the east).' And yet, he talks with repugnance of the far-right Republican Party, and of the 'stupid attempt not to face up to Nazi crimes, or to make them seem harmless'. In some respects, the blanket rejection of Mr Heitmann at the end of last year may reflectGermany's own insecurities and complexes, as much as any intrinsic unpleasantness of his views. Deeply conservative, yes; Nazi apologist, no. In Germany, more than anywhere else in Europe, huge areas of debate have been roped off, for fear of where unfettered discussion might lead.

Mr Heitmann emphasises that the 'spiritual split' between east and west is still strong, and rejects any thought of a volte-face on the question of an east German candidate. 'It was a question of my own credibility. After vehemently supporting the idea that an east German candidate is important for the growing together of east and west, I cannot suddenly abandon that position.' But that is precisely what Mr Kohl did? Mr Heitmann, politely: 'That's what you must judge.'

After all this, Germany's next president is now certain to be a westerner. Thus, in the words of Mr Heitmann, 'The old federal republic (West Germany) will be continued. That, for me, is the problem.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine