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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EUROFILE: Kohl Bullies Czechs to Get Bavaria's Votes




With less than six weeks to go before Germany's general elections, Helmut Kohl's chances of winning a fifth term as chancellor look no better than moderate. But one thing is certain: A good result in Bavaria's Sept. 13 state elections, two weeks before the national vote, will considerably improve Kohl's prospects.


Bavaria is a conservative state. The right-wing Christian Social Union, the sister party of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and part of his coalition government in Bonn, has captured more than 50 percent of the vote in every Bavarian election since 1970.


At the moment, however, opinion polls suggest that the CSU will win only 45 percent. Such a result would imply defeat for Kohl and victory for the opposition Social Democrats two weeks later.


It is therefore not altogether surprising, though disappointing, that Kohl recently succumbed to foreigner bashing to boost support for the CSU.


Specifically, he launched an undignified attack on Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman for criticizing the nomination of several Sudeten Germans to the board of a new Czech-German fund. The fund's task is to compensate the Sudeten German community for property lost when they were expelled from Czechoslovakia after the end of World War II.


No one doubts that the Sudeten Germans were treated with exceptional harshness by Czechs bent on revenge in 1945. President Vaclav Haval made a public apology on behalf of the Czech nation soon after the 1989 democratic revolution in his country. But the fact remains that the Sudeten Germans would never have suffered their cruel fate had Adolf Hitler not dismembered and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939.


This point was made as long as ago as 1985 in a ground-breaking speech by the then West German president, Richard von Weizs?cker, marking the 40th anniversary of the war's end. Much to the annoyance of the exiled Sudeten Germans and their descendants, a large number of whom live in Bavaria, von Weizs?cker pointed out that the Nazis bore the fundamental responsibility for the post-war expulsions of millions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union.


In his heart of hearts, Kohl would accept this. Yet he still could not resist making a rather viciously worded attack on Zeman -- and all for the sake of shoring up the Sudeten German vote in Bavaria.


"When we finally meet," he said in a German television interview from his summer vacation retreat in Austria, "I will tell him that if this is his idea of being a good neighbor, to insult a people who experienced particular suffering, just as his people did under the Germans, then you can't expect that we will be good neighbors."


If Kohl meant what he said, then he is wrong. He needs to be reminded that, despite his reputation as a vastly experienced statesman dedicated to European unity, such remarks sound threatening to Czechs and others once subjected to Nazi terror.


What are the Czechs to think when they hear the leader of Europe's most powerful country warning that "good relations" depend on "good Czech behavior?" Well might they wonder whether Kohl would ever dare speak in such a hostile fashion toward France or the United States. Of course he would not. But the Czechs are a small nation who live next door to Bavaria. The sooner Germany's election season is over, the better for Europe.