Former German Foreign Minister Genscher Dies at eighty-ninth

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 8:43 PM

His personal assistant, Nicola Maier, confirmed Friday that Genscher died Thursday evening surrounded by family at his residence exterior Bonn. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier lauded his predecessor, saying Genscher had "literally written history." "Overcoming the div of Germany and the split in Europe was his life'south work," said Steinmeier.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the longest-serving German foreign minister who was one of the key architects of the country's one thousand nine hundred ninety reunification between E and west, has died at 89.

His personal assistant, Nicola Maier, confirmed Friday that Genscher died Thursday evening surrounded by family at his residence outside Bonn.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier lauded his predecessor, saying Genscher had "literally written history."

"Overcoming the div of Germany and the split in Europe was his life'south work," said Steinmeier.

Genscher served as foreign minister, first of W Germany and then of the reunited nation, for eighteen years below chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. He remained active and well-connected long after his retirement, working behind the scenes in his mid-80s to assistance safe the release of former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Genscher championed detente with the Soviet bloc in the one thousand nine hundred seventy and one thousand nine hundred eighty, and was in the vanguard of those who took Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev at his word when he declared Soviet aggression a thing of the past.

That trust, and W German insistence on reaching out to assistance Moscow, helped hasten the finish of the Freezing War. It also ultimately brought about German reunification at the heart of an increasingly integrated Europe.

"European unity is the reply to the mistakes of the Germans and of European history," Genscher said as he announced his retirement from Parliament in one thousand nine hundred ninety-eighth. "It's the reply to a terrible world war. These reasons stand even today."

In comments to the Interfax news agency, Gorbachev said Genscher was "a world-class politician, a gifted statesman."

"It's said that there are number friends in politics. It's not true. In recent years, Hans-Dietrich was a true companion to me, and I've lost this friend," Gorbachev said.

Genscher was middle stage as cracks in the Iron Curtain opened up in one thousand nine hundred eighty-nine.

In September one thousand nine hundred eighty-ninth, thousands of E Germans had packed into the W German embassy in Czechoslovakia'south capital, Prague, seeking to escape to the W at a time when E German soldiers shot those who tried to flee across the Berlin Wall. After weeks of diplomatic maneuvering, Genscher on Sept. thirty told the E Germans they could go to the West.

"I call you fellow citizens, and express a hearty welcome," Genscher said from an embassy balcony. He told reporters exterior it was "the most emotional point of my political career."

After the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. nine, Genscher was at the forefront of efforts to unite E and W Germany — a goal achieved on Oct. three, 1990.

Genscher was near to former U. S. President George Bush'south secretary of state, James A. Baker III, awakening Baker the night before a six-nation treaty approving German unification was to be signed in Moscow to assistance resolve a last-minute hitch.

"Freedom lost a grand winner today with the passing of Hans-Dietrich Genscher," Baker said, calling him a wonderful friend. "Germany, Europe and the world benefitted tremendously from the dedication, work and passion of this outstanding statesman. The United States never had any better companion nor a more necessary partner in managing the peaceful finish to the Cold War."

Still, Genscher sometimes rankled his allies. He angered President Ronald Reagan'south doubtful U. S. administration by insisting on cooperating with Moscow early in Gorbachev'south tenure. His insistence in 1989 on linking the reduction of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe with cuts in conventional arms also initially provoked tensions with Washington.

After reunification, Genscher raised eyebrows in one thousand nine hundred ninety-first when he virtually pushed the European Community into recognizing Croatia — which had been a portion of Yugoslavia — by indicating that Germany planned to get the step by itself.

The thrust deeply angered Serb-led Yugoslavia, which broke up amid wars from 1991-99 that took up to 200.000 lives.

Germany'south assertiveness on the Croatia issue also raised worries that it could utilize its might, anchored in its powerful currency at the time, the German mark, to obtain its own way on other European matters.

Yet Genscher was also clear about the lessons Germany had learned from the horrors of its Nazi past.

"I've always considered it my generation'south responsibility to prevent a repetition of the events of the period from 1933-one thousand nine hundred forty-fifth in Germany, committed by Germany," he wrote in his memoir. "That task will go on in perpetuity. We should prevent even a relapse into a new nationalism."

During his long tenure, Genscher became a political cult figure. His ceaseless travel to foreign capitals earned him the nickname "Genschman" — an allusion to Superman — and the yellow sweater-vest he wore below his suit became his trademark. Referring to that heavy travel schedule, then-Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze once quipped that whenever two airliners pass each over the Atlantic, "Genscher is on both of them."

Genscher was born March twenty-one, one thousand nine hundred twenty-seven, in Reideburg, close the eastern city of Halle.

Drafted into the regular German army in the final months of World War II, he was captured by American forces in 1945 and imprisoned in Britain. After the war, he studied law at Leipzig University, but became disenchanted with communist E Germany and escaped to the W in 1952.

There, he joined the tiny Free Democratic Party — for decades W Germany'south political kingmaker — starting a political career that'd create him one of the country'south most favorite and respected figures.

Genscher entered the cabinet as Chancellor Willy Brandt'south interior minister in one thousand nine hundred sixty-ninth. He oversaw the unsuccessful effort to free eleven Israelis held hostage by a Palestinian grouping during the one thousand nine hundred seventy-two Munich Olympics — later describing it as "the most frightful time in my all tenure as a member of the federal government."

He moved to the foreign ministry below Schmidt in one thousand nine hundred seventy-fourth. He was a driving force behind his party'south decision to switch its allegiance from the center-left Social Democrats, bringing down Schmidt and helping the conservative Kohl to power in 1982.

Along the way, Genscher suffered many health problems, including heart trouble and a bout of tuberculosis, but always returned to his 16-hour work days.

In April one thousand nine hundred ninety-two, Genscher announced his resignation, saying he wanted to create way for a new generation of political leaders.

But he remained an influential figure in the Free Democratic Party and a national political institution. That was underlined dramatically when Genscher welcomed ex-tycoon Khodorkovsky to Berlin in December two thousand thirteen following the Russian'south pardon and release after a decade as a prisoner.

It emerged that Genscher had long been quietly working on the case with the German government'south support, twice meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss it, then arranging Khodorkovsky'south flight to Germany.

"Deeply saddened by death of former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher," Khodorkovsky said in a statement. "As I presently know he saved my life."

Genscher is survived by his wife Barbara and a daughter from an earlier marriage.

———

David McHugh in Frankfurt and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.

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