Thursday, 12 November 2015

Helmut Schmidt, ex-Chancellor of West Germany dies at age 96

The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2015

BERLIN • Former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who led the country for eight years at the height of the Cold War, has died at the age of 96, said his office.

Mr Schmidt led then-West Germany from 1974 to 1982 as it rose to become a global economic powerhouse, before he lost power to conservative Helmut Kohl.

A centrist from the Social Democratic Party, Mr Schmidt steered the country through a bloody wave of terror by far-left radicals from the Red Army Faction, preached free-market economics to his party and embodied cool-headed pragmatic politics in an Europe riven by the Iron Curtain.

The media reported that he caught an infection after having surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg about two months ago.

His doctor told German news agency dpa that the former leader had been receiving treatment at home after suffering a downturn in his health earlier this week. He died in his Hamburg home yesterday.

In recent years, Mr Schmidt, a chain smoker, was a frequent talk-show guest and he commanded more respect as an elder statesman than he did when he led the country.

During the euro zone debt crisis since 2009, he had criticised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for lacking financial savvy.

European Parliament head Martin Schulz, a Social Democrat, tweeted: "I am deeply saddened by Helmut Schmidt's death. He was an outstanding chancellor, his death is a loss for Germany and Europe."

Born in Hamburg in 1918, Mr Schmidt fought in World War II and was taken prisoner by the British.

He was married for 68 years to his childhood sweetheart Loki, who died in 2010.

They had a son who died in his first year and a daughter.


PM Lee sends condolences
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has conveyed his condolences to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the death of former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Mr Schmidt, who died on Tuesday at the age of 96, was a visionary leader and a close friend of Singapore, PM Lee said in a letter to Dr Merkel.

He had a strategic view of the world and was a strong supporter of closer relations between Singapore and Germany, PM Lee added.

Mr Schmidt was also a close personal friend of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew for many years, PM Lee said, recalling their final meeting in May 2012. At the age of 94, Mr Schmidt had travelled from Hamburg to Singapore to meet his old friend.

The two leaders spent three days discussing world politics.

PM Lee wrote: "It was, as always, a meeting of minds. Clear-headed and tough-minded, Mr Schmidt found common ground with Mr Lee on many key issues.

"We were privileged to have that last conversation published in a book by Mr Lee a year later."

The 2013 book, One Man's View Of The World, covers Mr Lee's views on global developments.

Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Mr Schmidt was a visionary...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

PM Lee added: "On behalf of the Government of the Republic of Singapore, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the government and people of the Federal Republic of Germany as you mourn the loss of one of Germany's great leaders."

In a separate Facebook post, PM Lee recounted a personal anecdote showing Mr Schmidt's acute musical ear. The German leader had once attended a poolside dinner hosted by Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew.

Classical chamber music - Bach's Goldberg Variations - had been playing in the background. In the midst of the conversation, Mr Schmidt turned to Mrs Lee and correctly identified the pianist of the piece as Glenn Gould.

"My mother asked how he knew, and he said there was something unique about Glenn Gould's playing style,"said PM Lee.

Helmut Schmidt: Unsentimental doer who won affection
Helmut Schmidt will be remembered as man who cemented Europe's economic stability
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2015

Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor who died on Tuesday (Nov 10), was a man who spent a lifetime defying odds stacked against him.

He came from a poor family, yet rose to his country's most important job.

He was not the architect of Germany's post-war economic miracle, but will be remembered as the man who cemented Europe's economic stability: "The important initiatives he undertook in international policy are still being felt today," Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a tribute to her predecessor.

Mr Schmidt had a life-long reputation of being aloof and pugnacious, yet he spent the final years of his life modestly, enjoying huge affection. And despite his incessant cigarette smoking, he lived to the ripe old age of 96.

The son of penniless school teachers from the northern port city of Hamburg was born in December 1918, one month after Germany's defeat in World War I. His youth was dominated by the subsequent travails of German hyper-inflation and Nazi dictatorship, and he ended up being the only chancellor of modern Germany to have served as a soldier in World War II.

Captured by the British in 1945, he narrowly avoided being put on trial, largely because of evidence from comrades of his opposition to Nazi ideology.

Mr Schmidt often used to say that his wartime experience persuaded him to enter politics as a socialist.

Yet the man who personally witnessed some of the most gruesome episodes of his country's history was no pacifist; Mr Schmidt spent the rest of his life arguing that precisely because of the horrors of the past, it was up to Germany to shoulder more than its fair share of the burden for European peace and global stability.

It was this fearless attitude to the use of national power which propelled Mr Schmidt to the job of defence minister when the Socialists came to office for the first time in post-war Germany in October 1969.

And it was his reputation as an unsentimental doer, a "macher" as the Germans like to put it, which served Mr Schmidt so well when, in May 1974, he unexpectedly inherited the chancellorship after his predecessor, Willy Brandt, was discredited by a spy scandal.

Those were not easy days for Germany. The country faced its first major post-war economic downturn. Germany's materialistic society was rejected by the country's youth, some of whom joined urban terrorist organisations such as the Red Army Faction. And the threat that the Cold War which divided Germany could accidentally turn into a hot war loomed large.

Mr Schmidt addressed each one of these problems with characteristic determination. He pioneered the idea of economic summits to handle global problems; the Group of Seven yearly gatherings of the world's most industrialised nations were his idea.

He also persuaded German workers to take a pay cut in order to kick-start their nation's economic growth; Mr Schmidt's argument that a country cannot spend more than it earns proved to be a concept followed by all subsequent German leaders to this day.

He also refused to give in to urban terrorism, even when this resulted in the murder of prominent German industrialists held hostage.

His extensive use of the national intelligence services against urban terrorists raised eyebrows among human rights activists, but by the late 1970s all the terrorist networks were dismantled, and the authority of the German state restored.

The same approach was applied to Germany's fraught relations with the Soviet Union. He supported Europe-wide disarmament negotiations and economic engagement with the Soviets, but he also pushed through the deployment of a new generation of Western middle- range nuclear missiles as a response to growing Soviet military power.

The decision ultimately cost Mr Schmidt his job as he was deserted by his own party left-wingers and kicked out of office half-way through a parliamentary term - the only modern German leader to experience such a defeat.

However, he was unrepentant. He believed the job of a true leader is not to court popularity or be bound by ideology, but to do what is right for his nation; "people with visions should go to the doctor," he used to joke.

Mr Schmidt was a lifelong friend of Singapore, which he first visited in the late 1950s.

And he formed a strong bond with the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Defying a blood clot in his leg which ultimately contributed to his death, Mr Schmidt flew to Singapore in May 2012, for what both instinctively knew was to be their last meeting.

Characteristically, neither mused on the past, but looked to the future. The two agreed on everything, apart from the German leader's incessant smoking.

"We need leadership figures. We need people like Harry Lee," Mr Schmidt said at the end of their talks.

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