Family feud threatens to mar Kohl's legacy

Above: Mr Helmut Kohl died on Friday at the age of 87. Left: Mr Walter Kohl, his son, and his niece were seen standing outside the late former German chancellor's home in Oggersheim, Ludwigshafen, on Wednesday after being turned away at the door in f
Mr Walter Kohl, his son, and his niece were seen standing outside the late former German chancellor's home in Oggersheim, Ludwigshafen, on Wednesday after being turned away at the door in front of the media.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Above: Mr Helmut Kohl died on Friday at the age of 87. Left: Mr Walter Kohl, his son, and his niece were seen standing outside the late former German chancellor's home in Oggersheim, Ludwigshafen, on Wednesday after being turned away at the door in f
Above: Mr Helmut Kohl died on Friday at the age of 87.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Widow of former German chancellor bars stepson, grandchildren entry to family home

BERLIN • Mr Helmut Kohl was the "chancellor of German unity", but a week after his death, a family spat has cast a glaring spotlight on deep divisions and a looming battle over his legacy.

A long-running feud between Mr Kohl's widow and his two adult sons from a previous marriage reached a new low when she denied one of them entry to his childhood home to pay his respects on Wednesday.

Both sides have since traded angry recriminations that threaten to overshadow the mourning period for one of Europe's great statesmen, who died last Friday aged 87.

Der Spiegel weekly, meanwhile, reported that Mr Kohl's widow, Mrs Maike Kohl-Richter, who was 34 years his junior, had planned to bar Chancellor Angela Merkel from speaking at the funeral of her political mentor.

This would reflect the bitterness over what Mr Kohl saw as Dr Merkel's betrayal, which launched her own meteoric career - when she turned against him in 1999 over a campaign finance scandal.

Mrs Kohl-Richter told Dr Merkel last Friday, according to Der Spiegel, that she would invite as a speaker Hungary's hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has harshly attacked Dr Merkel's liberal refugee policies.

The matter has been resolved, and Dr Merkel is now set to address the July 1 service in Strasbourg, along with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French President Emmanuel Macron and former US president Bill Clinton.

With Mr Kohl dead, more trouble may loom, focused on the thousands of files from Mr Kohl's marathon term in office. The historical papers are in the hands of Mrs Kohl-Richter, who would have to consent to their release to an archive or foundation.

Parliamentary Speaker Norbert Lammert said pointedly that "with all due respect, the way and the place in which this outstanding political lifetime achievement... is honoured are more than a family affair".

Mr Kohl is hailed as the father of Germany's 1990 reunification, having convinced Western partners and Russia's Mr Mikhail Gorbachev that Germany's capitalist west and communist east must become one nation again.

Germany's longest-serving post- war leader, in office from 1982 to 1998, was also a founding architect of the European project and championed reconciliation with France, its partner at the core of the EU.

But Mr Kohl's personal life was also marked by tragedy. His first wife, Hannelore, committed suicide in 2001, having spent years indoors because of a rare light allergy.

Later, in retirement, Mr Kohl suffered a fall in 2008 and sustained a serious head injury that left him in a wheelchair and his speech slurred. While in a rehabilitation clinic, he married Maike, a former chancellery speech-writer and his partner of recent years, at the age of 78.

His sons, Walter and Peter, were not invited to the ceremony.

Former friends and biographers have since charged that Mr Kohl's second wife - seen to hero-worship the political giant - also jealously isolated him.

Mr Walter Kohl said he learnt of his father's death on the radio. The last time they had talked, by telephone, had been in 2011.

When he visited the family house with Mr Kohl's two grandchildren on Wednesday, a police officer told him they had been asked to leave.

In a statement to the media, Mr Walter Kohl said he was outraged by Mrs Kohl-Richter's "tasteless behaviour". Her lawyer rejected the blame, claiming Mr Walter Kohl had missed an earlier telephone appointment - a claim he called a "lie".

With Mr Kohl dead, more trouble may loom, focused on the thousands of files from Mr Kohl's marathon term in office.

The historical papers are in the hands of Mrs Kohl-Richter, who would have to consent to their release to an archive or foundation.

Der Spiegel predicted that "the dispute over the legacy of the veteran party chief has begun".

The Passauer Neue Presse daily said the struggles also reflected poorly on Mr Kohl himself, suspecting that the power player may have wanted to settle old scores.

Whatever the truth, the newspaper judged that the funeral preparations were turning "grotesque" and warned all sides "not to tarnish the memory of a historical figure with petty egoism and arrogance".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2017, with the headline 'Family feud threatens to mar Kohl's legacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe