W. German politics polarizes in wake of Reagan visit
President Reagan's visit to West Germany 10 days ago seems to have polarized politics in this country. Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Social Democratic opposition leader Willy Brandt reflected the new atmosphere when their differences erupted into a shouting match on live television Sunday night.Skip to next paragraph
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``They did everything but slap each other's faces,'' said one German observer later.
Mr. Brandt said he believes the Christian Democratic chancellor and Mr. Reagan are ganging up on him, with Dr. Kohl somehow having convinced the President that Brandt practices what Kohl described Sunday night as ``primitive anti-Americanism.'' It was that remark from Kohl that triggered an explosion by Brandt.
At the core of the argument was Reagan's refusal to receive Brandt either in Washington or during his recent stay in Bonn.
Kohl said Reagan's visit to West Germany on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II was a voyage of reconciliation.
An angry Hans-Jochen Vogel, the parliamentary leader of Brandt's Social Democratic Party, disputed that, saying that it could not be much of a reconciliation that failed to find time for the US President to receive Willy Brandt, who not only had fought the Nazis as early as 1932, but also was the only German to have received the Nobel Peace Prize since 1945.
Mr. Vogel said Kohl and his Christian Democrats wrongly equate criticism of specific US government policies with anti-Americanism. ``We Social Democrats oppose the American embargo of Nicaragua,'' Vogel said. ``So do French President [Franois] Mitterrand and Spanish Premier [Felipe] Gonz'alez. Does that make them anti-American?''
``We are friends and allies of the American people,'' Vogel went on. ``But we are not vassals of any particular American administration.''
Brandt's angry reaction to the Kohl comment was particularly surprising because Kohl and Brandt were said to have good personal relations. Kohl and Helmut Schmidt, the last Social Democratic chancellor, heartily disliked each other.
Heiner Geissler, general secretary of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union, has particularly angered the Social Democrats with his statement, repeated in Tuesday's Bild Zeitung, West Germany's largest-circulation newspaper, that ``the Social Democrats minimize the Soviet Union, remain silent about its crimes, while criminalizing the United States politically.'
During his Sunday night outburst, Brandt described Mr. Geissler as ``the worst German agitator since [Joseph] Goebbels [Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister].''
Younger politicians on both sides were stunned by the angry outbursts of their leaders.
Near the close of Tuesday's parliamentary debate, Social Democrat Wolfgang Roth rose to ask Christian Democratic front benchers Volker Ruehe, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and Matthias Wissmann if this was to be the political style of the 1980s and '90s, ``where one side accuses the other of being communists, [and that side] rebuts with the charge that the others are fascists.''
The three Christian Democrats did not reply publicly.