AT his annual party congress here, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl seized the moment of the mass exodus of East Germans from Hungary to address the ``unnatural'' division of Germany. ```Unity and justice and freedom for the German fatherland' is not an old-fashioned saying,'' he said. Rather ``it belongs to the future.'' Time is working in favor of freedom, not against it, he said.
The chancellor needed to establish two things at the congress: party unity and an agenda for the future. He was fairly successful on both fronts.
What could have been a fierce debate over Chancellor Kohl's decision to drop the party's No. 2 man, Heiner Geissler, was instead a polite recognition of differences and a resolution to move forward together. Mr. Kohl's hand-picked candidate to replace Mr. Geissler as general secretary, Volker R"uhe, was easily elected with 84 percent of the delegates' vote.
Kohl linked the future of his center-right Christian Democratic Union to a united Europe; ``freedom, self-determination, and unity for all Germans''; environmental protection; and a family-based society.
Kohl also emphatically rejected any cooperation with ``radical'' parties - left or right - which have been eroding his voter base. He warned against the ``anarchistic'' Greens who want Germany to pull out of NATO. He criticized the ``intolerance and hostility'' of the right-wing, nationalist Republicans, who, Kohl said, ``want to march back to the 19th century.''
What the CDU wants most is to march into the future and win some of the upcoming local and state elections before national elections late next year. Its election record so far this year is far from stellar. Leaders of the CDU want the party to live up to its description as a catchall party and to address issues that will reach a broad spectrum of voters.
One of these issues is the environment, which was the subject of a major initiative approved by the delegates at the congress this week. More thematic than specific, it promotes environmental protection through consumer education, economic incentives, technology, and European and worldwide cooperation.
A controversial topic in Germany is its heavy dependence on nuclear power. Environmental Minister Klaus T"opfer told party delegates that Germany can't abandon nuclear power. He stressed the need to advance technology and safety in this area while at the same time pursuing alternative energy sources.