21 March 2006

Happy 79th, Hans-Dietrich Genscher!

Today Hans-Dietrich Genscher, German Foreign Minister from 1974 - 1992 and one of the greatest statesmen of post-WWII Germany, celebrates his 79th birthday.

Genscher started his political career as a Liberal party member in the former East Germany. He left East Germany in 1952 and joined the Free Democrats (FDP) party in West Germany. After being elected to Parliament in 1965, and becoming the FDP's chairman in 1974, he led it into a coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD) and became Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister.

Genscher split with the SPD in 1982, which brought down the coalition government. Despite the controversy surrounding the split, Genscher remained one of the most popular politicians in Germany. He engineered a new governing coalition between Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the FDP, and continued to hold his posts as Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister.

From the German Embassy's website:

Genscher will always be remembered as the "Foreign Minister of Unification," a fitting tribute for a man who left his hometown of Reideburg near Halle in the German Democratic Republic in 1952 for the freedoms and opportunities of the West, but who never abandoned the hope that his homeland could be unified peacefully.
In his memoirs, Genscher describes the day in 1989 when he announced to East German refugees camped out in the Federal Republic of Germany's Embassy in Prague that they would be allowed to travel to West Germany as the most moving time of his life. The words Genscher spoke from the balcony of the Embassy on September 30 to the more than 4,000 refugees crowded on the grounds were heard round the world:

"Dear Fellow Citizens, I have come to you today to inform you that your journey into the Federal Republic of Germany is now imminent!"

For Genscher the announcement was the culmination of tense days of negotiations to allow the refugees, including others at the Embassy in Warsaw, to travel directly to West Germany.


Negotiating Table: Foreign Minister Genscher, left, Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev, center, and Chancellor Kohl during negotiations in the Caucasus in July 1990.

Genscher is credited by many with being the driving force behind the success of the months-long and now-historic reunification negotiations with the Soviet Union, illustrated by his presence in this photo. As a sign of recognition, Mikhail Gorbachev personally insisted that Genscher take a seat at the "stump" before the photo was taken.

On September 12, 1990, the "Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany" was signed by the two German states and the four allied powers, the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.

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