Hans-Dietrich Genscher

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Hans-Dietrich Genscher
Bundesarchiv FDP-Bundesparteitag, Genscher.jpg
Hans-Dietrich Genscher, 1978
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
In office
1 October 1982 – 17 May 1992
Preceded by Egon Franke
Succeeded by Jürgen Möllemann
In office
17 May 1974 – 17 September 1982
Preceded by Walter Scheel
Succeeded by Egon Franke
Foreign Minister of Germany
In office
1 October 1982 – 17 May 1992
Preceded by Helmut Schmidt (acting)
Succeeded by Klaus Kinkel
In office
17 May 1974 – 17 September 1982
Preceded by Walter Scheel
Succeeded by Helmut Schmidt (acting)
Minister of the Interior of Germany
In office
22 October 1969 – 16 May 1974
Preceded by Ernst Benda
Succeeded by Werner Maihofer
Personal details
Born (1927-03-21) 21 March 1927 (age 95)
Reideburg, Germany
Political party Free Democratic Party of Germany (1952–present)
Other political
Nazi Party (1945) Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (GDR) (1946–52)
Spouse(s) Barbara Schmidt Genscher
Occupation Politician
File:Bush senior und Hans-Dietrich Genscher.jpg
George H. W. Bush and Hans-Dietrich Genscher (21 November 1989)

Hans-Dietrich Genscher (born 21 March 1927) is a German politician of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). He served as Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1992 (except for a two-week break in 1982), making him the longest-tenured holder of either post. In 1991, he was the chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).


Early life

Genscher was born on 21 March 1927 in Reideburg (Province of Saxony), now a part of Halle, in what later became East Germany.[1] He was drafted to serve as a member of the Air Force Support Personnel (Luftwaffenhelfer) at the age of 16. In 1945, close to the end of the war, he became a member of the Nazi Party. He later claimed this was due to a collective application in his Wehrmacht unit[clarification needed] and not by his own intent. He served as a soldier in General Walther Wenck's 12th Army. He was briefly an American and British prisoner of war. Following World War II, he studied law and economics at the universities of Halle and Leipzig (1946–1949) and joined the East German Liberal Democratic Party (LDPD) in 1946.[citation needed]

Political career

In 1952, Genscher fled to West Germany, where he joined the Free Democratic Party (FDP). He passed his second state examination in law in Hamburg in 1954 and became a solicitor in Bremen. From 1956 to 1959 he was a research assistant of the FDP parliamentary group in Bonn. From 1959 to 1965 he was the FDP group managing director, while from 1962 to 1964 he was National Secretary of the FDP.

In 1965 Genscher was elected on the North Rhine-Westphalian FDP list to the West German parliament and remained a member of parliament until his retirement in 1998. He was elected deputy national chairman in 1968. After serving in several party offices, he was appointed Minister of the Interior by Chancellor Willy Brandt, whose Social Democratic Party was in coalition with the FDP, in 1969; in 1974, he became foreign minister and Vice Chancellor.

From 1 October 1974 to 23 February 1985 he was Chairman of the FDP. It was during his tenure as party chairman that the FDP switched from being the junior member of social-liberal coalition to being the junior member of the 1982 coalition with the CDU/CSU. In 1985 he gave up the post of national chairman. After his resignation as Foreign Minister, Genscher was appointed honorary chairman of the FDP in 1992.

Federal Minister of the Interior

After the federal election of 1969 Genscher was instrumental in the formation of the social-liberal coalition of Chancellor Willy Brandt and was on 22 October 1969 appointed as Federal Minister of the Interior. In 1972, while Minister for the Interior, Genscher rejected Israel's offer to send an Israeli special forces unit to Germany to deal with the Munich Olympics hostage crisis. A flawed rescue attempt by German police forces at Fürstenfeldbruck air base resulted in a bloody shootout, which left all eleven hostages, five terrorists, and one German policeman dead. Genscher's popularity with Israel declined further when he endorsed the release of the three captured attackers following the hijacking of a Lufthansa aircraft on 29 October 1972.[2]

In the SPD-FDP coalition, Genscher helped shape Brandt's policy of deescalation with the communist East, commonly known as Ostpolitik, which was continued under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt after Brandt's resignation in 1974.

Vice Chancellor and Federal Foreign Minister

In the negotiations on a coalition government of SPD and FDP following the 1976 elections, it took Genscher 73 days to reach agreement with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.[3]

As Foreign Minister, Genscher stood for a policy of compromise between East and West, and developed strategies for an active policy of détente and the continuation of the East-West dialogue with the USSR. He was widely regarded a strong advocate of negotiated settlements to international problems.[4] As a popular story on Genscher’s preferred method of shuttle diplomacy has it, "two Lufthansa jets crossed over the Atlantic, and Genscher was on both."[5]

Genscher was a major player in the negotiations on the text of the Helsinki Accords. In December 1976, the General Assembly of the United Nations accepted in New York Genscher's proposal of an anti-terrorism convention in New York,[6] which was set among other things, to respond to demands from hostage-takers under any circumstances.

Genscher was one of the FDP's driving forces when, in 1982, the party switched sides from its coalition with the SPD to support the CDU/CSU in their Constructive vote of no confidence to have incumbent Helmut Schmidt replaced with opposition leader Helmut Kohl as Chancellor. The reason for this was the increase in the differences between the coalition partners, particularly in economic and social policy. Despite the great controversy that accompanied this switch, he remained one of the most popular politicians in West Germany.

At several points in his tenure, he irritated the governments of the United States and other allies of Germany by appearing not to support Western initiatives fully. During the Cold War, his penchant to seek the middle ground at times exasperated United States policy-makers who wanted a more decisive, less equivocal Germany.[7] They accused him of a quasi-neutralism that came to be known as Genscherism.[4] Fundamental to Genscherism was said to be the belief that Germany could play a role as a bridge between East and West without losing its status as a reliable NATO ally.[4] In the 1980s, Genscher opposed the deployment of new short-range NATO missiles in Germany. At the time, the Reagan Administration questioned whether Germany was straying from the Western alliance and following a program of its own.[8]

In 1984, Genscher became the first Western foreign minister to visit Tehran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In 1988, he appointed Jürgen Hellner as West Germany’s new ambassador to Libya, a post that had been vacant since the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that U.S. officials blamed on the government of Muammar Gaddafi.[9]

Genscher’s proposals frequently set the tone and direction of foreign affairs among Western Europe's democracies.[7] He was also an active participant in the further development of the European Union, taking an active part in the Single European Act Treaty negotiations in the mid-1980s, as well as the joint publication of the Genscher-Colombo plan with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Emilio Colombo which advocated further integration and deepening of relations in the European Union towards a more federal Europe. He later was among the politicians who pushed hard for monetary union alongside Edouard Balladur, France’s finance minister, and Giuliano Amato.[10]

Genscher retained his posts as foreign minister and vice chancellor through German reunification and until 1992 when he stepped down for health reasons.

Reunification efforts

Genscher is most respected for his efforts that helped spell the end of the Cold War, in the late 1980s when Communist eastern European governments toppled, and which led to German reunification. During his time in office, he focused on maintaining stability and balance between the West and the Soviet bloc. From the beginning, he argued that the West should seek cooperation with Communist governments rather than treat them as implacably hostile; this policy was embraced by many Germans and other Europeans.[8]

Genscher had great interest in European integration and the success of German reunification. He soon pushed for effective support of political reform processes in Poland and Hungary. For this purpose, he visited Poland to meet the chairman of Solidarity Lech Wałęsa as early as January 1980. Especially from 1987 he campaigned for an "active relaxation" policy response by the West to the Soviet efforts. In the years before German reunification, he made a point of maintaining strong ties with his birthplace Halle, which was regarded as significant by admirers and critics alike.[11]

When thousands of East Germans sought refuge in West German embassies in Czechoslovakia and Poland, Genscher held discussions on the refugee crisis at the United Nations in New York with the foreign ministers of Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1989.[12] Genscher’s 30 September 1989 speech from the balcony of the German embassy in Prague was an important milestone on the road to the end of the GDR. In the embassy courtyard thousands of East German citizens had assembled. They were trying to travel to West Germany, but were being denied permission to travel by the Czechoslovak government at the request of East Germany. He announced that he had reached an agreement with the Communist Czechoslovakian government that the refugees could leave: "We have come to you to tell you that today, your departure ..." (German: "Wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute Ihre Ausreise ..."). After these words, the speech was drowned in cheers.[13]

With his fellow foreign ministers James Baker of the United States and Eduard Shevardnadze of the Soviet Union, Genscher is widely credited with securing Germany's subsequent peaceful unification and the withdrawal of Soviet forces.[14] He negotiated the German reunification in 1990 with his counterpart from the GDR, Markus Meckel. In November 1990, Genscher and his Polish counterpart Krzysztof Skubiszewski signed the German-Polish Border Treaty on the establishment of the Oder–Neisse line as Poland's western border. Meanwhile, he strongly endorsed plans of the Bush Administration to assure continued U.S. influence in a post-Cold War Europe.[15]


In 1991, Genscher successfully pushed for Germany’s recognition of the Republic of Croatia in the Croatian War of Independence shortly after the Serbian attack on Vukovar.[16] After Croatia and Slovenia had declared independence, Genscher concluded that Yugoslavia could not be held together, and that republics that wanted to break from the Serbian-dominated federation deserved quick diplomatic recognition. He hoped that such recognition would stop the fighting.[8] The rest of the European Union was subsequently pressured to follow suit soon afterward.[17] The UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar had warned the German Government, that a recognition of Slovenia and Croatia would lead to an increase in aggression in the former Yugoslavia.

At a meeting of the European Community’s foreign ministers in 1991, Genscher proposed to press for a war crimes trial for President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, accusing him of aggression against Kuwait, using chemical weapons against civilians and condoning genocide against the Kurds.[18]

During the Gulf War, Genscher sought to deal with Iraq after other Western leaders had decided to go to war to force it out of Kuwait. Germany made a substantial financial contribution to the allied cause but, citing constitutional restrictions on the use of its armed forces, provided almost no military assistance.[8] In January 1991, Germany sent Genscher on a state visit to Israel and followed up with an agreement to provide the Jewish state with $670 million in military aid, including financing for two submarines long coveted by Israel, a battery of Patriot missiles to defend against Iraqi missiles, 58 armored vehicles specially fitted to detect chemical and biological attacks, and a shipment of gas masks.[19] When, in the aftermath of the war, a far-reaching political debate broke out over how Germany should fulfill its global responsibilities, Genscher responded that if foreign powers expect Germany to assume greater responsibility in the world, they should give it a chance to express its views "more strongly" in the United Nations Security Council.[4] He also famously held that "whatever floats is fine, whatever rolls is not" to sum up Germany’s military export policy for restless countries – based on a navy's unsuitability for use against a country's own people.[20]

In 1992, Genscher, together with his Danish colleague Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, took the initiative to create the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and the EuroFaculty.[21]

More than half a century after Nazi leaders assembled their infamous exhibition "Degenerate Art," a sweeping condemnation of the work of the avant-garde, Genscher opened a re-creation of the show at the Altes Museum in March 1992, describing Nazi attempts to restrict artistic expression as "a step toward the catastrophe that produced the mass murder of European Jews and the war of extermination against Germany's neighbors." "The paintings in this exhibition have survived oppression and censorship," he asserted in his opening remarks. "They are not only a monument but also a sign of hope. They stand for the triumph of creative freedom over barbarism."[22]

On 18 May 1992 Genscher retired at his own request from the federal government, which he had been member of for a total of 23 years. At the time, he was the world's longest-serving foreign minister and Germany's most popular politician.[23] He had announced his decision three weeks earlier, on 27 April 1992. At that time he was Europe's longest-serving foreign minister. Genscher did not specify his reasons for quitting; however, he had suffered two heart attacks by that time. His resignation took effect in May, but he remained a member of parliament and continued to be influential in the Free Democratic Party.[8]

Following Genscher’s resignation, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and FDP chairman Otto Graf Lambsdorff named Irmgard Schwaetzer, a former aide to Genscher, to be the new Foreign Minister.[8] In a surprise decision, however, a majority of the FDP parliamentary group rejected her nomination and voted instead to name Justice Minister Klaus Kinkel to head the Foreign Ministry.[24]

Activities after politics

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, 2013

Having finished his political career, Genscher has remained active as a lawyer and in international organizations.

In late 1992, Genscher was appointed chairman of a newly established donors’ board of the Berlin State Opera.[25]

Between 1999 and 2010, Genscher was affiliated with the law firm Büsing, Müffelmann & Theye. He founded his own consulting firm, Hans-Dietrich Genscher Consult GmbH, in 2000. Between 2001 and 2013, he served as president of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2001, Genscher headed an arbitration that ended a monthlong battle between German airline Lufthansa and its pilots' union and resulted in an agreement on increasing wages by more than 15 percent by the end of the following year.[26]

In 2008, Genscher joined former Czech President Václav Havel, former United States Ambassador to Germany John Kornblum and several other well-known political figures in calling for a Cold War museum to be built at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.[27]

In 2009 Genscher expressed public concern at Pope Benedict XVI's lifting of excommunication of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. Genscher wrote in the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung: "Poles can be proud of Pope John Paul II. At the last papal election, we said We are the pope! But please—not like this."[28] He argued that Pope Benedict XVI was making a habit of offending non-Catholics. "This is a deep moral and political question. It is about respect for the victims of crimes against humanity", Genscher said.[29]

On 20 December 2013, it was revealed that Genscher played a key role in coordinating the release and flight to Germany of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos. Genscher had first met Khodorkovsky in 2002 and had chaired a conference at which Khodorkovsky blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of his oil company.[30] Khodorkovsky asked his lawyers during a 2011 prison visit to let Genscher help mediate early release. Once Putin was re-elected in 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel instructed her officials to lobby for the president to meet Genscher.[30][31] The subsequent negotiations involved two meetings between Genscher and Putin — one at Berlin Tegel Airport at the end of Putin’s first visit to Germany after he was re-elected in 2012, the other in Moscow. While keeping the chancellor informed, Khodorkovsky's attorneys and Genscher spent the ensuing months developing a variety of legal avenues that could allow Putin to release his former rival early, ranging from amendments to existing laws to clemency.[30] When Khodorkovsky's mother was in a Berlin hospital with cancer in November 2013, Genscher passed a message to Khordorkovsky suggesting the prisoner should write a pardon letter to Putin emphasizing his mother's ill health.[32] Following Putin’s pardoning of Khodorkovsky "for humanitarian reasons" in December 2013, a private plane provided by Genscher brought Khodorkovsky to Berlin for a family reunion at the Hotel Adlon.[33]

Genscher signed on in 2014 to be a member of the Southern Corridor Advisory Panel, a BP-led consortium which includes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International.[34] The panel’s purpose is to facilitate the expansion of a vast natural-gas field in the Caspian Sea and the building of two pipelines across Europe. The $45 billion enterprise, championed by the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, has been called by critics "the Blair Rich Project."[35]

Other activities (selection)

Recognition (selection)

Genscher has been awarded honorary citizenship by his birthplace Halle (Saale) and the city of Berlin.

Selected works

  • Die Rolle Europas im Kontext der Globalisierung, in: Robertson-von Trotha, Caroline Y. (ed.): Herausforderung Demokratie. Demokratisch, parliamentarisch, gut? (= Kulturwissenschaft interdisziplinär/Interdisciplinary Studies on Culture and Society, Vol. 6), Baden-Baden 2011,ISBN 978-3-8329-5816-9

See also


  1. Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Genscher, Hans-Dietrich". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford: OUP. p. 184. Retrieved 1 September 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "1972 Olympics Massacre: Germany's Secret Contacts to Palestinian Terrorists". Der Spiegel. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Quentin Peel (22 September 2013), Coalition uncertainty hangs over Angela Merkel victory Financial Times.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Stephen Kinzer (22 March 1991), Genscher At Eye of Policy Debate New York Times.
  5. William Tuohy (11 June 1989), Bonn's Genscher Views Gorbachev Reforms as 'Historic Opportunity' Los Angeles Times.
  6. Drafting of an international convention against taking hostages
  7. 7.0 7.1 Tyler Marshall (28 April 1992), Genscher Quits as Germany's Foreign Minister Los Angeles Times.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Stephen Kinzer (28 April 1992), Genscher, Bonn's Foreign Minister 18 Years, Resigns New York Times.
  9. Bonn Names Libya Envoy Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1988.
  10. Tony Barber (16 December 2012), The blueprint for lopsided monetary union Financial Times.
  11. William Tuohy (11 June 1989), Bonn's Genscher Views Gorbachev Reforms as 'Historic Opportunity' Los Angeles Times.
  12. William Tuohy (1 October 1989), E. Germans Win Bid to Go to West : Prague, Warsaw Permit 4,000 in Embassies to Leave Los Angeles Times.
  13. Genscher at the German Embassy in Prague 1989 on YouTube
  14. Former Soviet Minister and Georgia Leader Shevardnadze Dies at 86 Haaretz, 7 July 2014.
  15. Norman Kempster (5 April 1990), Bonn Official Agrees U.S. Must Play Role in Europe Los Angeles Times.
  16. Stephen Kinzer (16 January 1992), Europe, Backing Germans, Accepts Yugoslav Breakup New York Times.
  17. Paul Lewis (16 December 1991), U.N. Yields to Plans by Germany To Recognize Yugoslav Republics New York Times.
  18. Alan Riding (16 April 1991), European Nations to Lift Sanctions On South Africa New York Times.
  19. Tom Hundley (3 February 1991), German Aid To Iraq Opens Israeli Wounds Chicago Tribune.
  20. Germany debates weapons exports amid Iraq 'exception' Deutsche Welle, 25 August 2014.
  21. Gustav N Kristensen, Born into a Dream. EuroFaculty and the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag 2010, ISBN 978-3-8305-1769-6.
  22. Stephen Kinzer (5 March 1992), Nazi Show Of 'Bad' Art Reopens In Berlin New York Times.
  23. Ian Johnson (28 April 1992), [1] Baltimore Sun.
  24. Stephen Kinzer (29 April 1992), Party in Bonn Rebels on Genscher's Successor New York Times.
  25. John Rockwell (12 December 1992), New Start for an Old Opera in Berlin The New York Times.
  26. Edmund L. Andrews (9 June 2001), Germany: Airline Agreement New York Times.
  27. Mark Waffel (17 June 2008), Safeguarding the Past in Berlin: Political Heavyweights Call for Cold War Museum Spiegel Online.
  28. Wir Sind Papst – aber bitte nicht so! Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, 2 February 2009
  29. "German-born pope under fire in his homeland over tolerance of Holocaust denial". Haaretz. 3 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Bertrand Benoit, Anton Troianovski and Gregory L. White (22 December 2013), Germany Led Talks to Free Russian Tycoon Wall Street Journal.
  31. Arkady Ostrovsky (23 December 2013), Mikhail Khodorkovsky: In from the cold The Economist.
  32. Michelle Martin and Lidia Kelly (26 December 2013), Inside Germany's campaign to free Khodorkovsky Reuters.
  33. Alison Smale (23 December 2013), Deep Russia-Germany Ties Behind a Prisoner’s Release New York Times.
  34. Guy Chazan (17 July 2014), Tony Blair to advise on Azerbaijan gas project Financial Times.
  35. Sarah Ellison (January 2015), The Which Blair Project Vanity Fair.
Political offices
Preceded by
Ernst Benda
German Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by
Werner Maihofer
Preceded by
Walter Scheel
Foreign Minister of Germany
Succeeded by
Helmut Schmidt
Preceded by
Helmut Schmidt
Foreign Minister of Germany
Succeeded by
Klaus Kinkel
Preceded by
Walter Scheel
Vice Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Egon Franke
Preceded by
Egon Franke
Vice Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Jürgen Wilhelm Möllemann
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE
Succeeded by
Jiří Dienstbier