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  • Genscher, Hans-Dietrich

    lang=EN-US style='font-size:10.5pt;font-family:"Meridien-Medium","serif"; color:black'>(1927 )

    foreign minister

    Hans-Dietrich Genscher was the leader of the

    FREE DEMOCRATIC PARTY (FDP) from 1974 to

    1985. He had been the longest-serving foreign

    minister in the history of West Germany from

    1974 to 1992. He played an important role in

    the relaxation of the cold war with the Soviet

    Union in the 1980s and in German reunification.

    Genscher was born on March 21, 1927, into

    a middle-class family in Reideburg in SAXONY.

    During the end of WORLD War II he was drawn

    into the war but ended in a prisoner-of-war

    camp. Afterward he studied law at the universities

    of Halle and LEIPZIG, receiving a law degree

    in 1949. He left the GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC

    (GDR) in 1952, settled in BREMEN, and

    started private legal practice. A lifelong liberal

    with an interest in politics, he joined the Free

    Democratic Party and focused on national politics.

    He soon became federal party manager and

    a protegé of the rising Liberal leader, Walther

    Scheel, who became party chairman in 1961.

    Genscher was elected to the BUNDESTAG in 1965

    and became party whip. In 1968 Genscher

    became vice chairman of the party and chairman

    in 1969, when Scheel was elected president

    of the FEDERAL REPUBLIC.

    In the elections of 1969 the SPD and FDP

    won a majority of seats in the Bundestag, and

    Scheel and Genscher agreed to form a Social-

    Liberal coalition government under Willy

    404 General Directory

    BRANDT. Genscher was appointed interior minister,

    a position he would hold for the next five

    years. As interior minister during the terrorism

    of the BAADER-MEINHOF GROUP he successfully

    maintained individual rights and civil liberties.

    Five years later, when Helmut SCHMIDT succeeded

    Brandt, Genscher moved up to become

    vice chancellor and foreign minister until the

    mid-eighties. The elections of 1982 returned the

    CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC UNION as the majority

    party, and under the influence of the Liberal

    economics minister, Count Lambsdorff, Genscher

    led the FDP into a coalition with CDU

    under Helmut KOHL. The switching of coalition

    alliances opened the FDP to criticism of political

    betrayal, but Genscher became a symbol of continuity

    and moderation in foreign policy. In fact,

    when Genscher stepped down as party chairman

    in 1985 over a political finance scandal, it probably

    was a good thing as he was able to concentrate

    on foreign policy. During the next five

    years Gorbachev began reforming the Soviet

    Union and made possible German reunification.

    Although Genscher did not originate OSTPOLITIK,

    he supported it and sought to improve

    West Germanys relations with the Communist

    nations of Eastern Europe. When he became

    foreign minister in the Kohl government, he

    maintained continuity, even though he had to

    endure criticism from some Christian Democrats

    who preferred a more confrontational policy.

    Genscher supported the evolutionary change

    that was occurring in Eastern Europe but was

    surprised when East Germans began to stream

    across the border and the Soviet Bloc began to

    crumble. As Chancellor Kohl supported rapid

    reunification, the pragmatic and steady hand of

    Genscher helped work out the necessary international

    agreements. Reunification made Genscher

    very happy, and his popularity in the

    former East Germany contributed to the electoral

    success of the Liberals in the first all-German

    Bundestag elections in December 1990.

    Genscher surprised everyone when he

    resigned his position as foreign minister in 1992.

    He was replaced by Klaus Kinkel, the former justice

    minister, who pledged to continue Genschers

    foreign policy. Genscher continued to

    play a role in world affairs and published his

    memoirs in 1995.

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