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EDITORIAL
from issue no. 08/09 - 2010

Portrait of Konrad Adenauer

Dignity, courage and sacrifice for the advancement of the country


The speech by our Director at the XIV International Congress on the Holy Countenance which took place at the Pontifical Urbanian University on 9 and 10 October 2010


Giulio Andreotti


Konrad Adenauer at the laying of the foundation stone of the Ford car factory in Cologne, when he was mayor of the city, in October 1930 [© Associated Press/La Presse]

Konrad Adenauer at the laying of the foundation stone of the Ford car factory in Cologne, when he was mayor of the city, in October 1930 [© Associated Press/La Presse]

Konrad Adenauer has been praised by historians with an amplitude and tone that have in part made up for the little acknowledgment he received when alive. I therefore do not aim to give a biographical reconstruction of the German statesman who was among the fathers of a united Europe, but rather try to identify the essential feature of this imposing figure and say something about his relationship with Alcide De Gasperi.
Still today Adenauer remains a symbol of a strong and uncompromising character, without the least indulgence in the tactical maneuvering that often seems the primary instrument of political action. From 1917 to 1933 he was mayor of Cologne and remained head of the civic administration of the city until he was expelled by the Nazis with whom he had made no compromise. Number one on the US Army “White List” during the liberation of Germany, he was re-instated in 1945 and found himself having to deal with the reconstruction problems of a large half-destroyed city with a population reduced from 760,000 to 32,000 people. It was a proving ground for what was to become – after four years of Allied occupation – national recovery, and Adenauer at once shaped it as a kind of rebirth in which moral factors were considered essential and acknowledged as primary. And indeed, if the bombs had destroyed men and material, more grievous still were the spiritual wounds inflicted on the German soul under Hitler’s long dictatorship by racism, hatred and unfeeling violence, and arrogance towards the rest of the world.
What’s more, hundreds of thousands of refugees from the German regions that remained under the influence of Russian Communism sought refuge in West Germany, and this enormously increased the the needs for reconstruction, as well as creating delicate psychological problems of coexistence no less arduous than the material ones.
Faced with such large and risky tasks, no small part of the Christian Democrats were inclined to a coalition government with the Social Democrats, especially as in the first federal government the very existence of a Foreign Ministry and a Ministry of Defense was precluded. It seemed the right time for the union of all forces with no accountability of party towards the nation.
Adenauer got his opposite conviction to prevail. He thought that the only way to achieve progress in democracy and get used to and accustom others to “thinking as democrats” was to have a government facing an opposition. And if that was true in general, it was all the more required for a Germany that so needed to be and to appear democratic, if it were to regain credibility in the comity of nations.
The result of the political activity of Adenauer and his governments is history and no one can seriously underestimate its success. The manufacturing economy of the Federal Republic achieved levels such that there was no country which did not respect and, in some cases, fear it. The German Christian Democrats proved capable of creating jobs – in fact achieving a revaluation of man as resource – not only for its citizens, but for millions of foreign immigrants, a fact on which we don’t always focus enough.
Cultural development was also remarkable, while the democratic consciousness of the Germans became firm and responsible.
Adenauer was capable of looking ahead with extraordinary acumen. His traveling companion on that road was De Gasperi, who worked effectively on a resumption of Franco-German relations in a complete reversal of the historical rivalries and hostilities. The silent mediation in regard to the Saar, the happy birth of the Schuman Plan for the Coal and Steel Confederation, the idea – unfortunately made to fail in France – for a European defense community, NATO: these were some of the stages on which the aspirations and the will of the two great postwar Christian Democrats came together fruitfully.
Not to be imprecise, Adenauer’s idea of Europe did not quite tally with that of De Gasperi, because the Chancellor’s notion began with a basis of a Franco-German union to which Italy, England and the Benelux countries might also belong. De Gasperi, instead, was totally for absolute equality and for the supranational integration of the Community.
Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi
and Konrad Adenauer, the founding fathers of the European Union, in a photo of 1952 [© Associated Press/La Presse]

Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer, the founding fathers of the European Union, in a photo of 1952 [© Associated Press/La Presse]

However, there was never any truth in the accusation of a supposed Bonn-Paris axis. Adenauer himself in an article that appeared in Christ und Welt rejected this terminology as “false, outdated and even dangerous” and refused to consider valid the alternative between Franco-German entente and the entry of England into the EEC.
It is also one of Adenauer’s merits that he never offered any kind of provocation to Russia and indeed sought – and often found – concrete understandings. And when he had to take a position on German unification he did so with prudence and serenity. He often drew on the views of others, accepting as a key argument for the unification what Khrushchev had expounded rhetorically: “Each nation must decide on the regime that it best prefers”.
In the last years of his political life he took a somewhat “tough” attitude toward the Americans, though he was always a grateful and loyal ally (even if an inconvenient one!). I remember when, during an election campaign, he attacked the first US draft agreement on non-proliferation. “The American plan”, he said, “contains a hair-raising, dangerous and fundamentally wrong theory. Our watchword must be: disarmament, and not the three-man nuclear club”.
He appeared to some as intrusive and excessive. But it is clear that he, by intentionally raising his voice, intended to react promptly to a policy shift that might have been fatal for Germany, undoing all the hard work of building democracy that bore the seal of Konrad Adenauer. The fear of a barter between German security and the Russian-American detente in fact alarmed the German statesman, who saw the danger of an anti-democratic drift in reaction, damaging especially for young Germans, and should that happen, the democratic world would no longer have been willing to defend a nostalgically involuted Germany from the USSR. Were those unfounded fears? At all events announcing them loudly helped combat the American circles leaning towards disengagement from Europe.
He also went through internal opposition within the party, hostile skirmishes, the bitterness of disloyalty. But history since then has done him justice, raising the light of Konrad Adenauer as a beacon of civilization to redeem the inhuman barbarity of the dictator Adolph Hitler. And for us who fought with the Christian Democrats this was a reason for pride and a cause of profound meditation.


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