“The democracy movements in central and eastern Europe benefited from the fact he was in power then in Russia,” Scholz said of the years leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
However Gorbachev “died at a time in which democracy has failed in Russia”.
Calling him a “courageous reformer” and “a statesman who dared a lot”, Scholz said his “perestroika”, Gorbachev’s drive to modernise the Soviet economy and society, had paved the way for broader “democracy and freedom in Europe”.
That new wind blowing at the end of the Cold War allowed “Germany to be unified and the Iron Curtain to disappear”, Scholz said.
He regretted the path Russia had taken in the intervening years and that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had “started a terrible war against a neighbour, Ukraine.
“That is all the more reason why we think of Mikhail Gorbachev and know what significance he had for the development of Europe and our own country in the last years.”
Asked later whether he would consider attending Gorbachev’s funeral in Russia, which is subject to sweeping Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine, Scholz said it was “too soon” to discuss such a trip.
“But I will say that I hope he will be honoured in the way he deserves,” Scholz said.
Former German chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute Gorbachev as a “unique world politician” who demonstrated how “one single statesman can change the world for the better”.
“The images of his meeting with (West German) chancellor Helmut Kohl in the Caucasus in 1990 are unforgettable, with which Germany reunification in peace and freedom also came within reach,” said Merkel, who grew up in East Germany.
“Mikhail Gorbachev also fundamentally changed my life. I will never forget that.”
Several other German politicians also paid tribute to the Russian Nobel Peace Prize laureate shortly after his death.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a tweet: “Gorbachev was guided by peace and understanding between people at fateful moments in our history. The end of the Cold War and German unity are his legacy. We mourn the loss of a statesman to whom we are eternally grateful.”
Michael #Gorbatschow hat sich in Schicksalsmomenten unserer Geschichte von Frieden & der Verständigung zwischen den Menschen leiten lassen. Das Ende des Kalten Kriegs und die deutsche Einheit sind sein Vermächtnis. Wir trauern um einen Staatsmann, dem wir dafür ewig dankbar sind.
— Außenministerin Annalena Baerbock (@ABaerbock) August 31, 2022
Without Gorbachev, “the peaceful revolutions in the countries of the Eastern bloc, in our country, would not have been conceivable in this way,” said Bundestag Vice President and Green Party politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt on Twitter.
“His words have encouraged us, have made me, strong.”