Auf Wiedersehen, Helmut; Hello, Distrust

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Think of it as Germany's Watergate: a nation stripped of its political innocence by revelations of rampant malfeasance in the corridors of power. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl resigned as honorary chairman of Christian Democratic Union Tuesday, after refusing the party leadership's request that he reveal the identities of a number of secret political donors from whom he received illegal campaign contributions from 1989 to 1996. So far only one of those donors has stepped forward, an arms dealer based in Canada. "The country has been electrified by revelations that Kohl blithely disregarded the stringent campaign finance laws passed by his own government," says TIME Berlin bureau chief Charles Wallace. "The whole notion of German politics being quiet and sober has been blown out of the water. The effect on the media and its coverage of politics has been similar to Watergate — once quiescent newspapers are now aggressively pursuing scoops."

The biggest beneficiary of Kohl's demise may be his successor, Gerhard Schroeder, whose Democratic Socialist government had until late last year been struggling to contain a resurgent CDU. "This scandal has destroyed the credibility of the entire opposition because many of its leadership figures have been tainted," says Wallace. "And a couple of months ago they'd looked set to break the Social Democrats' grip on government." But the long-term impact of a scandal of this magnitude goes beyond partisan calculation — Watergate, after all, forever destroyed the trust of a nation in its leaders.