THE TIDE of history swept all before it in this week's German parliamentary election. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the architect of reunification, was triumphant, while the parties that had appeared lukewarm on the issue suffered at the polls. The election was the last step in rejoining the two German states.
Kohl called the election result the best a democratic party had ever achieved in a united Germany. Certainly, the prospects for democracy are much better than in the struggling Weimar Republic in the 1920s. Faced with insuperable economic and political odds, democracy died in Germany after the last free election there in 1932.
Clearly, unity was the one big issue for the voters. The politically centrist Free Democratic Party, Kohl's coalition partner, gained strength, while the Social Democrats, the main opposition party, failed to make much impression with their stress on social and environmental issues. The former East German Communists, now called socialists, received only 2 percent of the total vote.
For Kohl, an even harder task lies ahead as he integrates the impoverished East into the flourishing West. Unemployment is rising in the East, and more problems will arise in January, when state subsidies end on rent, energy and transportation.
With 78 million people, Germany is now a giant in Europe and the world, but not, as in the Hitler era, a menacing giant. Its old
enemies -- Poland, the Soviet Union and France -- have been given reassurance by agreements on German troop strength and border guarantees.
Even more reassuring is the trend toward economic and political integration of the 12 nations of the European Community. Kohl supports this trend toward a true "United States of Europe." The old tribal nationalism and rivalries of Europe are bound to continue, but in the EC and other structures, problems can be solved constructively.
West Germany in the past has been reluctant to take a major role in international affairs, but as the No. 1 economic power in Europe, the new reunited Germany should have the right and responsibility to shoulder some of the international responsibilities.
While no revamping of the United Nations is currently planned, it has been reasonably suggested that Germany should become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Our other wartime enemy, Japan, is also an obvious candidate for membership, since it is the world's third-largest economic power. Like Germany, it has remained on the sidelines in international affairs.
With its all-German election, a new Germany is emerging in Europe, not this time as a symbol of hatred, conquest and tyranny but as a force for peace, democracy and stable development in the new Europe.