[FOUNTAIN]Ruling Party's Allergic Reaction

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[FOUNTAIN]Ruling Party's Allergic Reaction

Hannelore Kohl, wife of the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, bought a piece of wire from a hardware store to get into her car, after she accidentally locked her keys inside. The owner of the hardware store follows her out the store to help her. Mrs. Kohl is straining to get the wire through a tiny gap in the window. Mr. Kohl, who happens to be inside the car, is trying very hard to be helpful. "To the left, more to the left, no a little more to the right..."

This is what is known as a "Kohl joke," but unfortunately this particular one did not make it into "Laughing With Chancellor Kohl," the book I published in Korean16 years ago. There are numerous jokes about Mr. Kohl, who served as German chancellor 16 years, starting in 1982. People are still making new jokes about him these days. Most make fun of his large stature, slow manner of speaking and his lack of command of a foreign language. But these down-to-earth jokes helped Mr. Kohl become more approachable.

In Korea, during the presidencies of Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo Hwan in the 1980s, similar jokes about them were popular. In their cases, it was natural that the jokes reflected public hatred of these authoritarian rulers. But for Mr. Kohl, the jokes were more like a gesture of affection.

Germans feel an equal affection and even love for Mrs. Kohl, seen as a good wife and a wise mother. She never courted the limelight, quietly supporting her husband behind the scenes.

But Hannelore Kohl committed suicide last week, having reached a point of despair with her incurable illness. Mrs. Kohl had a severe case of a little-known condition called photodermatitis, which made her allergic to sunlight and meant she had to stay inside her house during the daytime. She had to keep thick curtains drawn inside the house all the time and was unable to attend her son Peter Kohl's wedding in May in Turkey. Lately, she had become too weak even to climb the stairs.

Her tragic death is drawing renewed attention to allergies. In 1906, the Austrian doctor Clemens von Pirquet coined the word "allergy" by combining the Greek "allos" meaning "altered state" and "ergon" meaning reaction or reactivity. Together they mean "altered reaction" or heightened sensitivity to foreign substances. Largely because of rising pollution, new types of allergies, such as the one suffered by Mrs. Kohl, are starting to appear.

This is also true in Korea, where a nasty allergy is spreading rampantly, especially among members of the ruling party. The allergy causes its victims to become excessively sensitive to criticism.

The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Yoo Jae-sik

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