Johannes Rau

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Johannes Rau (16 January 1931 – 27 January 2006) was a German politician of the SPD. He was President of Germany from 1 July 1999, until 30 June 2004, and Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia from 1978 to 1998.


Education and work

Rau was born in the Barmen part of Wuppertal, Rhine Province, as the third of five children. His family was strongly Protestant. As a schoolboy, Rau was active in the Confessing Church, a circle of the German Protestant Church which actively resisted Nazism.

Rau left school in 1949 and worked as a journalist and publisher, especially with the Protestant Youth Publishing House.

Political biography

Rau was a member of the All-German People’s Party (GVP), which was founded by Gustav Heinemann. This party was known for proposing German reunification, from 1952 until it was disbanded in 1957.

In 1958, Rau and his political mentor, Gustav Heinemann, joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), where he was active in the Wuppertal chapter. He served as deputy chairman of the SPD party of Wuppertal, and was elected later on to the City Council (1964–1978), where he served as chairman of the SPD Group (1964–1967) and later as Mayor (1969–1970).

In 1958, Rau was elected for the first time as member of the Landtag (state parliament) of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). In 1967, he became chairman of the SPD fraction in the Landtag, and in 1970 Minister of Science and Education in the cabinet of Minister President Heinz Kühn. He soon gained a reputation as a reformer. As part of the mass-education campaign of the 1970s, he founded five universities, each at different sites, in North Rhine-Westphalia and initiated Germany’s first distance learning university at Hagen (modelled on the Open University).

In 1977, Rau became Chairman of the North Rhine-Westphalia SPD, and in 1978 Minister President of the state, were he remained until 1998, with four successful elections for the SPD, which became strongest party in the Landtag each time and gained an absolute majority three times, in 1980, 1985, 1990 and finally 1995. From 1995 onwards, Rau led an SPD-Greens coalition in NRW.

In 1987, Rau tried to become chancellor of Germany for the SPD, but his refusal to contemplate forming a coalition with the Green Party meant he could not win the elections against Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats (CDU). In 1994, Rau tried for the first time to become Federal President, but lost to Roman Herzog.

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