2017 saw a number of people who made a massive impact in world history, in both good ways and bad, pass away.
James M. Lindsay at the Council on Foreign Relations has compiled a list of ten of the most influential people who died in 2017. The names he cites come from all over the world and represent world leaders, warlords, and even a spy.
“Each made a mark on history. Some were heroes; some were villains,” Lindsay writes. “And for some, which they were is your call to make.”
Check out who they are and how they changed the world:
Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of Germany
Helmut Kohl oversaw some of the greatest transitions of post-war Germany.
A member of the Hitler Youth during the war, he became a politician and rose through the ranks to become the Chancellor of West Germany in 1982 and Chancellor of the reunited Germany in 1990.
During his tenure, he mended relations with France and helped end the Cold War by pursuing diplomatic goals with East Germany’s Erich Honecker and the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Kohl oversaw the reunification of Germany.
Kohl was also the architect of the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union and the Euro. For this, he received the first ever EU state funeral.
Martin McGuinness, Irish leader
Martin McGuinness was a former commander of the Irish Republican Army who eventually became the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.
McGuinness was an instrumental negotiator of the Good Friday Agreement, which helped end The Troubles, a period in Northern Ireland that saw bombings and assassinations between the IRA, British, and Loyalist factions.
Following the Good Friday Agreement, McGuinness was elected to the House of Commons, a seat he held until 2013. He also served as the leader of Sinn Fein, an Irish nationalist party, and was elected to Northern Ireland’s Assembly.
In a historic moment for the British Isles, McGuinness shook hands with Queen Elizabeth during an official visit by the monarch to Northern Ireland in 2012 – something that was unimaginable years earlier.
Manuel Noriega, Panamanian dictator
Manuel Noriega was the dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989.
Noriega, who took power in a coup with General Omar Torrijos in 1968, was originally an ally of the US. However, he began to get involved in Panama’s drug trade, and sold sensitive information to US adversaries.
His popularity among his people deteriorated, and when a Panamanian soldier killed a US Marine, the US launched Operation Just Cause, an invasion of Panama “to protect American lives, restore the democratic process, preserve the integrity of the Panama Canal treaties and apprehend Manuel Noriega.”
Noriega was arrested and spent 18 years in a US prison. He was extradited to France in 2010 to face money laundering charges, but was sent back to Panama, where he had been convicted of human rights abuses in absentia.
Stanislav Petrov, Soviet military officer
Stanislav Petrov is credited with saving the world from a nuclear war.
Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, and served at the Serpukhov-15 command center, located just outside Moscow. On September 26, 1983, alarms went off at the command center that indicated that the US had launched five ICBMs at the Soviet Union.
Instead of immediately informing his superiors who would have ordered the launch of their own missiles at Europe and the US, Petrov believed that it was a false alarm. With no way of verifying it until the time of impact would have passed, he did nothing.
Time proved this inaction to be the right course of action. The early warning systems had mistaken sunlight reflecting off of clouds as a missile launches.
Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, French WWII spy
- Wikimedia commons
Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens was a French spy who was responsible for giving information to the Allies during World War II.
Notably, de Clarens revealed information about Germany’s V-1 and V-2 rockets, which had wreaked havoc on British and Belgian cities.
During the Nazi occupation, de Clarens, who spoke German, worked as an interpreter in Paris. There, she worked with the French Resistance by passing information about the latest developments of the V-1 and V-2 rockets.
de Clarens was eventually captured after a failed attempt to smuggle her into the UK in 1944. She was imprisoned at three different concentration camps, and was not released until the Red Cross negotiated on her behalf towards the end of the war.
Mário Soares, prime minister and president of Portugal
Mário Soares was the man who oversaw Portugal’s transition to democracy in the difficult years of the 1970s.
A critic of Portugal’s fascist dicator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, Soares was a lawyer who often defended Salazar’s political opponents. He helped found Portugal’s Socialist Party, and after the Carnation Revolution became Portugal’s prime minister. Eventually he would become Portugal’s president.
Soares oversaw Portugal’s decolonization and integration into the European Economic Community – which would eventually become the European Union.
Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of Yemen
Ali Abdullah Saleh was the dominant force in Yemeni politics for the last three decades.
He was one of the leaders of North Yemen’s 1974 military coup, and became head of the country after a series of assassinations.
Saleh succeeded in uniting North and South Yemen in 1990, and managed to stay in power until the Arab Spring in 2011. After resigning from power in 2012, Saleh came back to Yemen on the side of the Houthi rebels.
After showing signs of wanting to negotiate with Saudi Arabia and potentially switching sides, Houthi forces killed him as he tried to flee the capitol, Sana’a, earlier in December.
Jalal Talabani, president of Iraq
Jalal Talabani was a former president of Iraq and an important leader of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, known as Kurdistan.
From a young age, Talabani was an advocate for Kurdish independence and Kurdish rights. He founded the Kurdish Student Union when he was thirteen, was a very important part of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Talabani became president of the National Governing Council, and, after establishing a new constitution, served as Iraq’s president from 2005 – 2014.
Derek Walcott, Saint Lucian poet
Derek Walcott was a St. Lucian poet and playwright who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.
His poems and plays focused on portraying the natural beauty and the legacy of European colonialism in the Caribbean.
He published an epic poem “Omeros,” which is “a loose retelling of Homer’s epic set in the Caribbean.”
Olive Yang, Burmese warlord
Olive Yang was a female Burmese warlord and and opium trafficker. She was from a wealthy family in Burma’s Shan state, but refused to follow the societal standards of her society, and chose to live as a opium smuggler in the jungle.
Yang founded a militia known as “Olive’s Boys,” who were former members of the Kuomintang that were trying to continue the fight against “Red China” in Thailand and Burma in the 1950s.
An important player in in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle drug ring, Yang took control of the Shan state’s army in 1959 and became the regions de facto ruler after her brother stepped down from power.
After being arrested and put in jail she helped the Burmese government negotiate a truce with ethnic rebel groups in Kokang that lasted until 2009.