19 December 2009

Towards post-Cold War Europe

On 19 and 20 December 1989, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited Dresden in East Germany, where he was greeted by tens of thousands of East Germans, chanting "Helmut, Helmut". Three weeks before, on 28 November in a speech to the Bundestag, Kohl had proposed what was billed as a "ten-point plan to German unity". Looking at the text, however, unification itself was less the driving force than an ultimate aspiration, and the specific proposals for a "contractual community" between the two German states, its vision of a pan-European process, and placing the idea of confederation at the centre of the German unification discourse, in fact appeared to draw on ideas from Gorbachev and alternative security commissions (and evidence has emerged that like other developments from autumn 1989, the 10 point plan emerged as the result of a communication misunderstanding between Moscow and Bonn). Irrespective of what the fine print said, however, the 10 point plan was in fact widely perceived as Bonn placing unification on the political agenda.

On the other side of the damaged, but still existing Berlin Wall, an appeal published by intellectuals, artists and civic rights activists, "For our country", urged support for the continued independent existence of the GDR, as a "socialist alternative" to the Federal Republic. the appeal is reported to have been signed by more than a million GDR citizens. Though initiated by civic rights activists, the propagating of the appeal by Egon Krenz and the SED fatallytaintedthe document, while by the beginning of December, the document's moral appeal for alternative ethical values based on the GDR was fatally undermined by the revelations at the beginning of December not only of widespread corruption but even more so by an apparently secret arms trade.

Kohl's visit to Dresden in December marked a turning point. The reason for the hastily arranged visit appears to have had less to do with solidarity with East Germans than the fact that French President Francois Mitterrand had announced a state visit to the GDR for 20 December (the first state visit by one of the three Western powers responsible for Germany). Kohl avoided East Berlin for protocol reasons, instead visiting GDR Prime Minister Hans Modrow's power base of Dresden. For Kohl, his reception in Dresden appears to have convinced him to dump his step-by-step ten-point-plan and instead increase the pressure for unification.

For its part, Mitterrand's state visit to the GDR has often been interpreted as an attempt to block unification by shoring up the GDR, but it's real purpose seems to have been more to try and influence the shape that German unity would take, while also serving as a reminder that the two German states were not sovereign in this regard. Taken together the visits of Kohl and Mitterrand also marked the turning point: no longer were they mere observers of what was happening in the GDR, but the time had come for the autumn revolution of the GDR to be subsumed into a wider struggle for the future of post-Cold War Europe.


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