Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl; drawing by David Levine

The “German question” as it has been posed with renewed intensity in Western capitals over the last five years is really two questions. First, is the Federal Republic still a fully committed and reliable member of the Western alliance? Do not its distinctive foreign policy toward East Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union (Deutschlandpolitik and Ostpolitik), its harking back to détente, and its disagreements with the Reagan administration reflect a revived yearning for reunification, and Germany’s historic, geopolitical propensity for maneuvering between East and West?

Second, is West Germany still a stable pillar of Western liberal democracy? Do not the so-called “Peace Movement,” the spread of “anti-Americanism,” and the rise of the Greens presage a slide away from the Anglo-Saxon style of parliamentary democracy imposed after 1945, toward a more “national” and “socialist” polity that would altogether reject “bourgeois democratic” institutions, capitalism, and NATO as the lock, stock, and barrel of an alien “System”? “Rapallo” is a catchword for the first fear; “neutralist nationalism” for the second.

West Germany has always been extremely sensitive to comment from abroad. Every Sunday morning, instead of going to church, millions of West Germans tune in to Werner Hofer’s Frühschoppen TV discussion program to hear what “das kritische Ausland“—that is, a group of foreign journalists—has to say about their country’s performance the previous week. But with the new selfconfidence which the Federal Republic acquired under Helmut Schmidt, politicians from all parties do not conceal their irritation at the revival of suspicious questioning from Washington, London, Paris, or Rome. In otherwise diplomatic memoirs of his time as head of West Germany’s Ständige Vertretung (i.e., quasi embassy) in East Berlin, Klaus Bölling, one of Schmidt’s closest advisers, suddenly explodes:

We could not discount leading articles about the dangers of German nationalism in Le Monde and The Times as mere journalistic opinions. Leadership circles (Führungszirkel) in Western capitals found that it paid to revive fears of an overmighty, reunified Germany in order the better to discipline us. Who would be surprised that a man like Carter’s Security Adviser Brzezinski, being of Polish origin, helped to spread these rumors—for which he then found a grateful audience in certain floors of Foreign Offices.

A neurosis speaks through this extraordinary outburst.

It may be, as the former Die Zeit editor Josef Joffe has written, that postwar Germany is “doomed to suffer the fate of Caesar’s wife: it has to be above suspicion.” What is certain is that West Germany has a Caesar’s wife syndrome. Even if no accusations came from other Western capitals (and I must say I cannot recall a single London Times leader about the dangers of German nationalism in the period to which Klaus Bölling refers), the ghosts of the past would constantly be raised in Bonn.

No one is more suspicious of the Germans than the Germans themselves. You cannot pass a week in the Federal Republic without seeing at least one article asking, “How stable is our democracy?” or “Is Bonn Weimar?” or “How open is the German Question?” West Germany is like one of its own model businessmen: a hearty, sun-tanned forty-year-old, hair neatly parted, smartly dressed (Harris tweed jacket, gray flannels), with nice manners and a stock of sensible conversation—but forever dashing into the Apotheke to check his blood pressure, or glancing at his reflection in the shop windows, to see if he hasn’t got a nervous tic. To nations with happier pasts, this relentless self-examination may seem excessive, or even faintly comical; but we would really start worrying if the Germans stopped worrying.

Out of this historical moment, poised between self-doubt and self-assertion, come German answers to our German questions.


Deutschlandpolitik is not reunification policy,” insist the diplomats and politicians who make it. “The only kind of reunification we are talking about is the reunification of families.” Much of the misunderstanding in Western capitals, they say, comes from confusing the longterm perspective of reunification with the short- to medium-term perspectives of their current policy toward East Germany. This begins by acknowledging the fact of Germany’s division into two states, with opposed systems and alliances. (Indeed, the process of rethinking which led to the new Deutschland– and Ostpolitik may be dated from the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961.)

The modest announced aims are to make the consequences of division as humanly bearable as possible, particularly for the Germans in the East (“menschliche Erleichterungen“); to promote contacts between Germans in East and West; to keep alive the consciousness of common nationhood on both sides of the Wall (quite as necessary in the Federal Republic as in the GDR); and thus to keep open the possibility that, in the unforeseeable future, the Germans might yet “achieve in free self-determination the unity and freedom of Germany”—as the preamble to the Federal Republic’s “Basic Law” declares they are “called upon” to do. But for the foreseeable future, this means recognizing and dealing with the German Democratic Republic.


Such was the policy which the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Franz Josef Strauss’s CSU furiously opposed when the Brandt–Genscher (SPD–FDP) government introduced the “Basic Treaty” (Grundlagenvertrag) with the GDR in 1972. Such is the policy that the Christian Democrats are themselves pursuing today. Despite a change in rhetoric, there has been a truly remarkable continuity in Deutschlandpolitik from the social-liberal to the conservative-liberal coalition governments. The Christian Democrats came into office swearing they would be tougher about linking new credits to concessions from the Honecker regime in East Germany (Gegenleistungen), but in practice they have carried on much as their predecessors did. When I asked Herr Heinrich Windelen, the minister for Intra-German Affairs (not inter-German affairs—a fine distinction), what concessions his government had won in return for approving two further billion deutsche mark credits, he said the GDR had speeded up border crossing procedures for transit traffic between West Berlin and West Germany, and reduced the amount that West German pensioners have to exchange into East German marks for every day they spend in the East.

Two billion marks’ worth of concessions? As under Schmidt, the hotline continues to run from the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt) in Bonn to the quasi embassy (Ständige Vertretung) in East Berlin—or directly to Honecker’s office. The present head of the Ständige Vertretung, Dr. Hans-Otto Bräutigam, is a highly respected professional diplomat who was instrumental in shaping the practice of Deutschlandpolitik under the previous government. Most remarkable is the volte face of that most intemperate right-wing critic of the social-liberal Ostpolitik, Franz Josef Strauss; for today it is Strauss who arranges new credits for Erich Honecker.

Of course the change of rhetoric has been a problem. It is characteristic of Chancellor Kohl’s monumentally relaxed style of leadership (less laissez-faire than laissez-parler) that he lets his ministers make quite different noises in public—and blithely maintains they are all right. It is also a fact that the associations of Germans from the former Eastern territories (Silesia, Pomerania, etc.) are a significant lobby inside the CDU and CSU. As a result, people like the CSU interior minister, Friedrich Zimmermann, have been getting up at Sunday meetings and talking about the old Vaterland within the frontiers of 1937. They have, in other words, done precisely what the government charges its Western critics with doing: confusing the long-term perspectives of reunification with the short- to medium-term Deutschlandpolitik. So the Kohl government has appeared to say one thing on Sunday and do another on Monday.

This may have raised eyebrows in Washington or Paris; it has been a heaven-sent gift to Moscow. Whether or not the old men in the Kremlin still (irrationally) believe in a “German threat,” they have every political reason to wheel out the propaganda bogey of West German “revanchism” today. Inside the Soviet Union, patriotic mobilization in the preparations for the fortieth anniversary of the glorious victory over Nazi Germany, in May, is an irresistible alternative to risky measures of economic reform, upon which the Politburo can probably not agree. In Eastern Europe, the tired old German bogey must serve once again to legitimize Soviet domination, and to justify the continued existence of the Warsaw Pact—due for renewal in June. Kohl’s colleagues have offered chapter and verse, as if to a Soviet propagandist’s order.

It is tempting to suggest that the Kohl government paid the price of preaching what it does not practice when Honecker postponed his planned visit to West Germany last autumn. But the rhetoric of the CDU/CSU right was probably more a pretext for Honecker’s change of plans than a cause of it. The basic reasons for the “postponement” are to be sought in Moscow, and in what Erich Honecker calls the “Grosswetterlage“—the climate of East–West relations. In late August or early September Soviet leaders seem finally to have agreed among themselves that, if someone must talk seriously with the West, it had better be Russians talking to Americans. So Gromyko met Reagan instead of Honecker meeting Kohl. What is permitted to Jove is not permitted to an ally.

Yet the quiet practice of Deutschlandpolitik goes on. Last October the secretary of state in the Federal Chancellery responsible for Deutschlandpolitik, Herr Philipp Jenninger (now president of the Bundestag), told me that the East German government was, if anything, more friendly than before the cancellation. Despite the embarrassment of East German citizens squatting in West German embassies across Eastern Europe, the GDR continued to release a steady trickle of its citizens to the West—either political prisoners “bought free” by the Bonn government (for $15,000 to $25,000 a head) or those allowed out in the course of “family reunification.” During a trip to Finland, Honecker said his West German visit had been called off because “preparations were not sufficiently advanced.” Both German governments are obviously keen to preserve their good working relationship, without advertising it to East or West; both privately hope that a German–German summit may yet prove possible—when the Soviet victory celebrations are over, the Warsaw Pact renewed, and the superpowers have returned to the negotiating table.


Who could have imagined a decade ago that a conservative government in Bonn would attach such importance to good relations with the Communist government in East Berlin? Why has Strauss changed his tune? Because he and most of his colleagues see the benefits that the Deutschlandpolitik initiated by the opposition has brought to the Federal Republic, and, they would say, to “Germany.”

Western observers ignore at their peril the evidence that the development of German–German relations since the basic treaty has been a success story for both German states, and for the German people. Anyone who has lived in West Berlin will appreciate the relative ease of communication (by telephone or in person) with East Berlin and West Germany—by contrast with the island fastness of fifteen years ago. Anyone who has lived in East Germany will know that the millions of West Germans who come visiting each year (five million in 1983) are generally welcome guests—though there are mixed feelings. The number of East Germans below pensionable age who are allowed to visit the West is still pitifully small (some 112,000 in 1983)—but it, too, is larger than a decade ago. Even the normal nonprivileged GDR citizen can now hope that in ten or fifteen years’ time he might be allowed out for a few days in West Germany, if only to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

The Honecker regime feared, and no doubt still fears, that these mass contacts with the West might be destabilizing. On balance they have had the reverse effect. Honecker’s Westpolitik, his “opening up” to West Germany, has been popular, especially when—as during the rumpus over his planned West German visit—he is perceived by his own citizens to be “standing up to Moscow.” (A perception fueled by West German television, which the great majority of East Germans watch in preference to their own!) Those whose discontent has been stimulated by Western contacts are mostly led, sooner or later, to try to escape or to apply to leave legally. Honecker can then export his dissidents for hard currency—a trick that General Jaruzelski can only dream of. During the last two years this has been a highly cost-effective way of bleeding the independent “peace groups” in the GDR. There are now more Jena “peace activists” in West Berlin than there are in Jena.

Direct payments of more than one billion deutsche marks a year from the Federal Republic, favorable credits, and the GDR’s “secret membership” in the EEC have helped it to maintain its place among the world’s top ten industrial nations, and a better level of consumer supplies than its Eastern neighbors. The contrast with impoverished Poland is a source of national pride among ordinary East Germans. Finally, the GDR has, thanks to West Germany’s Deutschlandpolitik, achieved wide international recognition—the Anerkennung for which it so long fought. In his keynote speech at last October’s thirty-fifth anniversary celebrations, Erich Honecker proudly declared that the GDR maintains diplomatic relations with 132 countries “the world over.” The printed version of his speech actually said 131, but at the last minute the GDR scored yet another diplomatic triumph by securing recognition from the Ivory Coast.

The former GDR dissident, Rudolf Bahro, comments interestingly in one of his interviews with the New Left Review (collected in From Red to Green):

You find that workers will grouse and swear about conditions when they are in their factory, but when some well-heeled uncle arrives on a visit from West Germany, they stand up for the GDR and point out all the good things about it, all the disadvantages they had to overcome after 1945, and so on. Although the state’s demands for loyalty are widely resented, I would say that in normal, crisis-free times there is a sufficiently high degree of loyalty to assure the country’s stability…. The increase in international recognition has certainly boosted the sense of loyalty to the state.

In my own experience, many GDR citizens truly appreciate the modest security of life in an efficient police welfare state. The East German state’s increasingly explicit acknowledgment of its own undoubted Germanness—with the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great back on Unter den Linden, and even Bismarck partially rehabilitated—has also contributed to this qualified loyalty.

West Germany, for its part, has abandoned the SPD’s original notion of “Wandel durch Annäherung“—“change through coming closer together.” Politicians from all established parties now claim that their policies are not aimed at changing the political system in East Germany—or in the rest of Eastern Europe. Thus Richard von Weizsäcker (CDU), president of the Federal Republic, in a revealing introduction to his collection of essays and speeches, describes the idea of “Wandel durch Annäherung” as an unrealistic “burden” on West Germany’s policy toward the Soviet Union Minister Windelen writes, in Aussenpolitik (a German counterpart to Foreign Affairs): “we have no intention of harming or destabilizing the GDR.”

In return for helping to stabilize the communist regime in East Germany, the Federal Republic has been able to “buy free” something in the order of 150,000 of its citizens; to make life for the remaining 16.7 million more bearable; and to bring the Germans in East and West closer together. Intra-German trade, a major factor for the GDR, has been no more than a fringe benefit for West Germany—just 1.8 percent of its total foreign trade in 1983. But West German commentators point out that the Federal Republic has reaped one major benefit for itself: a new freedom in foreign policy. The Hallstein doctrine of the 1950s, that West Germany would not recognize any state that recognized East Germany, had been a manacle on both German states. The “normalization” of Berlin’s position following the Four-Power Agreement means that Bonn does not feel such a pressing, day-to-day dependence on the Western allies for the defense of Germany’s once and future capital. The entire opening up to the East is an essential part of West Germany’s emergence, under Brandt and Schmidt, from its anomalous position in the 1960s as “an economic giant, but a political dwarf.”

If West Germany’s political leaders and opinion makers have a rational, political investment in their distinctive foreign policy toward the East, many also have a deep emotional investment in it. And the emotions are far from ignoble—patriotism, a sense of Germany’s special historical responsibility, pride in the Federal Republic’s appearance on the world stage. Traveling through East Germany—across the frugal landscape of the Mark Brandenburg, still much as Theodor Fontane described it a century ago, in the lush forests of Goethe’s Thuringia, or at the Wittenberg church where Luther nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses—even a foreigner can become emotional about this “old Germany,” which has disappeared in the West. (The Americanization of the Federal Republic goes far deeper than the Sovietization of the GDR.) Few would be unmoved by the courageous witness of the Protestant churches in the GDR—the heirs of Bonhoeffer. And if you have seen at first hand what the division of Germany means in human suffering, and what relief the quiet practice of Deutschlandpolitik brings, then you too may rail against a superpower conflict—a “Grosswetterlage“—that seems to put all this in question.

The memoirs of West Germany’s first two quasi ambassadors to East Berlin, Gaus and Bölling, are shot through with this emotional involvement, this sense of shared Germanity. Bölling also gives a riveting account of the December 1981 summit meeting between Schmidt and Honecker—on the shores of the Werbellinsee, in the Mark Brandenburg. There was, he writes, a “very German” atmosphere about the occasion (“so etwas wie eine sehr deutsche Grundstimmung“). In his presentation, Schmidt told Honecker: “We must remain predictable [berechenbar] for each other,” and later, “The world powers have an obligation toward us. We must pressurize the great powers.” The formula repeated publicly by both leaders, “a war may never again start from German soil,” has acquired an almost shamanistic significance for many people in both Germanies; people who want to believe that both German governments have learned the same lesson from the same disastrous history. (Of course there are fewer such people on the right; and Kohl does not use the shamanistic incantation.)

Finally, there is a strong sense that the Federal Republic’s own self-respect, its role as a leading European power, is inseparably bound up with its Ostpolitik. This was, after all, the Federal Republic’s major contribution to world politics during the last decade, and one inspired by a noble vision of a new peacemaking Germany, which might begin to undo the damage Hitler did.

Now it may be that Honecker too has such an emotional investment in the intra-German détente. Certainly he is identified with it politically; and he would seem to have adequate support for it in his own Politburo and Central Committee. Polemical exchanges in the Soviet bloc press last summer seemed to suggest that East Germany’s Communist leaders, like Hungary’s and Poland’s, have an understanding of their “national” interests which is far from identical with Moscow’s understanding of their “internationalist” obligations. Yet the upshot of that controversy has shown just how little room for maneuver they have, if indeed they seriously seek more. Whatever East Berlin’s executive independence from Moscow, it is certainly far less than Bonn’s independence from Washington. However important the GDR is to the Warsaw Pact, it cannot be more important than the Federal Rebublic is to NATO.

We can therefore be led, not by outdated, irrational fears of the “German menace,” but by a sympathetic, rational reading of what authoritative West Germans say and do, to wonder how Bonn’s policy toward the East might affect its policy toward the West.


The Kohl government has not one but two answers to this question. The first is that there is simply no conflict between the Federal Republic’s integration into the West (Westintegration) and its policy toward the East (Ostpolitik), between its security policy (Sicherheitspolitik) and its intra-German policy (Deutschlandpolitik). On the contrary. The latter would not be possible without the former. Westintegration is the premise of Ostpolitik. “The more firmly bedded we are in the Western Alliance, the easier it is to work with the GDR,” a senior emissary to East Berlin told me. Good fences make good neighbors. The second answer is, in a characteristic Kohl phrase: “Freedom has right of way before unity” (“Die Freineit hat Vorfahrt vor der Einheit“). “Faced with a choice between intra-German relations and the security of the Federal Republic within the Western Alliance,” as the minister for Intra-German Affairs reassured an American audience in February of last year, his government “would decide in favor of the latter.” But both these statements imply that there might be a choice, a decision; in short, a conflict of interest.

And of course there is a potential conflict. As Chancellor Kohl himself acknowledged in a discussion after his Adenauer Memorial Lecture in Oxford last year, the key to what the East German government does lies in Moscow. Now, since all the established parties in Bonn perceive good relations with the German Democratic Republic to be in Germany’s national interest, and since good relations with the GDR are rightly seen to depend on relations with the Soviet Union, it must follow that West Germany (like all previous Germanies) has a special interest in good relations with Russia. Insofar as your purpose is to keep the nation together—at least in spirit, human contacts, and so forth—Moscow is more important to you than Washington. The Federal Republic’s 1970 treaty with the Soviet Union necessarily preceded its 1972 treaty with the GDR. Eastern approaches, not Western alliances, allow German to meet German in Weimar or East Berlin.

It is refreshing to find the president of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizsäcker, frankly acknowledging this potential conflict. Germany’s division, he writes, has created for West Germany a lasting tension between two basic facts: its connection to the West (Westbindung), based on a commitment to liberal democracy, and its geopolitical position “in the center” (die Mittellage). “This is not simple or comfortable for anybody, not for our allies and certainly not for ourselves. But everyone would do well not to shut their eyes to it.” Von Weizsäcker continues:

The priorities of the western German state in foreign policy and Deutschlandpolitik follow from this position. On the basis of our freedom, protected by the alliance, we must concentrate our efforts on a good relationship with the eastern leading power [Führungsmacht]. This is our most important task. [My italics]

So according to its head of state, West Germany’s most important task is to establish a good relationship with the Soviet Union.

During the last five years, moreover, we have seen the Kremlin trying to exploit this special interest by setting it against the Federal Republic’s commitment to NATO. “If you deploy Cruise and Pershing II, you cannot expect your relationship with the East to be unharmed” was the unmistakable message from Moscow. One major party, the SPD, has accepted this linkage. “I have to represent German interests,” says Karsten Voigt, the SPD’s parliamentary spokesman on defense, explaining that if the SPD came to power tomorrow, it would “call on the United States to stop the deployment of new missles.” Sicherheitspolitik—security policy—explains Voigt, is not just defense policy. The whole web of political, economic, and cultural ties with the East is as important for “European security” as new NATO missiles. Therefore, the SPD would defend intra-German relations against American pressure. But what would be the basis of those relations under the SPD? “If we are serious about our national belonging together [die nationale Zusammengehörigkeit],” writes Bölling, “we will always have to give more than the other side is prepared to. One can call this our vulnerability to blackmail. It is not dishonorable.” Western fears could hardly be better expressed.

The Kohl government, in contrast, has responded to Moscow’s attempted blackmail by ignoring it. Nelsonlike, it has placed the telescope to its blind eye and said, “We see no linkage,” sailing ahead with both deployment of Pershings and Ostpolitik. Naturally, its relations with the East have been damaged; and its own nationalist rhetoric has added unnecessary insult to necessary injury. But Kohl, Adenauer’s grandson,” has followed Adenauer’s example, with a demonstrative commitment to the Western alliance. He has also pressed for more political integration of the Western European community.

Yet the conflict identified by von Weizsäcker remains a basic fact of West German life, for nationally minded Christian Democrats as much as for nationally minded Social Democrats. As the distinguished historian Hans-Peter Schwarz shows in his Adenauer Memorial Lecture, 1 there was nothing inevitable about Adenauer’s grand commitment to the West. During the 1950s there were compelling reasons for the western half–nation-state to return to Germany’s traditional Schaukelpolitik of maneuvering between Russia and the West; for “the conviction was general that Moscow held the key to reunification.” And Professor Schwarz concludes that if, in the future, Bonn “opted again for a middle path, Adenauer’s decision in favor of an anti-Russian policy and a lasting alliance with the Western democracies would only be a temporary affair in the long course of German policy toward Russia.”

In the 1980s, Moscow still holds the key to relations between the two Germanies (vide the cancellation of Honecker’s visit); but West Germany has a greater freedom of maneuver in the West. If the Western commitment was a painful choice, it remains both: a choice and painful. Considerations of Realpolitik and national sentiment tug eastward. The crucial westward anchors are ideological and economic rather than diplomatic or “national.” It is a voluntary commitment to the shared values of liberal democracy, the mixed economy, the rule of law, and so forth, that keeps West Germany firmly in the West. That is a sufficient reason for alarm at any widespread questioning of those values in West Germany. That is why our first German question, about the Federal Republic’s foreign policy, necessarily leads to our second German question, about its internal affairs.


Poor Caesar’s wife. After all, as a senior German diplomat wearily observed, Britain’s main opposition party has a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament—which the SPD does not—while opinion polls show more general “anti-Americanism” in Britain than in Germany. So why aren’t the Americans getting wild about “the British question”? The answer is two words: German history.

What is truly remarkable in the light of that history, is the lack of serious challenges to the Anglo-Saxon type of parliamentary democracy in the Federal Republic over the last thirty-five years. The Soviet-model socialism of the GDR sits far more easily on the foundations of Germany’s pre-1945 “political culture,” on the “Untertanmentalität,” on the undemocratic, illiberal, and militaristic part of the Prussian–German heritage. In West Germany, one can almost agree with the doyenne of German liberal journalists, Countess Dönhoff, who said in an interview to mark her seventy-fifth birthday that “the Germans have become another nation. One may regret it, but the old faith in authority [Autoritätsgläubigkeit] is no longer there.” The questioning of authority by the younger generation is in itself a positive sign.

Moreover, the economic foundations are solid. According to a recent analysis in the Financial Times:

The Germans can reasonably expect faster economic growth in 1985 (perhaps around 3 percent in real terms), largely stable prices, a visible trade surplus which stands to be bigger than this year’s figure of a likely DM 50 bn, and a current account still firmly in the black.

Despite metal and printworkers’ strikes, and 8 percent unemployment, industrial relations are still smooth and cooperative. Despite cuts by the present government, the social security network is still one of the most generous and comprehensive in the world. The Federal Republic remains a model of welfare capitalism. Again, a comparison with Britain is salutory.

This background is essential when considering the impact of the Flick affair or the rise of the Greens. The “German Watergate,” which revealed that leading politicians were receiving money from the huge Flick conglomerate, has certainly cast a garish light on the intimate connections between big business and politics in the Federal Republic. It is not merely that three former ministers stand in the dock on charges of corruption. It is not just that all the established parties and many of West Germany’s leading companies conspired to break the law (or “not to observe legal stipulations” as Chancellor Kohl more delicately put it to a parliamentary hearing), evading tax on contributions to party funds by “laundering” them through a shadowy network of charitable foundations, through bogus Institutes of This or That, through the Bonn seminary of a monastic order, and, oh dear, yes, through cash in plain envelopes, personally handed to leading politicians like Helmut Kohl by leading industrialists like Eberhard von Brauchitsch, the former managing director of the Flick concern.

Von Brauchitsch’s own extraordinary notes of his lobbying campaign, with which the news magazine Der Spiegel has been regaling us week by week, give the impression that half the political establishment was “bought” by Flick (“outfitting the gentlemen in Bonn” was von Brauchitsch’s delightful euphemism); that, indeed, it was he who decided who should be leader of the CDU. Last November, Rainer Barzel was forced to resign as Bundestag president when it emerged that he had received more than $450,000 from Flick & Co. (via a lawyer’s office) after he stepped down as CDU leader in 1973 to make way for Helmut Kohl. Von Brauchitsch had noted: “Decided on Aktion Kohl.” But he wondered: “Where is K’s leadership potential?” and gave his own answer: “a) hasn’t had a chance, b) no one else around. So don’t go down one-way street K. Therefore no adulation status [Adlatusstatus].” Not very flattering for Kohl.

Lastly, there was the attempted coverup. Leading members of all the established parties made at least one concerted attempt to vote themselves a free pardon—in the form of an amnesty for all tax evasion on donations to party funds. But they failed. Like Watergate, the Flick affair has shown both the weakness and the strength of a democracy. The weakness, that it happened; the strength, that it was exposed. Now German commentators are talking about a “crisis of confidence” in the system. Of course they are—just as they did at the height of the peace movement, and during the terrorist crisis in the late 1970s, and in 1968, and, and…. West Germany would not be West Germany if her commentators did not start talking, very solemnly and responsibly, about pneumonia every time she sneezed. It is the Caesar’s wife syndrome again. This is no good reason for foreign observers to follow suit.

What public opinion polls and local government elections do show is that the Flick affair has been damaging to Chancellor Kohl, and a gift to the Greens—the one party with clean hands. The Greens!…another cause for hypochondriac hysteria, with the awful prospect of “Red–Green chaos” (i.e., an SPD–Green government) brandished before us. Again, the reality is less dramatic. On present evidence, there is but a tiny chance that the Greens will come into the federal government after the 1987 election. Perhaps the CDU/CSU’s candidate for chancellor in that election will be Gerhard Stoltenberg, the popular finance minister, or Lothar Späth, premier of Baden-Württemberg, rather than Helmut Kohl; but whoever he is, he is most likely to be elected.

If, however, the Kohl government does continue to trip over its own big feet for another two years, and if the economy does not perform as predicted, and if the Free Democrats get below 5 percent of the vote in the 1987 elections2—three big “ifs”—then it is possible that the SPD would emerge strong enough to demand a share in government. But even then, the SPD’s likely first choice would be a “grand coalition” with the CDU/CSU (as in 1966–1969) rather than an accommodation with the Greens. The experiment of “Red–Green” government in the state of Hesse has already foundered on the issue of nuclear power. For every “pragmatist” Green member of the Bundestag who wants an alliance with the SPD there are a hundred “fundamentalists” outside, who want nothing of the sort.

Moreover, a midterm protest vote for the Greens, mainly on the domestic issues of Flick and ecology—which they have single-handedly moved to the center of political debate—rather than on “peace” or foreign policy, is no sure indicator of their prospects in a national election two years hence. The government, in the unlikely person of Mr. Zimmermann (he of the 1937 frontiers), is making strenuous efforts to steal the Greens’ clothes on environmental issues; and who will remember Flick in 1987?

So American policy and opinion makers should not exaggerate the medium-term impact of the “German Watergate” or the danger of “Red–Green chaos.” Nonetheless, the Greens are symptomatic of a certain “climate of opinion” in West Germany today, and this climate may be important in the longer term. I deliberately do not say “public opinion” because the phenomenon is not so general. “Intellectual opinion” might be a better label: more specifically, the ideas, attitudes, and loyalties of university-educated West Germans born after 1945. A significant minority. Unlike the practice of Deutschlandpolitik, this climate of opinion does not lend itself to logical, rational exposition. Any account of it must be fragmentary and impressionistic: a patchwork colored by personal experience. Moreover, it is as difficult as it is important to say which parts of the patchwork are peculiarly German, and which parts are common to intellectual opinion in other countries. For example, I hear quite as much criticism of an American president who talks about the possibility of a limited nuclear war from my neighbors in East Oxford as I used to from my neighbors in West Berlin. There is a perfectly serious case to be made against the transatlantic chain of decisions which led to the deployment of new land-based INF missiles in Western Europe. It is hard to maintain, after reading Strobe Talbott’s Deadly Gambits, that all the blame for last year’s breakdown of arms control talks lies with the Russians.

Yet I think it is undeniable that the fear of nuclear war is more urgently, radically, and even hysterically articulated in West Germany than in any other Western country. “I have hope for the world,” Petra Kelly reassures us in her personal manifesto, “although it is ten minutes before Doomsday.” The apocalyptic timekeeping is almost matter-of-fact. Even sober-minded politicians like Helmut Schmidt have contributed to this hysteria, by comparing the situation today with that in 1914. The exiled Soviet international relations expert, Mikhail Voslensky, who now lives in Munich, told me that in his experience expressions of fear are obligatory among bien pensant German intellectuals: “If I say, ‘I’m not afraid,’ they regard me as almost a fascist!” Voslensky said. “But I’m not afraid, so long as both superpowers have an adequate second strike capability….”

One reason given for this special fearfulness is geography. As Günter Gaus writes, in a book heavy with foreboding, “Germany lies…in the middle of the first battlefield, in the event of a new war in Europe.” But this popular fear—“Germany as the battlefield”—is only rational if Reagan was right, and a limited war in Europe is possible. If, as these same German commentators argue, Reagan is wrong, and escalation to a full-scale nuclear conflict would be inevitable (as the Soviets have always maintained), then the fact that Germany is on the front line is really irrelevant: I’m no better off in East Oxford (or San Francisco) than I am in West Berlin. Yet one can appreciate the emotional force of the “Germany as battlefield” motif.

A second reason advanced is history. Having started the last two world wars, the Germans are determined not to start another one. This admirable sense of historical responsibility is displayed by writers on both sides of the Wall: there is, to take a phrase from the minister for Intra-German Affairs, “an all-German intellectual opinion.” But what opinions! We find Günter Grass calling on West German youth to practice Wehrkraftzersetzung—a word used by the Nazis to describe sedition (literally, “the subversion of military power”). We find the fine East German novelist Christa Wolf retelling the Cassandra legend as a warning against intermediate nuclear missiles. And here is Rolf Hochhuth, a writer who has done much to remind German readers of the realities of life under Nazi rule (A German Love Story, Tell 38), with his new play Judith. In the prologue we are shown how a Russian girl assassinates Hitler’s commissar-general (a mass murderer) in Minsk in 1943. The main action is set forty years later, in Washington. The journalist heroine, Judith (Hochhuth suggests she may be played by the same actress), with a brother crippled by Agent Orange in Vietnam, decides she has a moral duty to assassinate an American president who is prepared to spend $150 billion over five years on armaments—including nerve gas. So she kills him with a cannister of that same nerve gas. “They that live by the sword shall die by the sword,” quotes Hochhuth.

Underpinning this “peace” discussion is what may conveniently be called “equilateralism”: a feeling that the United States is as dangerous as the Soviet Union, if not more so, and the best thing for humankind in general, and Germankind in particular, is to get as far away as possible from both of them. “A plague on both your armories.” Of course the Reagan administration has helped to fuel this feeling with its “evil empire” rhetoric and military planning leaks that many in the peace movement confuse with policy. Of course the feeling is present elsewhere in Europe: the British historian E.P. Thompson is its most eloquent voice. But there is a question why it should be strongest in the most thoroughly Americanized country in Europe, and the one closest to people living under a system of the Soviet type.

One may just understand it in insular East Oxford, but how on earth can a West Berliner fail to see the difference between the two sides of the Wall? Richard Löwenthal, a grand old man of the SPD, offers one partial explanation in a “Letter” to the Partisan Review: “a failure of political education.”3 In its efforts to promote détente, the social-liberal establishment has bent over backward to stress what unites East and West rather than what still divides them. The result: “in a large part of the young generation, a loss of the understanding that the conflict with the Soviet Union is not only a conflict between two great powers and their associates, but also a conflict between freedom and tyranny.” The Gaus and Bölling memoirs illustrate his point. In one passage, Bölling describes the two systems as Geschäftsbedingungen—“terms of business”—while Gaus compares them to two religious denominations. Deutschlandpolitik, he writes, should be “the attempt to achieve a Peace of Augsburg without the religious war which preceded it.” So, by implication, the difference between communism and liberal democracy is no more than the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism, or between the “terms of business” of public as opposed to private companies.

I would add a personal observation. In my experience, most West German intellectuals visit East Germany rather seldom. However, if they do, they often find a warmth of welcome and an intensity of human relations which contrasts favorably with the “atomization” and “alienation” of life in the capitalist West. It is easy for the intellectual tourist to take this for a positive product of the communist system. But if you actually live in East Germany you realize that this community spirit is a product of the system only in the sense that the community spirit of Londoners during the blitz was a product of the war. (German has the fine but I think untranslatable portmanteau word—Schicksalsgemeinschaft—for such a community). The casual visitor, who may not notice that people are particularly cordial just because he comes from the West, enjoys the camaraderie without the hardship. In West–East German encounters there is the added element of discovering an “old Germany,” by contrast with the Americanized West. The “old Germany” is especially enjoyable if you can pop back to West Berlin to do your shopping, use the telephone, have your car serviced, and generally suffer all the hardships of the consumer society. To be fair, the Western visitor will also encounter in East Germany that genuine qualified loyalty to the state described by Rudolf Bahro.

Obviously, I don’t give too much weight to a personal impression. But the West Berlin writer, Peter Schneider, in his “novel” The Wall Jumper, demonstrates that you can cross the Wall and come back with “equilateral” conclusions. Schneider portrays his East Berlin friend, Pommerer, and himself as victims of different but equally insidious forms of indoctrination:

The first English sentence Pommerer learned: Ami, go home.

My first English sentence: Have you chewing-gum?

Thirty-five years later, these differences are the cornerstone of defense budgets.

Switching to and fro between Western and Eastern television news (as you can in Berlin) he comments: “Network executives on both sides are laughably alike: in their own camp, they let only the rulers speak; in the enemy camp, only the oppressed.”

The Americanization of the Federal Republic is undeniable. West German democracy is the stepchild of American democracy. West German consumerism is the closest European copy of American consumerism. Der Spiegel was modeled on Time. And so on. Consequently, when younger West Germans rebel against their parents’ values, against the “industrial system,” or the Flicklike mores of what Baader-Meinhof used to call the “Raspberry Reich,” they find themselves, inevitably, rebelling against things American. It is not despite the Americanization but because of it that German “anti-Americanism” has a particular emotional edge—a kind of adolescent extremism—which you don’t find in more traditionally anti-American (and less Americanized) countries like France. Petra Kelly, with her US Army stepfather, her Virginia high school education, and her volunteer work for Robert Kennedy, personifies the paradox. Learning that the Greens’ model for their campaign of civil disobedience against American missiles is Martin Luther King, one is tempted to comment that even their anti-Americanism is American.

Yet Petra Kelly’s personal manifesto reads very oddly indeed in its American version.4 “The system is bankrupt,” proclaims her first section. “The system is bankrupt when $2.3 million a minute are spent on perfecting the machinery of destruction” while millions starve in the third world, “when micro-electronics undermines the deterrent model,” “when doctors have to issue warnings against nuclear war,” “when more than 3,000 accidents are reported in American power stations in one year.” “To people who advise us to ‘Go East, if you don’t like it here,’ we say East German principles apply in our country too. There is minimal provision for the poor and less and less of an opportunity to speak out. The system is the same; the differences are only of degree” (my italics).

So what is “the system”? In Part 2 it would appear to be parliamentary democracy (“we have stepped into the system in order to change it”). By Part 4 “the system” seems to be men. “Masculine science and masculine thinking were applied in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, in Dresden, in Nagasaki, in Vietnam, in Grenada, in Afghanistan and in Prague in 1968.” In Part 5, the cancer wards in which her younger sister died, and the X-rays which she believes caused her to lose a child in the sixth week of pregnancy are added to the list. “These experiences brought it home to me that we are all victims of ecological atrocity.” All this is “the system.” The system is bankrupt. The system must go.

And what shall we put in its place? “Ecofeminism.” “Women must lose all fear of speaking up and demanding what is theirs and their children’s. Only if we begin to rediscover our own nature, can we discover new ways of wholeness, balance, and decentralization—can we forge a bond with the Earth and the Moon, living with cooperation, gentleness, nonpossessiveness and soft energies.” In a concluding section entitled “For an Erotic Society,” Petra Kelly tells us, after “leafing through books on Tantra temples, art and Tantra yoga,” that “love and life are indissolubly linked with one another.” She “agree[s] with David Cooper (On the Need for Freedom) that ‘the simplistic view that the man is there to penetrate the woman is a culturally conditioned belief that is easily refuted by experience.’ For example, Tantric yoga is based on mutual penetration….” “But how?” is the urgent question this leaves me with. “But how?” is the question that every part of this sloganizing, dilettantish, muddle-headed, hysterical tract persistently begs—whether the subject is decentralization, disarmament, or mutual penetration.

Stefan Heym, the grand old fox of East German letters, conjures up a more sober utopia in his Schwarzenberg (published in West Germany). Heym imagines that in 1945, through an oversight, a small corner of Germany on the Czech border is left unoccupied by both the Western allies and the Russians. His “novel” recounts how independent, upright, democratic German antifascists strive to build their dream of a “free German republic.” In the end they fail—Schwarzenberg falls into the Soviet zone—but to most of his readers Heym’s “realistic” ending will be less important than the “dream” he paints with such manifest sympathy: a “political utopia” which, as the blurb quite unhistorically asserts, “might almost have become reality.” Schwarzenberg speaks powerfully to a notion abroad in Germany today—not a popular notion, but a quietly influential one—that somehow Germany’s national and democratic development was frustrated by Allied occupation; that, left to themselves, the survivors of the German antifascist resistance in 1945 could have found their own way forward to an authentic socialist democracy in a demilitarized united Germany.

But if the “opportunity” was “missed” in 1945 (though in historical fact there was no opportunity), couldn’t we start feeling our way back to it now? Schwarzenberg—“a model for later times?” as the blurb rhetorically asks. If only Germany could free itself from the imprisoning military “blocs”…. This is a perspective on the German Question which is popular (though by no means undisputed) among the Greens, in the Peace Movement, and (insofar as the label is meaningful) “leftward” from the left wing of the SPD. Some Greens talk about getting back to the preunification Germany of principates—but ecoprincipates, naturally. Rudolph Bahro, too, plays with the idea of “many smaller German states.” But, he says, “in practice, if we want to build an ecological, decentralized Germany, we have first to free German territory. The Federal Republic is now under NATO and is the NATO country with the least sovereignty. For our perspective to work, we must first acquire sovereignty over our own territory.”

The Social Democrat Gaus argues passionately for disassociating the idea of German nationhood from that of statehood. The Germans must give up the idea of returning to the Bismarckian unified nation-state. They can rediscover their national identity, and their patriotism, in the present, divided, post-Yalta Europe. The fact that they have two different states is not so important. Yet he is dismissive of Chancellor Kohl’s enthusiasm for the Western European Community. The road to German unity, he writes, does not go through Brussels. He too is not content with a status quo Deutschlandpolitik. For under present conditions, he says, “a war in Europe is probably unavoidable” (that apocalyptic vision again). The US will not commit nuclear suicide for Europe. Therefore, “is it entirely unthinkable to establish in the West European part of NATO, with France, a nuclear deterrent power which would be directed in those European interests which differ from American interests? And if that’s not possible, wouldn’t we still be better off under the French national nuclear umbrella than under the American?” (One wonders what the French think about that.)

Now, he continues, if we try to imagine such a reform of the alliance—reform, not dissolution, he stresses—“accompanied by western renunciation of further nuclear armament,” then “wouldn’t the West have some promising suggestions to make to the Soviet Union for…all-European arrangements?” “In a nuclearfree zone, secured by a European balance of power and guaranteed by Washington and Moscow, could there develop in Central Europe, where Germany too lies, the beginnings of Confederations in Partterritories?” The prose is convoluted, the last concept obscure, but the direction of his thinking is plain enough.

“Almost everything stands in the way of such an all-European future,” Gaus concludes soberly. And so it is with all the other fragments of utopia we have passed in review. They are books, not policies. No party that is likely to find itself in the West German government in the foreseeable future has adopted any such policy. Moreover, as Karsten Voigt of the SPD sadly observes in connection with disarmament: “The Soviet Union has not given us what we need. It has given us words; we need deeds.” This is even more true of the path back to national unity (if not nation-statehood) via the mutual neutralization of both German states. According to Richard Löwenthal, “there has literally not been a single hint to Bonn of such a deal, official or unofficial, since 1955.” (Really? Not a single, unofficial hint? One Soviet diplomat certainly made such a hint to me only a few months ago.) So, unless Moscow suddenly changes its position, or the Greens pull off an electoral miracle in 1987, none of this talk of a neutral Central Europe is part of any real political agenda.

But it is, as I have argued, symptomatic of a certain climate of intellectual opinion in West Germany today. There is no single “ideology” here, no unified, internally consistent set of ideas. It would be wrong to impose coherence where there is none. But two ingredients are common to this Urbrei (to borrow a term from Freud)—this primeval porridge of myths and notions.

First, there is a general undervaluation, if not outright dismissal of the existing West German state and system (parliamentary democracy, welfare capitalism, nuclear power, the rule of law and all) as corrupt and inadequate and inauthentic and, as Petra Kelly says, “bankrupt.” If the generations before 1945 were inclined to be uncritically loyal to the state (the Untertanmentalität, the Autoritätsgläubigkeit to which Countess Dönhoff refers), this generation has lurched to the opposite extreme. Partly in conscious reaction—witness the Hochhuth play. Partly out of political romanticism and utopian idealism. But the best may be the enemy of the good. Perhaps it needs a foreigner to point out that the Federal Republic has the worst possible system, apart from all the other systems that Germany has tried from time to time.

If you seriously compare it with utopia, then the best state Germany has ever had can, of course, be written off. If you seriously compare it with any real alternative, for example East Germany…. But you don’t. For the second common ingredient in the Urbrei is a consistent undervaluation—if not outright dismissal—of the qualitative differences between the systems of Eastern and Western Europe. “The system is the same…,” Petra Kelly proclaims.

I wonder how many people in Eastern Europe would agree? Traveling to and fro between West Germany and Poland over the last five years, I have been struck again and again by the contrast between the two countries. The Poles enjoy a deep and confident national identity, but are struggling for freedom. The West Germans enjoy freedom, but are struggling for a national identity. Each, in a sense, is reaching out for what the other enjoys: West Germans for an authentic national community, Poles for authentic democratic participation. In both countries, large popular movements arose at the same time—Solidarity and the Peace Movement. Both brought together Christians and socialists on the same platform, both driven by the energy and idealism of the younger generation—but what a world between them!

“There is nothing more important than peace,” my friends in the West German peace movement would tell me. Not freedom? No, “better red than dead.” Mean-while their Polish contemporaries risked another invasion by the Red Army, in order to win for themselves a portion—just a portion—of the freedoms enjoyed by every West German.

In Göttingen, university students who had lived all their lives in a stable liberal democracy questioned and doubted the primacy of its traditional values—representative government, the rule of law, individual freedom—when faced with economic recession, the North–South divide, and the threat of nuclear war. In Gdansk, young workers who had lived all their lives under communism were daubing on a crane in the Lenin Shipyard the words: “Man is born and lives free.” Polish schoolchildren chose as the motto of their samizdat journal: “Dangerous freedom is dearer to me than safe bondage.” In West Germany, Reagan was compared with a Nazi mass-murderer. For most Poles, he was a hero. Between the two mass movements there was a gulf of mutual incomprehension. (The Poles could misunderstand almost as much as they were misunderstood—but that is the subject for another essay.) When someone like Petra Kelly did (exceptionally) try to draw conclusions from the crushing of Solidarity, it came out like this: “Precisely because the peace movement is independent, it cannot turn a blind eye to Poland. Nor should we ignore the current erosion of trade union rights in Britain, where new legislation is being drafted…” etc., etc., etc. So everything is mixed up together: martial law in Poland and an act of the British parliament, Thatcher and Jaruzelski, deterrence and genocide, Auschwitz and Grenada. All this is “the system.” The system is bankrupt. The system must go.


If Poland since August 1980 has been a foil to the movement of intellectual opinion in West Germany, it has been a touchstone for the Ostpolitik. German reactions to the Polish crisis illuminate the premises and direction of that policy. In Gaus’s and Bölling’s memoirs, the Polish crisis is seen entirely through the East German prism. Solidarity appears as a nuisance and a danger. Both authors carefully distance themselves from the crude anti-Polish sentiments which, as they observe, were audible in East Germany—and discreetly encouraged by the Party. But Bölling approvingly quotes East German judgments that

the Poles, particularly some intellectual advisers of the shipyard worker Walesa, overestimated their strength, desired willfully to push the conflict further, inclined—encouraged by the Western response—to a policy of all-or-nothing, and had a very Polish remoteness from reality (eine sehr polnische Realitätsferne).

East Germans, he writes, appreciated the fact that, in his statements on Poland, Helmut Schmidt “abjured the pathos favored by Washington, London and Paris.” They were thankful that Schmidt “joined the minority in the West who thought ahead.”

Here is the thinking ahead: “After a bloodbath in Poland…we, we Germans in both states, might have to wait a whole decade before we could talk to each other again.” Already, in summer 1980, the strikes that gave birth to Solidarity had compelled Schmidt to postpone his planned summit meeting with Honecker. The Polish events were seen to be the main cause of the GDR’s dramatic increase in the compulsory minimum exchange (of hard currency) for West German visitors in autumn 1980—a major setback for intra-German relations. And then, when Schmidt and Honecker did at last get together, at the Werbellinsee, Jaruzelski went and declared his “state of war” on the last day of their meeting! Naturally, Western journalists at once asked Schmidt for his reaction to martial law. “Herr Honecker is as dismayed as I am,” said Schmidt, “that this was necessary…” (my italics). According to Bölling, Schmidt subsequently felt “that it had been a mistake indirectly to portray the Poles as an interference factor in German–German relations.” And there’s the rub.

For of course the Polish revolution of 1980–1981 did get in the way of the intra-German détente. And, since December 1981, General Jaruzelski’s “restoration of order” in Poland, like the restoration of good working relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, has been a desideratum—if not a prerequisite—for further progress in German–German relations. So Kohl’s foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, has been vigorously encouraging the one and the other: the “normalization” of East–West relations, and, yes, General Jaruzelski’s “normalization” in Poland. And not only Genscher. On visits to Poland, the SPD leader, Hans-Jochen Vogel, and the CSU leader, Franz Josef Strauss, both expressed their support for General Jaruzelski’s “stabilization.” The harmony of Strauss and Vogel is startling, until one recalls how the Deutschlandpolitik was disrupted by the challenge to communist rule in Poland. Whatever their political differences, both see the continuation of the Deutschlandpolitik as being in Germany’s national interest.

West German policy makers are not happy with the analysis I have made—although it is based on what they themselves write and say at home. They insist that their policy is actually in the best interests of the Polish people. Only gradual, evolutionary change, carefully controlled from above, is possible in Eastern Europe. The first priority must be to rebuild the shattered Polish economy. The Poles should be “realistic” rather than “romantic.” (I am quoting from a number of conversations with German policy makers over the last three years.) If the West builds up a relationship with Jaruzelski, particularly through new credits and trade, it can influence him to pursue more “liberal” policies, as it did with Gierek.5 The Polish people, instead of unreasonably demanding more freedom and self-determination, should settle for a more comfortable life under the more economically efficient and possibly more tolerant dictatorship which they, the West Germans, will help Jaruzelski to construct. In short, Poland should be more like East Germany.

The only problem with this approach is that most Poles don’t share it. They have other priorities. For example, they tend (“romantically” and “unrealistically”) to put freedom before efficiency or security. The Ostpolitik approach to Poland is thus profoundly antidemocratic in the same way that the Reagan approach to Nicaragua is antidemocratic: because it acts in contempt of the clearly expressed aspirations of the majority in the country affected. (This is not to equate the aspirations of the Sandinistas with those of Solidarity—that is quite a different argument.)

Günter Gaus suggests a possible answer to this charge. Stability in Eastern Europe, he insists, is essential for the peace of Europe—and he praises Franz Josef Strauss for saying as much in War-saw. “Polish conditions such as prevailed in the last three years, such a ‘Polish economy’ (polnische Wirtschaft) in central Germany—’Polish economy’ understood in the sense of the old, evil, arrogant German metaphor—such conditions would be the eve of war in Europe.” By implication the Poles must sacrifice their democratic aspirations to the higher cause of peace. Or, as Bölling puts it, “according to a general consensus in East and West, peace just is a higher good than paragraphs devoted to the idea of freedom, which are also to be found in the constitution of the GDR.”

The Polish case is important, because in the last three years West German commentators and politicians have held up East–West German relations as a model for East–West European relations, and indeed for East–West relations altogether. The automatic equation of German with “European” interests is a staple ingredient of West German political rhetoric from Strauss to Bahro, through Kohl and Vogel. You find it in all the books under review. In a note entitled “German Model,” in the influential weekly Die Zeit, Countess Dönhoff takes things a stage further:

The whole world, East and West, is anxiously asking: What’s up with the two Germanies? The puzzle is easily solved. It infuriates the Germans to the right and left of the Elbe to have to stand idly by while the two superpowers arm like crazy, or play “pass the buck” like children. After all, this policy—if one can call it such—affects not only the two great powers, but several hundred million Europeans.

Erich Honecker declared in an interview some time ago: “Whatever controversial international problems appear, however complicated they are—we must regulate them not by the law of the jungle, but by negotiation.”

And Foreign Minister Genscher has just convincingly explained what policy should look like today: “The significance of Europe requires that no single power aims to achieve a dominant position [Vormachstellung] on the old continent”—and: “It gets us nowhere if both sides attribute responsibility for the worsening of the situation to the other, and demand a change in the other’s behavior as the precondition for a contribution.”

If only the superpowers would show so much insight!

The self-righteous tone is worth noting.

Yet, as I have tried to show, the equations are far from proven. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that all Eastern Europe becomes more like East Germany, and all Western Europe behaves toward Eastern Europe as West Germany behaves toward East Germany. Will Europe then be a safer place: more peaceful or more free? I doubt it. East Germany is the sturdiest pillar of the Soviet empire. It is the nearest Eastern Europe comes to a properly functioning Leninist party-state. Its powerful and relatively modern economy is of immense value to the Soviet Union. Its large and highly professional army is vital to the Warsaw Pact.

Poland, by contrast, is the Spanish ulcer of the Soviet empire. Its economy is a burden on Comecon and the Soviet Union. Soviet military commanders must fear that they cannot rely on Poland in the event of war. (Any such fears about the East German army?) Arguably, with the Polish problem in its “back yard,” the Kremlin is less rather than more likely to take risks abroad. Moreover, the Polish people have won for themselves (at great cost), and are struggling to defend against Jaruzelski’s “normalization,” far greater areas of de facto freedom and pluralism than the East Germans can dream of.

West Germany, meanwhile, has virtually abandoned the original hope of changing the way East Germany is governed (Wandel durch Annäherung). Instead, it makes a huge contribution to the stability and prosperity of Honecker’s police welfare state. Both Gaus and Bölling say frankly that Bonn gives more than it gets. “Anyone in the Federal Republic who cannot put up with the partial bitter powerlessness connected with this,” writes Gaus, “had better not pursue Deutschlandpolitik.” And we recall Bölling’s striking phrase about West Germany’s “honorable vulnerability to blackmail.” Is that what we want for all of Western Europe in our dealings with the East?

This is not to suggest the opposite: that East Germany needs “Polish conditions.” No. I have little doubt that the majority of East Germans prefer the gradual material and human improvements achieved by the patient practice of Deutschlandpolitik to any “romantic” Polish bid for more political freedom. They have a perfect right to these priorities. Let every nation pursue its own idea of happiness in its own way. The house of Europe has many mansions. But because Deutschlandpolitik, and the Ostpolitik which goes with it, is in the German interest, it is not necessarily in everyone else’s. For as long as there have been nations in Europe, their interests have been in conflict as often as they have coincided. There is no reason to believe this is no longer the case. (Look at the EEC.) What we saw in the last years of the Schmidt government was, tendentially, in a mild and muted form, what we have seen so many times before in the history of Central Europe: the clash of Poland’s national aspirations and interests on the one side, with those of Russia and Germany on the other. Which of those interests and aspirations best serve the peace of Europe remains very much an open question.

Under the Kohl government, the same foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, has tried to pursue much the same policy. But, much more than in intra-German relations, the nationalist rhetoric of the CDU right, and its closer attention to its Western allies, have reduced the policy toward Poland to temporary confusion. Last November, Genscher made it quite clear that he, like Vogel, wanted to use his planned visit to Poland to encourage General Jaruzelski’s “reform and stabilization process”—and not the opposition. It was only under pressure from the CDU that he said he was open to visiting the grave of Father Popieluszko—a gesture that would have been vastly appreciated by most Poles. He also proposed to lay a wreath at a Wehrmacht cemetery near Auschwitz—a gesture that would not have been vastly appreciated by most Poles. These two ideas were unacceptable to the Jaruzelski government, and caused the last-minute cancellation of his visit.


If this essay has only hinted at the complexity of the “German Question” as it appears in contemporary Europe, it has served its purpose. Over the last fifteen years, the position of the Federal Republic in international relations has changed fundamentally. A new Deutschlandpolitik based on good working relations with the communist regime in East Berlin has been the epicenter of this change. Such a policy now enjoys a broad consensus in Bonn, and probably in East Berlin. We ignore at our peril the great benefits which it has brought to both German states and to the German people—especially the Berliners.

This successful, pragmatic Deutschlandpolitik is inextricably intertwined with Bonn’s distinctive foreign policy toward Eastern Europe. It has definitely strengthened what is inevitably—because of the geopolitical position—West Germany’s special interest in relations with Moscow. So far these special, national interests have been accommodated in the Western alliance and the West European community without too much strain. There is no reason to believe they cannot be so accommodated in the foreseeable future. But, as President von Weizsäcker observes, we do well not to shut our eyes to them. With the new self-confidence which the Federal Republic has acquired in this period, with the political, economic, and emotional investment it has made in its Ostpolitik, Bonn will forcefully assert what it regards as German national interests. A federal government including the SPD might partially accept Moscow’s reverse linkage between defense policy and Deutschlandpolitik—a linkage which Helmut Kohl, Nelsonlike, contrives to ignore.

These considerations, and a knowledge of German history, make us, and still more the Germans themselves, hypochondriacal about the health of the best state Germany has ever had. On a sober diagnosis, however, the Federal Republic is still one of the most stable, prosperous, and liberal democracies in the world. Even the hypochondria, and the restless questioning of authority, are symptoms rather of health than of sickness. Only a minority, but a significant minority, has taken this questioning to extremes—undervaluing, or rejecting outright, the state, the “system,” and the values which distinguish it from other systems, including the Soviet-type systems of the East. Utopian idealism, political romanticism, an overreaction to the Nazi past, a kind of adolescent rebellion against stepfather America: all this comes through in the voices of German intellectuals—voices which sound a strange, high note of apocalyptic alarm. But these are not the deciding voices of German politics: nor will they be, for as far ahead as we can see. Moreover, if Christian Democrats can say one thing on Sunday and do another on Monday, so can the Greens. To hear Petra Kelly preaching is one thing; to watch her at work in a parliamentary committee is quite another.

Finally, if this essay has highlighted some rich confusion in German answers to the German question, the confusion is not theirs alone. Günter Gaus writes bitterly that “our allies have happily got used to the reduction of our national engagement to lip-service on certain anniversaries.” The reality is a little more complicated. We may sometimes feel, like François Mauriac, that “we love Germany so much that we’re happy there are two of them.” On the other hand, anyone can see that the road to an eventual European reunification must lead via Germany. So if we are at all serious about a long-term, peaceful “evolutionary liberation” of Central and Eastern Europe from Soviet domination, about overcoming Yalta, then we, too, must be serious about overcoming the division of Germany. But how?

This Issue

January 31, 1985