Rotten to the Core?
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It was only a few years ago that the East European countries moved back into the field of vision of Western policy. For a decade they were kept outside the scope of our active policy, though not out of our thoughts. Most of the paths we trod toward the East led through a frosty and monotonous political landscape, past a hundred million East Europeans and their capital cities directly to Moscow. These peoples and, as we can now see, their governments, did not voluntarily remain in the background nor renounce their right to shape their own future and their relations with the rest of the world. But as long as only the voice of Moscow was heard in reply to questions asked of them, the countries of the West had no choice but to speak with those whose voice alone mattered.
Today this situation is changed. Beginning with the events in Poland and the uprising in Hungary in 1956, important and perhaps decisive things happened in the East European countries which increasingly influenced their relationship with the Soviet Union, with each other and with the Western world. Their individuality again became noticeable. We saw that national interests were a more permanent political force than ideological maxims, and that even the long practice of "proletarian internationalism" had not suppressed the desire for international relations as we understand them. Hence it made sense to regard the East European countries once again as active participants in international politics.
Occasionally the accusation has been leveled against German policy that it was slow to recognize these developments and then hesitated to draw the necessary conclusions and make decisions based on them. I feel that this charge is unjustified. In 1960 and 1961, a parliamentary subcommittee examined thoroughly the prerequisites for, and the possibilities of, Germany's pursuing an East European policy. In the course of its inquiries, it sought the advice of scientific and political experts as well as recommendations from the various ministries. Although at that time the tendencies toward change were only barely discernible, the committee arrived at conclusions that have since become guide-lines of German policy. On that committee's recommendation, the German Bundestag on June 14, 1961, unanimously adopted a resolution which reads: "The Federal Government is called upon to pursue with its allies an Eastern policy aiming at the restoration of a free and all-German state that maintains friendly and prosperous relations with the Soviet Union and all East European countries. To this end, the Federal Government should grasp every opportunity to bring about a normalization of relations between the Federal Republic and the East European countries without abandoning vital German interests."
The changes that have taken place within the Communist-ruled area have literally rendered us speechless. We can no longer speak of the "Eastern bloc" or the "Soviet bloc," nor as yet of a "commonwealth of socialist countries." We have not yet found a new name for the "East European satellites," and make do with the term "East European countries," realizing that it does not adequately indicate the specific links that exist between those countries and the Soviet Union.
The lack of precision in our vocabulary corresponds with the blurriness of the political scenery and the diversity of developments in Eastern Europe. The tendencies toward liberalization in internal affairs as well as the aspirations to greater independence in foreign affairs differ from one country to another. Yet their principal features are the same. They are beginning to show a moderate but none the less significant measure of independence. Their first moves were in the field of foreign trade, but now they are already feeling their way in foreign policy. Once again they appear to us as nations. The emergence of national characteristics is nothing new; the individual character of each nation remained alive even during the era of severest Soviet control. What is new is that the governments are beginning to incorporate these characteristics and interests in their deliberations and to take them into account when making decisions on internal and external affairs, even if these interests deviate from, or possibly clash with, those of the Soviet Union. Gradually, their relations to each other, to the Soviet Union and to the countries of the West are assuming new and more appropriate forms.
It is important to note that these tendencies are perceptible only in the East European countries and not in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. This is understandable, since the motive power for the changes is a sense of national consciousness growing out of history. Without this motive power no independent policy is possible. If the Ulbricht régime wanted to pursue a German policy in line with the will of the German people on both sides of the Iron Curtain, it would have to open the way for reunification; and this would remove the base of its own existence. The régime in the Soviet Zone is evidently neither prepared nor able to steer a political course based on national interest. In contrast to the general trend, it must continue to seek the closest possible attachment to Moscow. This is shown by the so- called treaty of friendship signed by East Berlin and the Soviet Union on June 12, 1964. Whereas the East European countries are today freer and more self-assured in their actions, the Soviet Zone régime remains as always entirely dependent on Soviet power politics.
The development I have been describing in Eastern Europe is often referred to as a process of disintegration. I consider this term inappropriate. Changes need not lead to disintegration and relaxation need not lead to a break. Apart from Soviet Russia's continuing and credible threat to use all means to prevent these countries from openly deserting her, their national interests require them to maintain close relations with their big neighbor, in both the economic and the military field. They will also keep their common ideological outlook, if only because it conforms to their leaders' urge for self-preservation. The danger for Western policy today lies not so much in the fact that we might overlook but rather that we might overrate the changes in Eastern Europe and their significance. We must not forget that the governments are Communist governments, that they have not altered their ultimate aims in domestic and foreign policy, and that except to the extent that they pursue a recognizable national policy, they lack the support of the majority of the population. We must also realize that the changes we observe and welcome do not necessarily facilitate our own policy; nor is the solution of a given problem simplified by the fact that variable factors have taken the place of constant factors. We should not dismiss offhand the argument put forward by champions of polycentrism that diversity means strength, not weakness.
Hence the West is faced with new tasks. The German Government recognizes them and is prepared to help find a way to accomplish them. But though many possibilities are open to German policy in this connection, we must not overlook the obstacles that stand particularly in the way of a German commitment in Eastern Europe.
In spite of the long-standing and close relations between Germany and Eastern Europe-not always happy, certainly, but if viewed over the centuries, nevertheless fruitful for both sides-and in spite of the contacts established since the last war through trade and cultural exchanges, the area is still almost terra incognita for German policy. The Second World War left an intellectual and political gap in relations between divided Germany and the countries to the east.
The first official mission of the Federal Republic of Germany in Eastern Europe, the trade representation in Warsaw, was not established until September 1963. This was followed last year by similar missions in Bucharest, Budapest and Sofia. In contrast to this, Bonn had been able to establish its first permanent missions in several Western countries as early as 1950.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we frequently find an outdated image of Germany in Eastern Europe-one which may also have existed in the West 15 or 20 years ago. That image is characterized by mistrust and fear, based on recollections of the era when the National Socialist megalomania raged with particular brutality in Eastern Europe. Moreover, the countries of this area tend to make the same error that the Germans themselves frequently made and of which they have been cured by two catastrophes-namely, the mistake of overestimating Germany's resources. Ignorance of the changes that have taken place in Germany since 1945 has so far prevented this distorted image from being corrected. It is hard to know how deeply mistrust and fear of Germany are rooted in the minds of the leadership groups in Eastern Europe; but unjustified as they are today, they certainly represent a very considerable political factor. On the other hand, fear and mistrust aside, there also still exists, though not to the same degree everywhere, a healthy interest in Germany and indeed here and there a latent or even open affection. Nearly everywhere people want to resume old relations.
Of even greater importance is the fact that the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany, whose ambassadors have been active for many years in the capitals of Eastern Europe, has not succeeded in establishing itself in the minds of either peoples or governments as the "real Germany to which the future belongs." Despite the agitation against us, in which the Soviet Zone has played a large part, the Federal Republic has not lost ground in the eyes of East Europeans. On the contrary, we repeatedly find that they regard it as the representative of the national interest of all Germans.
Our first task must be to see to it that the East European countries approach the Germany which we represent without mistrust or apprehension. We must also win back confidence and understanding there to the same degree that we have managed to do in the West. This is a difficult proposition that cannot succeed quickly. Deep-rooted memories and prejudices are systematically nourished and preserved; for the frightful image of a militarist and revanchist Germany is a cheap and useful means of binding the East European countries to the Soviet Union and also of winning some degree of public support for the local governments. Nevertheless, I feel that if we are patient we will be able to demonstrate that present-day Germany, as part of a new Europe, is a good neighbor, seeking understanding, not revenge, and security for all, not tension.
We shall not spare efforts to dispel mistrust and fear and thus to relax tension in Europe, but we cannot achieve this by practicing self-denial. Nothing would be easier, in order to earn short-lived Soviet applause and the good will of Eastern governments, than to accept the status quo in Europe and to renounce the right of self-determination for all Germans and the restoration of German unity. But the common interest forbids us to take such a deceptive path.
From time to time it is suggested that we regard German reunification less as a basic requirement of our policy than as an historical process which should be left to the healing hand of time. This view seems to me unrealistic. Such a policy of resignation would dash the hopes of the Germans living on the other side of the Iron Curtain; would help to consolidate the unnatural and unjust partition of our country without bringing peace and security to Europe; and would perpetuate a dangerous source of tension in Central Europe indefinitely.
The growing impatience of the German people with the continued partition of Germany is finding increasing political expression. No German government, constitutionally sworn as it is to act on behalf of all Germans and to restore German unity, could abandon the policy of reunification. It could not fulfill this assignment merely by leaving it to the healing hand of time, any more than an American administration could relieve itself indefinitely of the constitutional obligation "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Nor can we be expected at this juncture, before hearing the opinion of all Germans, to express an opinion on territorial questions; they can be settled only in a peace treaty for the whole of Germany. We have repeatedly given solemn assurances that we want the question of Germany's eastern boundary to be settled in peace and not by force.
If there is to be a real relaxation of tension, Germans throughout the whole of Germany must be able, as again stated in the joint declaration of the three Western Powers, June 26, 1964, to exercise the right of self- determination. To achieve this elementary human right, our policy must be, not to arouse false hopes, but to establish relations between East and West based on mutual trust and thus enable us to remove, first of all, the minor sources of tension, but subsequently the major ones as well.
There is no short cut to this objective. A good beginning might be made if the East European countries were to realize that the German problem is a national one and not-as the Soviet leaders have repeatedly declared-a social one; and if they were to recognize that no struggle between two different social systems is going on in Germany, but simply that the nation wants to regain its unity. There are signs today that more understanding for the national character of the German problem can be found in some East European capitals than in Moscow. What will require more effort will be to convince the East European countries and the Soviet Union itself that a united Germany would serve their national interests better than the maintenance of a permanent source of tension in the heart of Europe, that Germany does not represent a danger to their security but on the contrary is willing to join forces with the peoples of Eastern Europe for the future development of the whole Continent.
I do not expect that reunification will fall into our lap if we regain the confidence of the Eastern countries. The slogan, "The way to reunification is via Warsaw," is a half-truth, even more misleading than the view that reunification can be reached only via Moscow. However, as regards our demand for self-determination, we are hoping for understanding and sympathy from all countries that feel affected by the partition of Germany and the restoration of its unity.
Our policy toward the countries of Eastern Europe is not directed against Moscow, nor does it aim-as Soviet propaganda sometimes has it-at sowing dissension among them or driving a wedge between them and the Soviet Union. Not only would such an attempt presumably fail, but also no German government would show so little sense as to add stress to German-Soviet relations, tense as they are already, by seeking to agitate the East European countries against their dominant neighbor.
We realize, of course, that it is far beyond our own means to achieve the peace settlement we desire in Central Europe. Germany cannot by itself determine developments in East-West relations and in Europe; it can only contribute its share, which will be the more effective if fitted into the overall pattern of a common Western policy. There already exists far- reaching agreement in the Western world on the problems of our relations with the East European countries. This is a sound foundation, but it can be broadened still further once it is agreed that the interests of individual Western countries are the common interest of the West and should be upheld as such. If we fail in this, the endeavors of individual countries will be ineffectual. This does not mean that the Western allies should always proceed in step; they should, however, be unanimous about the direction and pace of their movement.
The countries with which we want to improve relations lie in the east of Europe. Moscow, too, has a European heritage to preserve. In some Eastern capitals we can already see a growing European consciousness that is even being formulated in public, though still with hesitation and for the time being merely in relation to economic affairs. Here, possibilities begin to emerge which we should seek to pursue and exploit.
At present the German Government can best make a specific contribution toward improved relations with the Eastern states in the economic and cultural spheres, in which they are greatly interested. Our first step in this direction was the establishment of trade missions in the East European capitals. We had declared our readiness to initiate that step as early as 1961. The reason that our first trade mission, in Warsaw, did not open until September 1963 was because for a time the Polish Government considered that normalization of German-Polish relations could begin only with the immediate establishment of full diplomatic relations, accompanied by a German recognition of the Polish view of the boundary question. The Polish conditions thus went beyond those which the Soviet Union demanded in 1955; for the agreement with the Federal Republic to establish diplomatic relations had taken cognizance of the German reservation concerning, among other points, the boundary question. Long-drawn-out negotiations arrived at last at a German-Polish agreement to exchange trade missions; and similar agreements followed with Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria. With Jugoslavia, which may be included here among the East European countries for a number of reasons apart from those of geography, we have maintained consular relations after diplomatic relations were broken off. We are represented neither in Czechoslovakia nor in Albania; the talks with Czechoslovakia in recent months have so far, unfortunately, been without result.
Our trade missions have not been operating long enough to provide extensive experience as to their success. Moreover, the framework within which they are able to act varies in the different countries. In their proper sphere of work-the promotion of economic relations-they have already developed considerable activity. For some East European countries the Federal Republic is the chief Western trade partner, while for the others it is one of the more important. Our trade missions have a dual task: looking into possibilities of expanding German exports, and giving assistance on problems related to the opening up of new markets in Germany. Because of their state-controlled economies, East European countries often find it difficult to deal with foreign countries having different marketing conditions-such, for instance, as those evolved through the progressive development of the Common Market. Continuous contact with our trade missions can help them overcome such difficulties.
Most of our cultural and scientific exchanges with Eastern Europe are carried on privately. In cultural relations, the government should lend a hand only if necessary and desired. Even here, however, trade missions find a number of tasks which they can properly perform-for instance, help in transferring the earnings of a German theatre company in Eastern Europe. If desired, we are prepared to enter into talks with East Europeans on cultural arrangements, either through our official representatives in their capitals or with their trade missions in the Federal Republic; and we have made concrete proposals to that effect.
The necessary basis for improvement in cultural and scientific relations is reciprocity, not in the narrow mechanical sense, but in such a way that both sides will derive advantage from the opportunities afforded. It would be a mistake to set off student against student, or artist against artist. Exchanges can lead to closer contacts only if both the Germans and the peoples of Eastern Europe are given comparable opportunities to introduce themselves to each other and learn something about each other. That goal is, unfortunately, still remote.
Members of our trade missions are increasingly playing a useful role as "people to talk to," simply by reason of being right there on the spot. They can give advice to the growing number of German visitors to Eastern Europe, to industrial representatives, journalists or scientists, and can provide them with contacts. Above all, in their daily dealings with the local authorities, they can help rectify false ideas about the Federal Republic. It is still too early to gauge the success of such unobtrusive work, but the conditions for doing useful things appear to be present. It is worth mentioning that, unlike the Soviet Union, all of the East European governments to which we sent written requests for assistance in clearing up Nazi war crimes answered in a civil manner.
Our relations with Eastern Europe are still in their infancy; the major tasks lie ahead. We want to extend the present exchanges, but not for themselves alone; we want to come closer to one another. The accent of our policy toward individual countries will continue to vary, for it is not only our own good will that counts; there must also be willingness on the other side. We shall not rush forward with spectacular proposals but wait patiently and attentively for suitable opportunities.
An improvement in relations should also be sought in the narrower political sphere. I say "narrower" because in my opinion closer economic and cultural relations also come under the heading of politics. Our Western way of thinking permits us to separate economic and cultural affairs from politics, but the Marxist-Leninist doctrine does not, and in this it is not entirely wrong.
Political discussion between Germany and the East European countries must develop organically. There could be no greater mistake than precipitate action. To begin with, it will be incumbent on both sides to create a favorable atmosphere for talks; we for our part wish to contribute to this as best we can. The East European countries, too, could help. An amicable agreement on humanitarian questions, for instance, would be a considerable step forward. Many people of German stock still living in Eastern Europe want to rejoin relatives in Germany. The German Government feels obliged to help these people fulfill their wish-the more so as they often have to suffer from mistrust felt by East Europeans for anything German-a relic of National Socialist times. As confidence grows as a result of mutually demonstrated good will, a basis will develop for political talks.
There are of course limits to political concessions. We cannot afford to jeopardize long-term objectives for the sake of some short-lived progress toward a rapprochement with Eastern Europe.
The question often asked is whether the establishment of diplomatic relations with all or some East European countries would open up new prospects. The theoretical objections occasionally raised do not hold water. Under the statement of the Federal Government of June 28, 1956, we could establish diplomatic relations with the East European countries in the same way we did with the Soviet Union. We must, however, constantly see to it that our right to be the sole representative of Germany in international affairs is neither impaired nor even endangered.
Great caution should be shown in making any prognoses of developments in Eastern Europe. We cannot foresee or influence many or perhaps most of the forces operating there. Although we may assume the desire of governments in the region for greater independence and their peoples' wish for more freedom as permanent factors in our political calculations, we must (as the past decade has shown) reckon with events that will hamper our efforts. Of course, such setbacks do not constitute a complete reversal; freedoms once granted or acquired cannot be completely withdrawn. It also is possible (and here again the past few years have offered examples) that developments will proceed more rapidly than we now expect.
We must be prepared for all such contingencies, which means that we should not plan our policy in these matters on rigid lines, with all the details firmly fixed; rather must we remain sufficiently flexible to adapt ourselves to any change in the East European countries and in their readiness (or perhaps reluctance) to establish or maintain contact with the Western world. We should neither make advance concessions for an uncertain future, nor, influenced by the present situation, establish principles that might bar us from following new roads tomorrow.
Any policy with regard to Eastern Europe requires caution and circumspection, tact and discretion. Often it will be best to wait for one of the countries to take the initiative rather than to come forward with premature proposals of our own. These considerations apply primarily to German policy. But they can also be taken into account generally if there is agreement in the West on the aims and conditions of a purposeful policy toward Eastern Europe and a readiness to put the ways and means of such a policy into operation.