On June 29, after almost five months of discussion and preparation, the East German Communist régime denounced an agreement for public debates to be held in both German states between its spokesmen and the leaders of West Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party. The plan for a high-level confrontation, the first of its kind since Germany was partitioned at the end of the Second World War, was the result of an East German initiative. It had aroused intense interest and some exaggerated hopes among Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The East German Socialist Unity, or Communist, Party (S.E.D.) had sought a "dialogue" with the West German Social Democrats (S.P.D.) with the avowed aim of causing dissension among the major parties in Bonn and splitting the S.P.D. leadership from the party rank and file. As it turned out, however, Mayor Willy Brandt of West Berlin, the S.P.D. chairman, won the support of his own party as well as Chancellor Ludwig Erhard's grudging endorsement of the proposed talks. Sixteen days before the first debate was to be held at Karl-Marx-Stadt (formerly Chemnitz) in East Germany, the Communists canceled the arrangements on the flimsy pretext that a newly adopted West German law guaranteeing S.E.D. speakers immunity from arrest in the Federal Republic infringed East German sovereignty.
There is no doubt that the S.E.D. lost prestige by backing out of the debates. But the episode still enabled the East German Communists to achieve their long-standing goal of persuading West German leaders to agree to direct talks on all-German problems. By sanctioning the plan the Bonn government tacitly abandoned its contention that it is pointless, and indeed immoral, to engage in political discussions with the Soviet- sponsored East German government. Brandt called it "the beginning of a great dialogue" when he spoke over West German television on July 14, the day the first debate was to have been held in Karl-Marx-Stadt. "There may
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