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East Germany

Relations with West Germany

Shifts in superpower relations in the late 1960s helped bring about a rapprochement between the two German states in the 1970s. Despite the decline in superpower détente, this rapprochement has continued in the 1980s. The normalization process took place on two levels. On one level, outside powers negotiated a treaty dealing with Berlin; on another, the two Germanies dealt with each other. The Western powers (the United States, France, and Britain) joined with the Soviet Union in negotiating the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (Berlin Agreement). Signed on September 3, 1971, the agreement served to normalize the political status of the divided city and provided for a specific number of guarantees safeguarding Western rights. As a result, the perennial crises over the future of West Berlin and its inhabitants have come to an end. Both German governments were kept informed over the course of the negotiations and during the intervening years have strongly backed the validity of the agreement.

Normalized relations between the two German states have also concerned their respective political leaders. Two major agreements--the Transit Agreement and the Basic Treaty--were negotiated between Bonn and East Berlin in 1971-72, subsequently serving to expand and improve bilateral relations. The Transit Agreement carried through that portion of the Berlin Agreement applicable to the regulation of civilian passenger and goods transit between West Germany and West Berlin. Signed on December 17, 1971, the Transit Agreement between the two German states ensures that agreed-upon transportation links (road, rail, and water) will be maintained by the respective parties. In the past, East German authorities had occasionally disrupted traffic as a means of communicating dissatisfaction with one or another aspect of Bonn's activities in West Berlin. During the 1970s and 1980s (most recently in May 1986), the two countries have disagreed occasionally, but both sides have, for the most part, observed the inviolability of the Transit Agreement.

The Basic Treaty provided the two German states with a long- term framework for the conduct of their diplomatic, economic, and political relations. Signed on December 21, 1972, the treaty covers a broad range of common problems, ranging from environmental issues, trade and commercial relations, rights of citizens while visiting the other country, and an agreement jointly to negotiate minor rectifications of the common border. The treaty enjoyed the full support of both governments in the 1970s, and major changes in their relationship subsequently occurred. From 1970 to 1985, trade between the two countries more than doubled. Travel between East Germany and West Germany has also grown substantially. From January to April 1984, approximately 897,000 West Germans visited East Germany and East Berlin, an 18.4 percent increase over the same period in 1983. Visits in the other direction also increased; in 1986 approximately 500,000 East Germans of working age traveled to West Germany, reflecting a substantial change in East German policy on this matter. In 1986 the East German government allowed approximately 20,000 Germans to resettle in West Germany, which was larger than the number allowed to leave in any one year in the 1970s, but lower than in 1984, when over 30,000 East Germans left the country to settle in West Germany.

The normalization of relations between the two Germanies manifests several inconsistencies. On the one hand, under Honecker East Germany has agreed to extensive economic and cultural contacts with West Germany. On the other hand, the Honecker regime has pursued a policy of Abgrenzung, designed to encourage a feeling of separate national identity on the part of the East German population (see The German Question Today: One Nation or Two , ch. 2). In the mid-1980s, with the revival of official interest in the Germany past and fewer references to Abgrenzung, it appeared that the regime had relaxed this policy. Another set of contradictory ideas is also applied to inter-German relations. On the one hand, as a price for closer relations, the Honecker regime has insisted that West Germany recognize East German citizenship and that East Germany's sovereignty be recognized through an exchange of ambassadors. On the other hand, as long as West Germany insists on acknowledging two German states in one German nation, an exchange of ambassadors is unlikely.

Before Honecker came to power in 1971, the SED was formally committed to the goal of reunification of the two Germanies. Article 8 of the 1968 Constitution states that "The establishment and cultivation of normal relations and cooperation between the two German states on the bases of equality are national concerns of the GDR. The GDR and its citizens strive in addition to overcome the division of Germany imposed on the German nation by imperialism and support step-by-step rapprochement between the two German states until the time of their unification on the basis of democracy and socialism." The regime deleted that portion of Article 8 in the 1974 amendments to the Constitution.

In the 1980s, in part as a function of alternate conflict and cooperation between the two states' superpower allies and in part as a function of the peculiar concerns of the two German states, relations between East Germany and West Germany fluctuated between conflict and cooperation. Upon coming to power in 1982, West German chancellor Helmut Kohl emphasized Deutschlandpolitik (German policy), which had emerged under Kohl's predecessor, Helmut Schmidt, and was distinguished from the previous policy of Ostpolitik (eastern policy-- see Glossary). Deutschlandpolitik involves the pursuit of three related policy aims: improving the lot of East Germans, alleviating the personal hardships on both sides of the border caused by the division of the German nation into two separate states, and fostering the unity of the German people. To pursue these policies requires the continuation and strengthening of détente between the two Germanies and, in a larger sense, between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the 1980s, the Honecker regime has also evinced an interest in détente between the two Germanies for both economic and political reasons. The Honecker regime needs West German economic support to meet the needs of East German consumers, and West Germany is the path the East Germans take to hard currency markets. Indeed, as if to show that relations between the two German states were not going to suffer if new NATO missiles were deployed in Europe, in 1983 the West German government arranged a 1 billion D-mark banking credit to East Germany by a West German consortium. In return, the East Germans have removed many of the SM-70 automatic firing devices along the inter-German border. In September 1983, the minimum daily currency exchange requirement was eliminated for children between the ages of six and fourteen; in July 1984, this requirement was reduced from twenty-five to fifteen D-marks for pensioners. In the mid-1980s, the East Germans also demonstrated a willingness to undertake efforts to protect the environment in areas such as air pollution, acid rain, water pollution, and damage to forests that affect the two states.

Political factors were also at work in the Honecker regime's attempt to continue rapprochement with West Germany in the 1980s. Honecker has sought full diplomatic recognition from West Germany and an acknowledgement that East Berlin alone represents the sovereign interests of the East German state. Continuation of détente between the two Germanies held open the possibility that these two political objectives could be attained.

Détente between the two Germanies was dealt a blow in 1984, however, by Honecker's decision to postpone a visit to West Germany (see Relations with the Soviet Union , this ch.). The American scholar A. James McAdams has argued that for his own reasons Honecker himself played an important role in this decision. Recognizing that the West German public demanded that its government maintain good inter-German relations, Honecker may have hoped that by postponing his visit indefinitely, he could win resolution of outstanding issues between the two governments on terms more favorable to East Germany. From 1985 to 1987, both Bonn and East Berlin continued to reiterate that Honecker's visit had only been postponed. However, in 1985 East Germany took up Moscow's propaganda line, warning of West German "revanchism" and criticizing West Germany's celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat. After the Eleventh Party Congress in April 1986, the East Germans again joined the Soviet Union in attacking West German policies.

In the mid-1980s, several problems continued to divide the two Germanies. To a large extent, relations between the two German states are held hostage to relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. When relations between the two superpowers worsen, each superpower exerts pressure on its German ally to refrain from extending relations with the other German state. There are also other outstanding issues that have previously been touched upon: the nature of German citizenship, East Germany's demand for West German recognition of East German sovereignty, and the need for the resolution of border issues left ambiguous by the victorious Allies after World War II (see Boundaries , ch. 2). Finally, there are other problems that divide the two German states. East Germany seeks the abandonment of the monitoring station in Salzgitter used by West Germany to record human rights violations on the border. In turn, West Germany seeks a general improvement of conditions along the armed border and the Berlin Wall and the free movement of people and ideas between the two Germanies.

Data as of July 1987

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