What Kind of Effort Did Chancellor Helmut Kohl Put Into Reuniting Germany?

After World War II, it was considered taboo for West German
politicians to even discuss reuniting Germany. It was at this time, after
September of 1989, that Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany predicted that
the protests of the citizens of East Germany would be the “opportunity for
reunification”. With great political prowess and daring effort, Chancellor Kohl
was able to use changes in the domestic and international arena
to his advantage and reunite Germany.  

This article will take a look at Chancellor Kohl’s actions
and role during the time from the East German revolution to pushing the
reunification process to gaining approval from the victorious countries of
World War II.

Chancellor Kohl’s Role in East Germany’s Peaceful Revolution

First, Chancellor Kohl held secret negotiations with Hungary
to ensure that East Germans would be able to defect from East Germany en masse.
On May 2nd, 1989, the Hungarian government removed the barbed wire fence that
ran along its border with Austria as an expression of its will to reform, which
allowed hundreds of East Germans to escape through Hungary every day. The East
German government complained to Hungary, so Hungary started to arrest and
repatriate East German citizens in accordance with the travel agreement it had
with East Germany. Chancellor Kohl held secret negotiations with Hungarian
Prime Minister Miklós Németh on August 25, 1989, and promised the Hungarian
government a loan of 500 hundred million DM, visa waivers, and support for
Hungary to join the European Union. In return, Hungary promised to break its
travel agreement with East Germany.

In September of that year when the citizens of East Germany
were entering West German embassies in the Czechoslovakia and Poland and
demanding to be given passage to West Germany, Chancellor Kohl held
negotiations with the Soviet Union and East Germany and from September 30th to
October 4th, a total of 13,990 East Germans were able to defect to West

Second, while most of the West and East German intellectuals
wanted East Germany to continue to exist and opposed reunification, Chancellor
Kohl was able to aggressively turn the East German’s protests into an
opportunity for reunification. In September of 1989 at the Christian Democratic
Union (CDU)’s conference in Bremen, he announced, “The end of communism is
nigh, and with it, more than any other time in history, the establishment of
one Germany.”

Even within the West German government, there were people
such as Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher who was worried about German
citizens discussing reunification amongst themselves. Chancellor Kohl was
different. In October, the protests in East Germany intensified, leading
Chancellor Kohl to say on October 21st, “The democratization of Eastern Europe
is an opportunity for German reunification”, which was an effort on his part to
incite excitement for reunification amongst the German citizens. 

Even though Chancellor Kohl acted on the surface as though
he agreed to Gorbachev’s warning that West Germany had better not destabilize
East Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall, he actually continued to
incite a desire for reunification in the hearts of the East German people. On
November 13th, Chancellor Hans Modrow took office in East Germany. He suggested
a “treaty community” as a “reunification plan”. Chancellor Kohl saw this for
what it was: a plan to dilute the pressure for reunification. However, he
responded to it and sought to give the citizens of East Germany hope for

Third, while preparing himself for overseas criticism,
Chancellor Kohl announced a ten-point plan on November 28th to overcome the
separation between Germany and Europe, and clearly expressed his intention for
reunification. Chancellor Kohl considered the fact that if the involved
countries knew about his plan beforehand, there would be a high possibility of
opposition, so he didn’t even tell Foreign Minister Genscher. Instead, he
unilaterally announced it after consulting with the United States, publicly
declaring that the opening of the Berlin Wall would lead to reunification. 

Fourth, despite intense opposition in West Germany itself,
citizens that had escaped from East Germany were all accommodated, no matter
what the circumstance. Chancellor Kohl made sure that the mass exodus of East
Germans from East Germany would lead to reunification. This mass exodus
occurred in August of 1989, leading the Deputy Whip of the Social Democratic
Party of Germany (SPD), Horst Ehmke, to criticize the Kohl administration,
saying, “The government is making this crisis worse by welcoming the refugees.”
Even Der Spiegel Magazine, which had considerable influence, criticized the
West German government, saying, “The government should have shut down its
embassies earlier”. Despite this, there was no limit to the number of East
German citizens the Kohl administration was willing to accommodate.

After September, the influx of East Germans into West
Germany sharply increased, and the opposition party, the Social Democratic
Party of Germany (SPD), as well as the state governments demanded that a limit
be established for the accommodation for East German citizens. The SPD worried
that reconciliation or collaboration with East Germany would put the West
German government at risk, and the state governments worried about the immense
burden they would face with supporting the masses of East Germans coming in.
However, the Kohl administration accommodated all of the 582,000 people fleeing
East Germany, and made the citizens of East Germany’s revolution possible. 

Chancellor Kohl’s decision to accommodate all of the
defectors from East Germany was a risky move, given the political climate.
Oskar Lafontaine, governor of Saarland and later a member of the SPD, suggested
a East German Emigrant Deterrent plan which 80% of the press supported. There
were also many members of the CDU who promised that after the East German
election on March 18, 1990, they would quickly put a stop to emigration from
East Germany.

Fifth, Chancellor Kohl used clear logic and the power of
persuasion every time there was a crisis in the reunification process. Whenever
East Germany and its surrounding countries expressed worry about the West
German government’s determination for reunification, Kohl naturally appeased
them, speaking as though he were the Chancellor of all of Germany, saying,
“This is but a commitment to my duty to uphold fundamental laws.”

And whenever the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, or France
asserted their authority as a victor of World War II, Chancellor Kohl would
persuade them by citing the regulations established by the Conference on
Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the laws of West Germany, and the
rules of self-determination in general. He was able to minimize interference by
neighboring countries in this way.

Chancellor Kohl’s Role in Pushing the Reunification Process

First, despite the opposition within West Germany itself,
Chancellor Kohl daringly pushed ahead with reunification. The SPD’s Oskar
Lafontaine amongst other politicians of the opposition party asserted that if
East and West Germany were combined, West Germany would face a crisis involving
the stability of their social security system. They incited fear for the mass
influx of refugees from East Germany, and thus, succeeded in winning the
regional elections.

Many of West Germany’s leftist intellectuals also warned of
the effects of reuniting with East Germany through public letters and signature
collecting campaigns. They rashly asserted that absorbing East Germany would
bring back “greater Germany nationalism”. “Instead of making a fuss about
reunification, we should be focusing our efforts on a federation of our
nations,” Nobel laureate in literature, Günter Grass, asserted. An advocacy
group, under the leadership of the SPD, asserted that the 727 billion DM that
East Germany paid the Soviet Union after World War II as war compensation must
be paid to West Germany as well. Well-known publisher of the newspaper Die Zeit,
Deo Sommer, advised Chancellor Kohl in August of 1989 to meet with Erich
Honeckor in order to prevent East Germans from leaving East Germany and to
mutually stabilize relations. He basically meant that the East German state be
preserved rather than reunified with West Germany. However, Chancellor Kohl
stated, “If we avoid reunification at this fateful moment for financial
reasons, the Federal Republic of Germany will disappear into the backwaters of
history,” and continued to aggressively push forward reunification efforts.

Second, despite opposition from the SPD and the possibility
of inducing suspicion from neighboring countries, Chancellor Kohl composed and
was the chairman for the Cabinet Meeting for German Reunification and six
committees composed of the heads of every government department on February 6,
1990, in order to ensure speedy reunification.

Third, he quickly and appropriately responded to the rapidly
changing situation in East Germany, making sure that the crisis within the
communist regime led to reunification. In December of 1989 when he went to
Dresden, he discussed the composition of the “treaty community” with East
German Chancellor Modrow and promised active financial aid to East Germany,
which secured the hope for reunification in the hearts of the East German
citizens. After that, when the communist regime faced crises and asked for
financial support again, Chancellor Kohl did not give in, and demanded,
instead, fundamental reform. 

In February of 1990, during a summit in Bonn, when East
German Chancellor Modrow requested 15 billion DM in “support funds of
solidarity”, Chancellor Kohl coldly refused and demanded that they swiftly form
an economic alliance, making it so that Modrow could not refuse. If he had
continued to financially support East Germany like the media and the SPD
demanded he did, East Germany’s communist regime would have continued on for a
longer period of time and reunification would have been pushed back further.

Fourth, despite the worries about the cost of reunification
and the opposition of economists, Chancellor Kohl promised that the monetary
exchange rate between East and West Germany would be 1:1, further inciting the
East German citizens’ desire for reunification. Although there was criticism by
the media that the 1:1 exchange rate quickly brought about the collapse of East
Germany’s economy after reunification, the fact of the matter was that the 1:1
exchange rate played a decisive role in the overwhelming support the German
Alliance received. 

Chancellor Kohl’s Role in Attaining Approval from the 4
Victor Countries of World War II

Chancellor Kohl’s detailed plans and aggressive efforts
played a decisive role in getting the 4 victorious countries of World War II to
approve reunification. During the ten months right before reunification,
Chancellor Kohl met with U.S. President Bush eight times, France’s President
François Mitterrand ten times, and the Soviet Union’s President Gorbachev four
times in order to gain their approval. The following is a detailed record of
Chancellor Kohl’s role in this process.

First, he used detailed persuasive logic and swift diplomacy
to assuage the neighboring countries’ worries from the very beginning of the
East German revolution. When the Berlin Wall fell, he worked to make sure that
the Germans’ cheers did not translate into German nationalism. In Berlin on
November 10th, at the ceremony for the fall of the wall, he was the only
participant to urge the German citizens to “act cautiously and wisely”. He also
thanked the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Gorbachev and gave
them all the credit. After the Berlin Wall fell, when his allies and
neighboring countries did not know how to react to the disturbances taking
place in East Germany, he expressed confidence that the newly reunified Germany
would be party of the European community and would be an asset for developing
European unity, not an obstacle.

He promised the Soviet Union an immense amount of financial aid
and made it well known that the newly unified Germany would be the Soviet
Union’s most important economic partner.

Second, while working closely with the United States, he
successfully led a 2+4 summit. From the beginning of the East German
revolution, Chancellor Kohl minutely discussed every possible problem before it
occurred, and firmly refused the Soviet Union’s demand that West Germany be
neutral. He immediately acknowledged and accommodated the demands postulated by
the United States that the newly reunified Germany remain in NATO and agreed to
the Oder-Neisse boundary line. Because of this, the United States gave him its
wholehearted support.

Third, Chancellor Kohl was able to get the Soviet Union to
agree to a unified Germany by means of excellent bargaining power, working
closely with the United States, and a promise of suitable financial aid.
Chancellor Kohl maintained close relations with Gorbachev after Gorbachev’s
visit to West Germany in June of 1989. He respected and was considerate of the
Soviet Union’s position. The sincere, mutual bond he created with the Soviet
Union was a great help during the talks.

In January of 1990, at Gorbachev’s request, Chancellor Kohl
provided the Soviet Union with aid for seven weeks. He provided him with about
220 million DM in food subsidies, 160,000 tons of
meat, and a loan of 5 billion DM. This was instrumental in creating a
relationship of trust with Gorbachev.

On July 16, 1990, Chancellor Kohl met with Gorbachev in
Gorbachev’s hometown of Caucasus to discuss unified Germany’s pending issues
such as NATO. Chancellor Kohl showed his negotiating prowess by tackling all of
these issues.

Fourth, he was able to quickly made decisions regarding
several problems that were brought up as a result of the reunification process
and effectively used foreign diplomacy. Despite immense opposition within West
Germany, Chancellor Kohl was able to successfully handle issues such as accepting
the Oder-Neisse boundary line, unified Germany remaining in NATO, the unified
Germany’s Army’s reduction to 370,000 people, the 9 billion dollars of
financial aid, etc., through swift decision-making and successful use of
foreign diplomacy.

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reflect those of Daily NK.

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