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"We’d better take down the wall ourselves"

by DoDo Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 05:29:46 AM EST

In the past week, some two decades old documents were released that covered behind-the-scenes talks of the British Foreign Office concerning German Reunification. While the release showed then British PM Margaret Thatcher as the big anti-German naysayer and the Foreign Office as a more reasonable acteur trying to mitigate the damage she wrought, Jerome a Paris highlighted how the British media focused in on a sidestory: then French President François Mitterrand egging on the Iron Lady behind the scenes.

Yesterday, The Times published another article based on confidential documents – this time, Soviet ones. The revelations are much more interesting than in the British document dump: they show that prior to the taking down of the Berlin Wall,

  • Thatcher went as far as pleading the USSR off the record to ignore the official Western position and stop Reunification;

  • Thatcher favoured the survival of the Warshaw Pact (take that, Václav Klaus!);

  • Mitterrand communicated displeasure with the prospect of German Reunification towards the Soviets, too;

  • Gorbachev's circle was both against the Warshaw Pact old guard and deeply suspicious of the motivatons behind the off-record messages of Western European leaders -- and thus initially more positive towards East German changes than either.

First, the source of the Soviet documents:

After Mr Gorbachev left office in 1991, copies of the state archives went to his personal foundation in Moscow. A few years ago Pavel Stroilov, a young writer doing research at the foundation, understood the huge historical significance of what they recorded. He copied more than 1,000 transcripts of all the Politburo discussions and brought them with him when he moved to London to continue his research.

Thatcher met Gorbachev in Moscow on 23 September 1989. The explosive off-record parts still got on record:

(The following part of the conversation is reproduced from memory.)

Thatcher: No to Reunification!

She then went fully explicit, telling the Soviets to ignore the West's public positions (and speaking for all the West):

The reunification of Germany is not in the interests of Britain and Western Europe. It might look different from public pronouncements, in official communiqué at Nato meetings, but it is not worth paying ones attention to it. We do not want a united Germany. This would have led to a change to post-war borders and we can not allow that because such development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.

Ah, she's into realpolitik?...

Thatcher: Long live the Warshaw Pact

And then comes the part that will be hard to swallow to Thatcher's Central European fans (Václav, Klaus I am looking at you!) – and she also acts as Bush's emissary in the process:

In the same way, a destabilisation of Eastern Europe and breakdown of the Warsaw Pact are also not in our interests. Of course, internal changes are happening in all Eastern European countries, somewhere they are deeper than in others. However, we would prefer if those processes were entirely internal, we would not interfere in them or push the de-communisation of Eastern Europe. I can say that the President of the United States is of the same position. He sent me a telegram to Tokyo in which he asked me directly to tell you that the United States would not do anything that might put at risk the security of the Soviet Union or perceived by the Soviet society as danger. I am fulfilling his request.

French displeasure

The French angle of the British document dump caused some storm. Objectively, the researchers releasing the documents, the small print at the end of the British press articles, and ET readers seemed all in agreement over an interpretation that Mitterrand was probably trying to get Thatcher to keep up public opposition, using her as a pawn to press Germany into more European-level cooperation. But, on one hand, Jérôme interpreted the release as another British attempt to drive a wedge between Germany and France; while Roland Dumas, Mitterrand's onetime foreign minister, went to tell German media that Mitterrand's more extreme Hitler rhetoric recorded by the British Foreign Office is an insult and false. On the other hand, three excerpts from the new Soviet document dump tells of similar overtures towards the Soviet leaders, and similar extreme rhetoric, all three via Jacques Attali.

The first is from the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, a senior analyst in the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee’s International Department, who was in charge of relations with Western European communist parties; 9 October 1989:

Zagladin traveled all around France and met with everybody - from Mitterrand to mayors. He has buried Moscow with records of his conversations (with gusto! There is nothing he likes better). They all say in unison - nobody wants a unified Germany. Attali (Mitterrand’s adviser) brought up the possibility of restoring a serious Soviet-French alliance, including military “integration,” but camouflaged as a joint use of armies to fight natural disasters.

The second document is a record of what Jacques Attali [the French President’s adviser] said to Vadim Zagladin [a senior Gorbachev aide] in a short meeting in Kiev; 6 December 1989; after welcoming the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine:

...the French leadership raised a question whether this meant that the USSR has made peace with the prospect of a united Germany and will not take any steps to prevent it? This has caused a fear approaching panic.

France by no means wants German re-unification, although it realises that in the end it is inevitable. Therefore, François Mitterrand took heart in that the USSR shared his position when he was assured of the latter by Gorbachev in the course their conversation.

The second parapgraph, of course, shows a much more reasonable position than Thatcher's. But the third document, which is mostly only paraphrased by The Times, contains the most out-there rhetoric:

In April 1990, five months after the wall came down, Mr Attali said that the spectre of reunification was causing nightmares among France’s politicians. The documents quote him telling Mr Mitterrand that he would “fly off to live on Mars” if this happened.

Gorbi's suspicions

The Soviets' view of what the West wants with the off-the-record communications is apparent from the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev; 9 October 1989:

All of Europe is raving about M.S. in Berlin. And everybody in Europe is whispering in our ear: it is good that the USSR has delicately expressed its stance against German reunification.

...Thatcher, when she asked to go off record during the conversation with M.S., expressed her views decisively against Germany's reunification. But, she said this is not something she can openly say at home or in Nato. In short, they want to prevent this with our hands.

What did Gorbachev think about this? He saw ulterior motives. From the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev; 3 November 1989 (eight days before the Wall was opened):

The West does not want German re-unification but wants to use us to prevent it, to cause a clash between us with the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany = West Germany] so as to rule out a possibility of a future ‘conspiracy’ between the USSR and Germany.

Take down the Wall

The quoted documents detail how Gorbi's inner circle thinks East German leader Erich Honecker et al are "arseholes", and see them as responsible for the turn of events. In these discussions, what I found most interesting is that the prospect of the Berlin Wall coming down is not an unthinkable but comes up twice:

From the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev; 9 October 1989:

On October 10, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany will have a Plenum… They might overthrow Erich. Otherwise, it will soon come to a storm on the Wall.

In the next quote comes the bombshell from the then Soviet foreign minister. From the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev; 3 November 1989 (eight days before the Wall was opened):


Tomorrow 500,000 [people] will come out on the streets of Berlin and other cities…


Are you hoping that Krenz will stay?

We won’t be able to explain it to our people if we lose the GDR. However, we won’t be able to keep it afloat without the FRG.


We’d better take down the Wall ourselves.


Will be difficult for them if we take it down.

In retrospect, I find it interesting how Gorbachev thought about the effects of a resulting rushed Reunification:

They will be bought up whole… And when they reach world prices, living standards will fall immediately.

After the Wall came down

Later, Gorbachev's position changed from one ahead of events to one behind them: he thought Kohl and the West are rushing it, and proselytize. From the conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and US President George Bush in their first one-to-one meeting in Malta; 2 December 1989:

I can’t accept when some American politicians say that the moves to prevent a split in Europe should be based on Western values. It looks as though if in the past we were accused in ‘exporting the revolution’, today it is about the export of American values.

Later in the conversation, the two discuss this at length. But before, on Kohl, Gorbachev said:

Our impression is that Mr Kohl is hurrying, fussing, acting irresponsibly, not approaching things seriously. Wouldn’t it just be possible that the theme of re-unification be exploited for electioneering, that momentum would become more important than strategic factors. Talking of which, there is a difference in opinion on this question in the FRG, both within the governing coalition and Social Democrats. However, we must make it clear to everyone that certain actions can harm positive processes and, moreover, put under question very important and serious issues, including trust to the FRG government.

I think he was right... I think Kohl was riding the popular emotions by rushing Reunification ahead of the 1990 elections which his party won. Bush tried to defend Kohl, still agreeing partly:

I think that Helmut Kohl is largely driven by emotions in reaction to the developments. The same could be said about [Hans-Dietrich] Genscher. Yes, in the three point programme one can sense some influence of electioneering. However this wave of emotion must be considered.

It also seems that a remilitarisation of Germany was feared not only in London and Paris. From a discussion on the German question held at the Kremlin; January 26 1990:


We should be realistic. We can not stop this process. All we can do is chose our tactics because we will not be able to preserve the GDR. All barriers have been destroyed. The country’s economy is imploding. All state institutions are dissolved. We can not hope to preserve the GDR. However, a confederation is a different thing and we must propose our condition for a confederation. It is not right to be leaving [all initiative] to Kohl. If we do this then in 20 or 30 years Germany will start another world war.

I wonder what is still in store in documents to be released in 10, 30 years.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 05:32:45 AM EST
After 30 years we'll find out how much they all paid each other.
by paving on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 01:24:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
about the negotiations between Kohl and Gorbatchev on the price to be paid by Germany to Moscow for reunification (officially, as a participation to the cost of moving the Soviet troups out), and both parties ended up ecstatic with the result - Gorbatchev because he received a few tens of billions of dollars he desperately needed at that time to keep the economy going, an Kohl because he would have been willing to pay significantly more.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 07:50:59 AM EST
But this is fascinating nonetheless.

A 'centrist' is someone who's neither on the left, nor on the left.
by nicta (nico@altiva․fr) on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 07:53:39 AM EST
More like absolutely shocking. Thank god for Helmut Kohl!

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 12:46:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it was obvious from the moment the Soviets were not the ost hostile to it that nothing would stop it. Kohl pushed for it at full speed - and he had most of both Germanies behind him at that time - and nobody in the West, except perhaps Bush Sr could have done anything to prevent it, let alone appear as anything but a heartless retrograde fool.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 07:55:06 AM EST
A great example of how the political leadership of a country cannot be expected to act in a progressive way on their own accord.  Conservatism is inherently present in those who already have power.  Why change a good thing?
by paving on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 01:26:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the one war which can be attributed to reunification -well, several - is the Yugoslav mess. Germany's early, hurried, unilateral recognition of Croatia, followed by France's just as brusque support for Serbia at that time, triggered the whole thing.

The Western countries managed to realize that they were going a highly dangerous route, conjuring the ghosts of the past, and stopped: 40 years of practising peace actively helped. But the Yugoslavs were not able to stop once these demons were out of their box, unfortunately.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 07:58:07 AM EST
The Yugoslav Wars are the reason for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

But the EU still doesn't have a meaningful CFSP. And EU countries still can't agree on foreign wars - see the divisions in the European Council Iraq 2003 and (closer to home) Lebanon 2006. Because it's not too close to us for comfort.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 09:16:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
G.H.W. Bush: "Mr Gorbachev, shore up this Wall!"

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 09:44:09 AM EST
Speaking of Bush, I refrained from quoting this from the record of his meeting with Gorbachev in the diary, but it almost answers your question:

Thatcher, Gorbachev, Bush: read the secret Kremlin records - Times Online


I would like to stress that the changes leading to normalisation of contacts, higher co-operation and better trade links between two German states are seen by us as positive.


As strange as it would seem but on this question you are in the same boat with our Nato allies. The most conservative of them welcome your approach. At the same time, they have to think about that time when such concepts as the FRG and the GDR will become part of the past. In this question, I will be acting with great care. Let our Democrats accuse me in being timid but I am not going to jump on the wall because there is too much at stake here.


Yes, a president should not be jumping on the wall. (Laugh)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 11:39:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mr Attali said that the spectre of reunification was causing nightmares among France's politicians.

Did any one of these top advisers or politicians ever stop to consider how much heavy lifting unification would entail before drinking their kool-aid?

Just a little cursory websurfing turns up reliable (well, "serious") estimates of the cost of reunification to date of between 1.5 and 2 trillion euros. Granted, even many (if not most) of the pessimists underestimated the cost and complexity of the task at hand. Still, some number-crunching would have at least roughly indicated the amount of resources Germany would have to expend.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Mon Sep 14th, 2009 at 07:05:29 AM EST
In this, Gorbachev proved most prescient, even if he erroneously thought that living standards will be key rather than the competitiveness of the economy (then again, he did not foresee Kohl's fixing of the West/East D-Mark exchange rate).

For the political dimension of these advisors' fears, I found a good quote in a SPIEGEL interview with Sir Christopher Mallaby, the then ambassador:

SPIEGEL: In den Dokumenten, die das britische Foreign Office jetzt freigegeben hat, scheint sich Thatcher zu beschweren, dass auch Sie die Wiedervereinigung geradezu begrüßen. SPIEGEL: In the documents just released by the British Foreign Office, it seems that Thatcher complained that you, too, downright welcomed the [prospect of] Reunification.
Mallaby: Ich habe immer nach London gemeldet, was ich auch dachte: Von diesem Westdeutschland würde keine Gefahr ausgehen. Auch im Fall einer Vereinigung würde da kein Mischwesen entstehen. Das westdeutsche Modell würde einfach auf den Osten ausgedehnt. Für mich war die Bundesrepublik der erfolgreichste Staat in der deutschen Geschichte und der erfolgreichste Staat in Europa nach 1945. Aber in dieser Frage gab es zwischen dem Foreign Office und No. 10 einfach keinen Konsens. Mallaby: I always reported to London what I was also thinking: that no danger would emanate from this West Germany. Even in the case of a Unification, no hybrid would result. The West German model would simply be extended to the East. In my eyes, the Federal Republic [of Germany = West Germany] was the most successful state in German history and the most successful country in Europe after 1945. But on this issue, there was simply no consensus between the Foreign Office and No. 10.

In short: he knew West Germany from the inside, the leaders and top advisors only knew their historical stereotypes.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 14th, 2009 at 01:20:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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