Which Major Domestic And International Factors Made

German Unification Possible? Essay, Research Paper

??????????? There were four major groups which

played a large role in the unification of Germany in 1990 and whose actions

made this unification a possibility.?

The first of these was the Soviet Union. and in particular President

Gorbachev, whose actions in the USSR set the scene for the end of the Cold War

and made reunification a possibility.?

Second, the SED, the communist government in the GDR, which essentially

failed to react to Gorbachev?s reforms.?

Third, the people of the GDR, who became increasingly dissatisfied with

the lack of reform in the SED and soon began to act of themselves.? Fourthly, there was the government of the

FRG, under Helmut Kohl, which reacted to the changes in the GDR in such a way

as to bring about speedy reunification. ??????????? To begin, then, the role of the

Soviet Union under Gorbachev was vital in resolving many of the international

difficulties inherent in German reunification.?

Prior to Gorbachev?s reforms in the USSR, the western powers and the FRG

were unwilling to consider repeated Soviet offers to allow the reunification of

a neutral Germany.? The reasons for this

refusal are obvious.? The two German

states formed the frontline between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and the west was

not prepared to contemplate the formation of a Germany which was not actively

involved in NATO.? Furthermore, the FRG

was committed to the European Union, and this commitment meant a westward

orientation which a neutral Germany would not be able to pursue. ??????????? Gorbachev changed this international

situation by his policies of glasnost, or openness, and perestroika,

restructuring.? His aim was to reform

the government of the USSR, but in so doing he relaxed the grip which the

Soviets had on Eastern Europe.? As a

direct result of these policies and reforms, the Soviet block in Eastern Europe

began to demand greater independence, and the Warsaw Pact began to crumble, but

there was a more immediate effect on the GDR.?

Eastern European countries, particularly Hungary, began to relax their

border controls, and suddenly Germans were able to move through eastern Europe

and into the FRG.? This resulted in a

mass exodus and a general weakening of the GDR.? For example, between the 10th September, when Hungary opened its

western borders, and the end of the month, when the GDR stopped issuing travel

permits to those wishing to enter Hungary, 25,000 people left East Germany. ??????????? The effect of Gorbachev?s reforms on

the GDR was not limited to this emigration.?

Another important element of perestroika was that Gorbachev was

unwilling to use Soviet force to support the ailing socialist regimes of

eastern Europe.? This became vital as

the protest movement within the GDR grew, leaving the people of the GDR with

only their own government and their own governments repressive forces to deal

with, rather than those of a world superpower.?

However, this was not the most important effect of Gorbachev?s reforms.? Rather, perestroika struck at the

heart of the SED government, and their reaction to it was all important in the

reunification process. ??????????? The raison d?etre of the GDR was

monolithic socialism.? Without the

single party, Stalinist political system, there was no justification for the

existence of a separate East Germany, and if the GDR were to move, following

Gorbachev, away from this system, ?there could be no realistic alternative to

unification with West Germany?[1].? The SED realised this, and consequently refused

to tread the path of perestroika.?

The SED, under its leader Honecker, did make some concessions to

reform.? Cultural ties with the FRG were

strengthened, and more and more people were allowed to visit the west -

1,000,000 in 1987 as opposed to 50,000 in 1985.? However, people trying to escape over the wall were still shot on

sight, and the Wall was still in place.?

The reforms that were made were essentially cosmetic. ??????????? The failure of Honecker to recognise

the need for change earned him a rebuke from Gorbachev (?He who comes late gets

punished by life?), who could see that the SED would have to become a reforming

party if it was to retain control.? It

also lost him the party chairmanship, as he was ousted by his colleagues.? Removing Honecker was not enough to recover

the people?s confidence in the SED, however.?

Between September 1989 and February 1990, membership fell from 2,300,000

to just 890,000.? Furthermore, the limited

reforms the SED had made, and the speeches made by Gorbachev, encouraged the

reform movement in East Germany, and led to the formation of the numerous

opposition groups which eventually led to the end of the GDR. ??????????? There can be no doubt that the

ordinary people of the GDR played a highly significant role in making the

unification process possible.? It was

large scale demonstrations by East Germans during October 1989 , and especially

the November rally which drew over a million people, which led to the

resignation of the Politburo in November.?

It was opposition groups like New Forum which participated in the round

table arrangement and helped to arrange the first free elections.? Thus, it was the people of the GDR who

brought down the communists, a necessary precondition for unification. ??????????? However, the role of the people and

the opposition groups representing them did not end with bringing down the

SED.? In late November 1989, the first

rallies were held demonstrating not just for a reform of the GDR, but for

unification with the FRG.? The chant of

the demonstrators changed from ?we are the people? to ?we are one

people?.? This change in goals was

doubtless precipitated by the fact that many of the East Germans had by this

point been able to visit the West, and had seen how backward the GDR was.? However, the bravery of the protestors in

continuing to take to the streets even when there was the threat of being shot

by their own military was certainly a factor in the unification process. ??????????? These protests, as has already been

said, led to free elections being held in March 1990.? This election was perhaps the most important factor in preparing

the way for unification, since at least some of the parties running for office

were not committed to unification, but were in favour of maintaining the status

quo.? From the beginning of the election

campaign, the former SED, newly renamed as the Party of Democratic Socialism

(PDS), was ahead of the reform groups, such as New Forum, in the polls.? It is very likely that the PDS would have

won a substantial number of seats if pitted only against these small groups,

simply because the reformers were so divided.?

It is at this point that the intervention of the FRG government becomes

essential. ??????????? If a serious challenge was to be

mounted to the dominance of the PDS in East Germany, it would be necessary to have

organised parties in the elections.? The

East German Social Democratic Party (SDP) had already re-formed, having been

banned in the 1940?s, and was soon co-operating with the SPD in West Germany,

until they became one party.? This meant

that there was a strong opposition to the PDS in the running for the election,

but it is not at all clear that the SPD would have been in favour of rapid

unification.? Although the leadership of

the Eastern branch of the party was certainly looking to join the FRG at the

soonest possible opportunity, Oskar Lafontaine, the SPD chancellor candidate in

the West, favoured a different scheme which would see the two Germanys slowly

growing together.? An SPD victory could

potentially have set back unification by years. ??????????? Fortunately for Germany, a third

alternative was offered.? The CDU had

always existed in the GDR, but had been subordinate to the SED.? Now, the old leadership was expelled, and

the eastern CDU was united with its western counterpart.? Helmut Kohl, the CDU chancellor of the FRG,

organised an alliance of democratic parties, including the CDU and the free

democrats, to stand in the eastern elections, and in the end this alliance won

enough votes to be able to form the first democratically elected government of

the GDR.? In this, it was the

unification issue which was most important.?

The voters knew that Kohl stood for rapid unification under a capitalist

economic system, and decided that this was the way they wanted to go. ??????????? Kohl and his government continued to

have a large role in the unification process.?

They had reacted successfully to the emergence of democracy in the GDR;

now they reacted with equal success to the request of Lothar de Maziere, the

first CDU chancellor of the GDR, for entry of the east German states into the

FRG.? Arguably, had an SPD government

been in power in Bonn, unification would not have occurred, since Lafontaine

was committed to a ?go slow? approach to the issue.? Indeed, it is likely that the majority of politicians, CDU or

otherwise, would not have handled unification in the way Kohl did, since it was

he who took the risk of allowing economic union to precede political

union.? While many believed that this

course of action would lead to people simply taking their Deutschmarks and

ignoring the issue of political unification, Kohl recognised that economic

union was needed immediately to attempt to turn around the economic crisis that

was occurring in the GDR.? Thus, the

vision and courage of Kohl were essential to the unification process. ??????????? In conclusion, three things were

needed in order to make unification a possibility.? Firstly, the relaxation of Soviet control, which was granted by

Gorbachev, perhaps by accident, through his programmes of glasnost and perestroika.? Secondly, the overthrow of the SED in East

Germany, which was achieved by a combination of the party leadership?s own

ineptitude and the demonstrations of the people of the GDR.? Thirdly, it was essential that there be a

pro-unification government and chancellor in Bonn, with the vision to undertake

the unification process.? Such a man was

provided in the form of Helmut Kohl. [1] The German Polity, David

Conradt, 6th Edition, p24


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