The relationship between the two states in Germany, FRG (West) and GDR (East) has improved drastically in recent times resulting in the restructuring of Germany. Though the basis of this reunification stems from the years between 1969-1974. These years where immensely important for the two Germanys and with the change of leaders for political parties, so to did the views change. Such as the introduction of Ostpolitik. There was also the continuation of control from the mother countries that these two nations represented. The two superpowers (USA and USSR) wanted improved relations in the late 1960’s to prevent an annihilation of an international scale – there where too many weapons the stakes where too high. Many people thought that the money used to develop these weapons could be put to better use, such as improving living conditions.
First it is necessary to talk about Willy Brandt, who was a German communist politician who led the German Democratic Republic as General Secretary of The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) from 1971 until 1989. He had created the policy of Ostpolitik, which was aimed at improving the relations with the East. This was the first time that either one of the nations had stated any realisation of each other. They’re where many aims of Ospolitik of which its main goal was to strengthen the relations within the entire Eastern Bloc. It was to develop relations with the East and reduce the negative effects of Germany’s division. It used a policy of ‘rapprochement’ rather than a policy of strength, which was only possible due to the serious confrontation in 1962 between the USA and USSR after nuclear bases were found to have been installed in Cuba. This policy allowed both nations to be admitted into the United Nations after the signing of the Treaty of Moscow in August 1970, in which the FRG recognised the western boarders of Poland as well as stating that neither country had any territorial claims against each other.
Willy Brandt was the driving force behind this offering of an ‘olive branch’ to East Germany. In March 1970, Brandt visited Willi Stoph (leader of the GDR’s Council of Ministers) in Erfurt, East German. This was the first ever meeting between senior government figures of the FRG and GDR and demonstrated that measures to develop better mutual relations were being taken seriously by both Germanys. This visit changed the views of the East German public as proven by their enthusiastic welcoming of Brandt. It gave them hope that life may improve now that they where recognised as a country. They even displayed a banner with the letter ‘Y’ on it to symbolise Willy Brandt apposed to Willi Stoph It also calmed tensions with the USA as the USSR viewed Brandt as a ‘good guy’ with whom they could do legitimate business.
Although, the USA was worried that Brandt was acting of his own accord, they feared that they would lose control over the FRG and Brandt. Later that year in August he visited Moscow, the capital of Russia, which reinforced the idea of Ospolitik, it was something that Konrad Adenuer would never have done. Finally on his return journey he stopped off in Poland, which was heavily scared from the war when Germany invaded in 1939. His press stunt of stopping at a Jewish Memorial acted as a major step towards repairing relations. This could also be seen as a stepping stone for the détente of when
Ospolitik did have its negative though such as, the loss of traditional support (eg. refugees) as the loss of territory in Poland caused quite an upset many calling it illegal and some went as far treason.
In 1971 the GDR elected Erich Honecker as General Secretary. Erich had to respond to Brandt. He had a commitment to improve the relations. He made Western media legal in the GDR, the people could view TV and listen to radio freely – although newspapers where censored as this was the how the majority of East Germans received their news. There where significant improvements in the postal service and the telephone lines between West and East, there had been no official line linking the cities before.
Finally, a new motorway was constructed from Hamburg to Berlin as part of the plan to improve its links with West Berlin. Though it helped people inside to travel around the GDR. This was again all due to the fact that the beginnings of Ospolitik and the four power agreement (an agreement that ensure what was known as a time of détente) had led to wider international recognition. Both Germanys had a applied for, and were accepted as, members of the United Nations. During the period of 1969 to 1974 over nighty countries officially recognised the GRD. They also were finally accepted by the USA.
Now that both states recognised each other, in 1974 the first ever football match between the two states was held with the first round of the world cup. It ended with a 1-0 away win for the GDR. This was significant in the fact that it showed the world that communism was not necessarily a losing way.
However, there where still many things wrong with the society between the two. Some parts of the relationship were still cold. Such as, the continued restriction of travel from the GDR. Travel from the GDR to West Berlin and West Germany remained tightly restricted. Despite having signed many agreements, the SED refused to comply with the human rights aspects of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which were designed to ensure there was free travel from either country. Overall travel to the West was far more restricted from the GDR than that of Poland or Hungary. Apart from business meeting, sports matches and politicians, access to the West was made impossible to people of working age. This had to be implied or the East would have lost its whole work force to the West, at one point up to 250,000 people where leaving the country. If they didn’t prevent them their economy would have collapsed.
In the 1970s, Erich Honecker rejected any aim of reuniting Germany. Instead, he focused on emphasising a policy of ‘demarcation’ to stress the differences between East and West Germany and to develop a clearer sense of the GDR’s own unique national identity. A new constitution in 1974 helped emphasise it as the true ‘German’ state and helped justify it as the only ‘anti fascist’ state that is organised on the basis of class-consciousness. The SED also promoted itself as the natural successor of Karl Marx and Engels, who, of course, were Germans. It also claimed that the FRG was too Americanised; many West German conservatives believe the same ironically. Finally, they stated that the GDR bore no responsibility for the war crimes that had been committed by Nazi Germany.
Overall it is obvious that the policy of Ostpolitik was significant in that it led to a cooling of relations between East and West Germany, and between the Superpowers. It is debatable whether this alone led to the eventual reunification of Germany and its role in doing so is often overstated. Ostpolitik was in some ways limited in its impact and not supported by all. It did however mark a turning point as the FRG and GDR were prepared to recognise each other. All of this said, it is not the most significant in the development of relations- the initial events which divided Germany and the creation of a wall dividing the nation physically are far more important.
Courtney from Study Moose
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