Concerned about international fears, the chancellor's office preferred instead to stress human rights as a method of achieving the same end. While Egon Bahr, the architect of detente, counselled "not dreaming about unity but developing commonalities," ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt warned against a renunciation of unity. Provocatively, party council chairman Norbert Gansel demanded reversing the "change-through-closeness" course so as to promote "reform through distance" from the SED.
When elder statesman Willy Brandt rediscovered his national heart, the party leadership was hard pressed to find a self-determination formula open enough to accommodate Oskar Lafontaine's European vision as well.
With these discussions in the parties, the media, and among intellectuals, the unification issue suddenly took on new life. Soviet leaders resolved the dilemma by encouraging GDR reform so as to preserve their ally. The refugees had to be let go, but Bonn should keep its hands off the GDR. In the spirit of his "European house," Gorbachev could not very well deny selfdetermination. President Francois Mitterrand understood that "reunification is a goal for all Germans," but cautioned against precipitating a "birth by forceps.
The American government supported German hopes to a surprising extent.
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Commentator Henry Kissinger considered the unification discussion "inescapable" as long as it did not lead to neutralization. In a telling interview, President Bush refused to share European fears about a united Germany, as he believed Bonn's commitment to the West to be unshakable. Summing up the general ambivalence, he only warned against forcing the issue. The Supreme Court order "to keep the claim to reunification alive at home and to advocate it tenaciously abroad" only left room for disagreement on appropriate methods for reaching this goal.
Instead of trumpeting reunification rhetoric, the majority preferred to advocate GDR reform and self-determination, but remained confused on whether to maintain ties to the SED or to support the opposition. Except for a small nationalist minority, the political elite was sincere about embedding unification in European integration. The only dispute was about the relative priority of the two aims. By mid-September four-fifths of West Germans in a television survey considered reunification desirable, and over one-quarter called it possible in the near future.
By mid-October almost nine out of ten polled by the Bunte Illustrierte supported unity and almost half believed that there was now a realistic opportunity to achieve it. Coupled with the continuing flight from the East, this growing groundswell in the West restored unity as a practical goal of politics: "The chance for reunification has never been as great as now," according to CDU spokesman Karl-Heinz Hornhues.
Though East Germans had few contacts with Poland, Solidarity showed how citizens could challenge a communist regime. The SED government, leaderless during Honecker's long illness, could not decide on a clear policy.
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Its oscillation between continued prohibition of emigration and partial loosening of travel rules provided both a motive and a chance for escape. Mixing humanitarian concern with national self-interest, Western attempts to open the closed door aided flight. Bonn paid little attention to the problem of integrating an enormous number of newcomers.
In the climate of detente, solidarities based on military confrontation gave way to aspirations for human rights. Many frustrations pushed East Germans to leave. Some moved out of material concerns such as lack of housing, thwarted career prospects, a dearth of consumer goods, and inability to travel. But a number of political motives, such as lack of free speech, the dim outlook for the future, and Stasi repression played a role.
The pull of the glamorous West was also powerful.
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Television series and reports of older relatives returning from visits created an exaggerated image of the good life in the Federal Republic. Instant citizenship and effective integration measures promised to ease the transition. Ultimately, the mass flight developed out of tens of thousands of individual decisions. Hope of success and fear of being left behind created a self-reinforcing dynamic that proved unstoppable.
To the West Berlin sociologist Fritz Haug the exodus seemed a mixture "of psychosis and plebiscite. The physical consequences were serious. The unremitting manpower drain robbed the GDR of the equivalent of the workforce of one medium-sized company per day. Bottlenecks developed, especially in medical services and other businesses requiring particular skills.
The psychological results were even more debilitating. The departure of many of the best and brightest demoralized the remainder and engendered a pervasive loss of self-confidence. Dutiful citizens began to ponder whether it made any sense to stay behind. The political repercussions were most disastrous. The quasi-revolutionary situation produced by the refugee crisis encouraged dissenters to form organizations to challenge the SED.
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According to secret service reports, the mass flight also made a broader public receptive to the civil critique of the GDR. By running away, Fast German citizens forced the showdown between Erich Honecker's old guard and the younger proponents of reform in the politburo. The paternalist language of the draft travel law of November 6 also contributed to the lack of credibility of Egon Krenz's new policy. Because the crisis eventually engulfed all areas of private and public life, the exodus was the chief trigger for the implosion of the GDR.
The refugee stream posed the question of German unity with fresh urgency. For decades West German politicians had been able to call for "reunification," sure that the eventuality remained remote.
With similar hypocrisy, Western leaders were able to support such dreams, confident that their check could never be cashed. The unexpected human hemorrhage of the GDR exposed this charade and called the international division of the country into question. The unabating exodus rekindled old fears of German power among leftist critics and neighbors, such as Polish Communists. For conservative Germans and some sympathetic outsiders the drama awakened fresh hopes. Helmut Kohl began to talk cautiously about "a new chance for the reunification of our fatherland.
While some commentators left established positions, others clung all the more resolutely to old verities. The American columnist William Pfaff argued for the continued independence of a noncommunist "Prussian-Saxon state," whereas an influential British journalist warned against the rise of a "fourth Reich.
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In Bonn, Foreign Minister Genscher rejected unilateral national solutions and called for overcoming division through European integration: "Bringing Western and Eastern Europe together also means a rapprochement between the Germans. Choking air, fouled water, and crumbling buildings plagued Saxon citizens and aroused resentment against East Berlin. On September 4, , youthful peace protesters emerged from the sanctuary of the Nikolaikirche, shouting "We want to leave.
Not intimidated, the restless groups grew larger during the peace service on the following Monday. Claiming that the "illegal assembly.
On September 18 protesters marched silently with candles in their hands, forming and reforming fluidly so as to offer no clear target to the security forces. About five thousand demonstrators ignored warnings in the press and assembled on September In contrast to those who wanted to get out, they chanted "We are staying here! Time and again protesters broke through cordons, inviting those in uniform to "come and join us. On September 26, Stasi chief Mielke suggested pressing the church to cease the vigils and using "punitive and legal measures" against provocateurs.
In letters to the editor and resolutions from workers' collectives, state-controlled newspapers tried to incite public "indignation against the disturbance of our peace by antisocialist forces. Some policemen, secret service agents, and army reservists began to doubt that the demonstrators were "rowdies and deviants. Tension grew when militia leader Giinter Lutz urged the readers of the Leipziger Volkszeitung "to cease tolerating treason.
During the celebration of the GDR's fortieth anniversary, security forces no longer held back against taunting youths.
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Mercilessly, they beat peaceful demonstrators and turned water cannons on the crowd. Shocked East Germans, who had seen such scenes only on Western television, met the repression with shouts of "Nazis. Needing ever more force to clear the streets, the SED began to lose control. Without clear instructions, Leipzig leaders did not know what to do.
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