Two Plus Four: A Diplomat Masterpiece: Georg Julius Luy Revisits the Process by Which Germany Achieved Unity Twenty Years Ago

Article excerpt

In early 1989 the German Democratic Republic's Communist Party chief; Erich Honecker, expressed his confidence in the perpetuity of the Berlin Wall: 'The Wall will be standing in 50 and even in 100 years, if the reasons for it are not removed'. And in August 1989, in the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the GDR, the same Honecker even rhymed: 'Den Sozialismus in seinem Lauf halten weder Ochs noch Esel auf' ('Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism').

Honecker was wrong on both statements. The socialism in central and eastern Europe and even in the Soviet Union had started to collapse long before--and the Berlin Wall collapsed for the same reason three months later. Less than one year after its 40th anniversary, the GDR vanished from the political landscape of Europe.

Last 3 October we celebrated 20 years of German unity. That occasion reminds not only of the results but also of the historical processes that led to German unity. The most famous and the most decisive one is the peaceful revolution set in motion by the East German citizens. They in Fact were the driving force of the more technical processes leading to German unity--which are the internal (that is, intra-German) and the external aspects of unification. The two processes were closely intertwined.

The focus of this article is on Two plus Four, the external aspects of unification. What makes the process and the result of Two plus Four worth revisiting, even 20 years after its conclusion and implementation? Two plus Four addressed, bundled and settled major issues of 20th century foreign policy: the sovereignty of states, the right of peoples to national self-determination, co-operative arrangements for security and stability in sensitive geo-political situations, the final settlement of the Second World War's consequences in central and western Europe. All these aspects make Two plus Four a worthwhile exercise in studying diplomatic craftsmanship and political history.

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No vacuum

Two plus Four did not take place in a historical vacuum. In 1989--the year when the German unification process started--East Germany and eastern Europe were in a precarious phase of their history. The open break-up of the communist system had just begun. The system evidently had not lived tip to its promises and even Mikhail Gorbachev's vigorous reforms by glasnost and perestroika in Russia could not save it anymore, proving right Gorbachev's famous remark that 'Life punishes the latecomer'. The longstanding freedom and civil rights movements, particularly in Poland (Solidarnosz) and in Czechoslovakia (Charta 77), had charted a way on which many other cast European countries followed.

In East Germany the situation was particularly backwards. East West partition went through one nation. It divided families, towns and regions, cut through an established society and--notwithstanding the war ravages--a promising national economy. Germans in the GDR always looked over the fence to Germany's other half. Therefore, by television, radio, by family relations and by smuggled books and newspapers, they were well aware that the pastures in the West were much greener than in the GDR. This left the (;DR in a precarious situation right from its beginning. The lack of stability favoured the emergence of a particularly rigid goverment and police system. The Berlin Wall (actually an intra-German wall!) symbolised this.

In May 1989 Hungary opened its borders with Austria and thus cut the first hole in the Iron Curtain that shielded eastern Europe from western Europe. But when Czechoslovakia then closed its borders with Hungary at East Berlin's instigation, Germans who wanted to leave East Germany for the West found a new outlet: they took refuge in West German embassies in eastern Europe and asked for a West German passport and consular protection--which they were entitled they were entitled to as Germans. …