Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Detente, and Ostpolitik, 1969-1973

By M. E. Sarotte | Go to book overview

Note on Usage

Terminology

Writing about divided Germany in the Cold War poses a host of linguistic conundrums. For starters, one has to be careful with the seemingly standard adjectives “international” and “national.” Neither West nor East Germany transcended statehood during the Cold War and became a nation wholly separate from the other (East German proclamations notwithstanding). Indeed, how to describe the status of the two Germanies in the international Cold War political system—not independent nation-states, but clearly more than colonies— remains an open challenge. Henry Kissinger called West Germany “an economy in search of a political purpose, ” while historian Charles Maier similarly suggested that “both Germanys have been more economic polities than nationstates.” 1

As a result, the words “national” and “foreign” do not appear in this study's discussion of the two Germanies' relations to each other. Indeed, precisely when and in what way the words “nation” and “national” could be used was an extremely contentious topic of negotiation between East and West Germany. To use these terms uncritically would mean to ignore a key aspect of GermanGerman rivalry. Battles over phrasing were a central feature of German-talks— in fact, the two sides even fought over what to call the negotiations themselves. The East Germans claimed that their bilateral contacts represented “foreign relations, ” while the West Germans insisted that they were not. This study avoids using either the East German term for the negotiations—namely, international relations—or West German—namely, inner-German relations. Instead, it simply refers to them as German-German contacts. This attempt to use neutral terminology is intended to prevent implying via semantics that the two Germanies were states like any other, establishing the usual forms of international relations. They were not.

Even the English terms “East and West Germany” are problematic. They were almost never used by German speakers at the time. “East Germany” would literally have translated as “Ostdeutschland, ” but instead that state referred to itself as the German Democratic Republic, or GDR; while “West Germany” preferred “Federal Republic of Germany, ” or FRG, to “Westdeutschland.” In other words, German speakers avoided names that reflected the partition of their country, while English speakers preferred them. However, since “East Germany” and “West Germany” are common usage in English, they have been employed here.

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