Germany: The Conservatives Have It-For Now

By Hans Sinn | 1990-06-01 12:00:00

THE DECISIVE win in March by the three-party "Alliance for Germany" in the East German elections (48% of the popular vote) means that Germany will be quickly united on terms laid down by the Alliance's conservative West German sponsors, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Those who had fought to break the stranglehold of the Stalinist regime had not expected to surrender their power of decision-making to the West Germans right after having won it. "The Initiative for Peace and Human Rights," "Democracy Now!" and "The New Forum" were left with 2.9% of the vote in a general stampede toward the Deutschmark. The newly formed East German Social Democratic Party, losing its early lead, was left with a disappointing 21.8% of the popular vote.

Thus, unlike their counterparts in Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, the leaders of the opposition to East Germany's Communist "vanguard role" are today, with one or two exceptions, not even close to the levers of power. Instead most of the newly elected members of East Germany's parliament had remained quiet or cooperated with the old Stalinist regime. The success at the polls of the previously "silent majority" was not diminished by last-minute revelations that one of the Alliance's leaders,

Wolfgang Schnur, had been a state police informer and another had tried to prevent the Leipzig demonstrations that led to the downfall of the old regime.

The defeat of the left-of-centre Democratic opposition in the East German elections was not a mere success story of the Conservatives. As usual, the left played a critical part in defeat-

mg itself. Willy Brandt and his West German Social Democrats did their best after the Wall came down. Yet it was Brandt's son Peter, together with Herbert Ammon, who in 1981 first tackled "The left and the German Question." Ammon, Brandt, and others who promoted a demilitarized German confederation in the context of a new European security system, were ignored, ridiculed, and maligned by fellow Social Democrats and Greens. Right up to the break in the Wall, the Western left supported the permanent division of Germany, both as a safeguard against future aggression and as punishment for past sins. Weeks after the Wall's collapse West German Green leader Antje Voilmer still riled against the unification of Germany.

The Western left had ignored the fact that those who suffered from the division of Germany and Europe, lived in the East-not the West. Consequently Brandt, Ammon, and friends were in their ideal closer to the (former) Democratic Opposition in Eastern Europe than to the Western left.

In Canada, for example, the New Democratic Party does not recognize the significance of what is taking place in Eastern or, for that matter, Western Europe. Wolfgang Templin, one of the leaders of the East German Democratic Opposition toured Canada in April of 1989. Speaking about events in his country, Templin was virtually ignored by Canadians. The NDP's 1988 paper on "Common Security" was not followed up in practical terms. Even in the wake of events in East Germany things have not improved. On March 9, 1990 East Germany's "Democracy Now" proposed to the NDP that they co-sponsor a conference in Berlin (East) on German disarmament. This proposal was rejected by the NDP because, so Federal President Sandra Mitchell says, the NDP supports the "Socialist International" with $40,000 annually and cannot afford to contribute to a conference in East Germany. (1 don't believe the "Socialist International" had anything to do with what is happening at the grassroots in Eastern Europe.)

The list of Social Democratic omissions, here and abroad, in regard to the changes in East-West (as well as North-South) is endless. One last example: In the early '80s the West German Social Democrats (SPD) were instrumental in establishing the Portuguese Social Democratic Party in exile. The Portuguese Social Democrats went on to form the Portuguese Government. It never oceurred to the West German Social Democrats to do the same for East German Social Democrats. That would have offended Mr. Honecker and friends and spoiled the SPD's relationship with them.

The quick absorption of East Germany by West Germany seems a foregone conclusion. The transition to a market-driven economy will involve a painful period of high unemployment, but Germans on both sides will manage. Many of East Germany's outdated factories will be demolished. East Germany's pervasive air and water pollution will be cleaned up. Today's West German citizens may leave some sourness by reclaiming their collectivized East German property. Many East Germans may be humiliated and hurt by the thought of all those wasted years.

The most baffling question about a united Germany remains its military status and membership. Will it belong to both NATO and the Warsaw Pact? Or will it be allowed to be in NATO only? Will there be a separate East German Ministry of Defence? Or will the People's Army and its officers corps join the army of West Germany? That would leave 300,000 odd Soviet troops plus cannons, tanks and rockets on East German territory. A unilateral Soviet withdrawal is difficult to see. The USSR prefers a neutral Germany, not trusting a united Germany in NATO. The Poles conversely don't trust a neutral Germany and would prefer a United Germany in NATO. A United Germany, though, would be the most influential European member of an alliance which is headed by a former West German Minister, Manfred Woerner, with proven strong ambitions.

THE FUTURE MILITARY status of Germany played no part in the East German elections. (Just prior to the elections the reformed Communists had made alternative service available to everyone who wanted it and thus effectively abolished the military draft.) Almost unnoticed and parallel to the elections ran a series of conferences, plans, and petitions demanding the unilateral disarmament and peace conversion of East Germany. A conference, on February 28, of politicians, military, artists, scientists and representatives of the churches produced a seven-point plan for the complete demilitarization of East Germany. The plan has now been published as "letter from Berlin to the Citizens, Parliaments, and Governments of Europe, Canada and the USA." This was followed by a conference on March 27, 1990 at the Military Academy BerlinGruenau on the demilitarization of East Germany.

Conservative governments do not entertain even the thought of demilitarization; East Germany, for the brief remainder of its existence, may be no exception. Still, all East German parties during the elections had programs on anti-militarism. East Germany's Christian Democratic majority leader, Lothar de Maiziere, even after his victory, continues to be "in favor of gradual demilitarization." This may become a point of friction between the "Alliance for Germany" and its West German sponsors. Chancellor Kohl is decidedly for an armed and united Germany in NATO.

An added piece in the puzzle is that "Democratic Awakening," the smallest of the Alliance's three partners, is headed by Pastor Rainer Eppelmann, an early out-spoken dissident who Co-authored in 1982 the "Berlin Appeal." The Appeal demanded a German Peace Treaty, and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the two Germanys. (How and why Eppelmann allowed himself to become part of a conservative Alliance is one of the hotly debated questions among his former fellow dissidents.) Prior to the elections Eppelmann expressed interest in becoming East Germany's Minister of Defence or more precisely of Disarmament. When the West Germans want to reinstitute the military draft in the East German sector or take over its defence, Eppel mann nay find himself in a quandary. [Ed. note: Eppelmann has become the new Defence Minister.]

The future of this unpublicized movement toward (East) German demilitarization is uncertain but not hopeless. Prior to the election, when a Social Democratic victory was projected, East German unilateral disarmament looked like a plausible scenario, especially since many East German officers entertamed radical new ideas. Given the disintegration of the East German Army and the desertion of troops, East German officers were ready to rethink their position on defence. The conservative victory may have stopped that.

In a united Germany the East German officer corps could find a new purpose. The new direction for Germany's military was indicated by the West German Chief of Staff, Dieter Wellershoff, in a TV discussion in March. When asked where the Bundeswehr goes, now that there is no threat from the East, Wellershoff replied "You do not abolish your fire department only because there has not been a fire for a long time. Rockets from Iran can now reach Central Europe."

As the East-West conflict is dying down, the growing gap between the rich North and the poor South beckons those with a vested interest in armed defence. It will be interesting to see how East German officers will take to defending the rich North against the poor South, which they were trained to protect from "capitalist exploitation."

The ambiguities surrounding the future status and military role of the United Germany leaves some room for the defeated East German Democratic Opposition. The movement came into being, after all, during the Stalinist era with the name "Swords into Plough-shares." Under the umbrella of the East German Church it grew into the Peace and Human Rights Initiative, which helped to break the power of the Stalinist Betonkoepfe (concrete heads), and which has now itself been decimated in East Germany's first free elections. The members of East Germany's peace and human rights movement are accustomed to difficult times.

People such as Wolfgang Templin and Barbel Bohley were kicked out of their country; they could have remained in the West, but returned to their country in full knowledge of the difficulties they were to face. The Democratic Opposition still constitutes a significant East German minority. Although the conservatives have won, it is hard to imagine the Democratic Opposition abandoning its objective.

Hans Sinn, apeace activist in Perth, Ontario, visits Germany often.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1990

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1990, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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