The West German government has decided it will not -- at least for the time being -- retaliate against new measures introduced by East Germany to stem the flow of visitors from the West.
However, the Bonn government spokesman, State Secretary Klaus Bolling, on Oct. 15 described the East German action as a serious setback to detente in Central Europe. He added that the government intended to raise the subject at the follow-up conference on European security and cooperation in Madrid next month.
Since Monday (Oct. 13) the privilege of adults to spend a day in East Berlin or East Germany costs at least 25 deutsche marks (nearly $14) -- that is the minimum daily sum that has to be exchanged at the border at the rate of 1:1, and there is no changing back on the way out.
This is a massive increase. Hitherto, at least DM 13 ($7.20) had to be exchanged for a day in East Germany, and only DM 6.50 ($3.45) for a day in East Berlin. Pensioners were not bound to buy any East German marks, and neither were children. Now no exception is made for pensioners, and at least dm 7.50 a day ($3.98) must be exchanged for children up to the age of 16.
The new regulations already have proved to be an effective deterrent. The number of visitors who normally cross the borders of East Berlin and East Germany on weekdays was more than halved on Oct. 13 and 14. The East German authorities have struck at the very heart of the Bonn government's Deutschlandpolitik, its policy on Germany.
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt invariably has countered criticism that his government had given too much away in its agreements with East Germany by claiming that his policy had succeeded in its main aim: to increase personal contacts between the people of a divided nation.
Last year 8.1 million visits were paid by West Berliners and West Germans to East Germany and East Berlin. This traffic exposes East Germany, more than any other country in the Soviet bloc, to Western influences. But it was calculated by the East German government that the risks involved were outweighed by the advantages of close economic ties with West Germany.
Suddenly, the risks have become too great, and the advocates of a policy of Abgrenzung, of keeping the West at arm's length, have prevailed.
The East German government says that the new regulations were necessary because of a shift in the values of the respective currencies. It argues that the value of the currencies of the capitalist countries has fallen in recent years, while the purchasing power of the Eastmark has risen. Further, it claims there is widespread speculation with Eastmarks.
The West German government believes that the decision is purely designed to reduce the number of contacts -- at a time of nervousness, in East Germany and the Soviet Union, about the situation in Poland.
Throughout the Polish crisis, the West German government has pursued a policy of noninterference. Indeed, it has been in the forefront of efforts to restore stability to Poland -- by administering powerful injections of hard currency. On Oct. 10 an agreement was signed to grant Poland dm 1.2 billion ($555 million) credit from a consortium of German banks, and a large part of the loan has been underwritten by Mr. Schmidt's government.
West Germany's assistance has an overriding motive: to deter the Soviet Union and , for that matter, East Germany, from military intervention in Poland. Mr. Schmidt's government is by no means sure that its efforts will be successful. Sources in Bonn still assess highly the danger of Soviet Military action.
Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mr. Schmidt has seemed to believe that in a world full of tension Central Europe could be preserved as a have of detente. He is no longer so confident.
Mr. Bolling said the new East German measures could not be accepted, but Bonn would try to get them rescinded by negotiation. There would be no tit for tat, it was indicated.