E. German leader praises nation's economic progress. But Honecker is more reserved on foreign policy issues
East Germany is celebrating its success, in the form of the quinquennial party congress that opened April 17 and will continue until April 21. In the presence of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev -- East Germany is the first East European ally he has honored by thus attending the party congress -- state and party chief Erich Honecker sang the praises of his German Democratic Republic.
He called for a policy of d'etente. Apart from attacking the United States for its ``barbaric bombardment'' of Libya, he was restrained in accusing the West of spoiling disarmament.
In the domestic part of his four-hour speech, Mr. Honecker boasted that the East Germans, in contrast to West Germany, have managed ``to establish a society in which the exploitation of man by man has been abolished.''
More concretely, he noted with pride that ``over 90 percent of the increase in national income is due to rises in labor productivity;'' that there are more than 56,600 industrial robots at work in East German factories; and that more sophisticated refinement of crude oil means ``the proportion of light products has risen from 49.5 percent in the early 1980s to currently 62.9 percent.''
More broadly, the East German press has proclaimed for some days that the Socialist Unity (Communist) Party is the ``most successful party on German soil.''
Certainly this claim is hard to fault; no other German party regularly wins 90-plus percent of votes.
And certainly the other self-congratulatory claims will get little contradiction from other Eastern Europeans. The East German leadership is unified and self-confident. It did not have to have a mass shuffle of office holders, as Bulgaria did before its recent party congress. And the East German economy is arguably the most thriving in the Soviet bloc; even if its productivity lags well behind West Germany's, it soars above Soviet and East European levels.
In foreign policy, Honecker, as expected, continued to promote d'etente. He blamed the US for pushing ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative (or ``star wars'') program and for not accepting a Soviet proposal to halt all nuclear tests.
But he was fairly mild in his criticism; he did not, for example, repeat the earlier East German accusation that West Germany and the US were joining together in a ``conspiracy'' about SDI. And he called on the superpowers to continue the ``spirit of Geneva'' and find ``new forms and procedures for the dealings between different social systems.''
In East-West German relations, he continued, the ``safeguarding of peace remains the pivotal issue.'' He urged a freeze and then dismantling of nuclear weapons in Europe; elimination of all medium-range nuclear systems in Europe; and establishment of unspecified zones free of nuclear and chemical weapons and of a zone free of battlefield nuclear weapons in Central Europe.
In addition to Honecker's words, recent East German actions also suggest a moderate foreign policy. In the first quarter of this year, 7,000 East Germans were allowed to emigrate west -- double the 1985 rate. The cultural agreement that East and West Germany have been negotiating for a decade is to be signed shortly. And Honecker is still angling for the visit to West Germany that he had to cancel under Soviet pressure in 1984.