BERLIN lies in the very quiet eye of the storm shaking Eastern Europe. But the city symbolizes the provisional nature of the postwar order which people in the entire region are struggling to overturn. It is still split through the middle, as Europe has been split, and it lies deep inside communist territory. But it also lives in freedom and in the hope that the unstable makeshift will give way to real peace. Mikhail Gorbachev's demonstrative visit to East Berlin to mark the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Moscow's client state in Germany, was not reassuring. It was, in fact, a distinctly sour note in his East-West concert. He chose to show support for a regime whose people are leaving and which rejects his line of glasnost and perestroika to the point of prohibiting some Soviet newspapers as subversive. Also, in coming here, Gorbachev displayed an intransigence that has not marked his approach to many other problems.
When Stalin separated East Berlin from western sectors to make it the capital of the GDR, he violated a four-power agreement to build a united, democratic Germany. Just as in Eastern Europe he quickly broke the Yalta agreement designed to encourage the development of democratic systems throughout Eastern Europe.
Gorbachev has come to East Berlin because he does not want the events in Poland and Hungary repeated here. The GDR is the Soviet Union's major forward military base, its most important economic supplier and a conservative counterweight to the effervescence in Poland. He is thought to be urging the old and inflexible men who have ruled her for decades to make reforms that will arrest decline or prevent the kind of social explosion that rocked the country in June, 1953.
It seems certain that he does not intend to use Soviet tanks against a German uprising as the Kremlin did 16 years ago. Such intervention would damage the Soviet Union's prospects in world affairs almost beyond repair. On the whole, it is clear that Gorbachev wants to stand pat on both East and West Berlin.
Gorbachev's Kremlin has not aggressively pursued the goal so dramatically set by Stalin and Khrushchev - to eliminate this western island 100 miles inside the GDR. The blockade of Berlin in 1948 was meant to starve the western sectors into submission and force Britain, France, and the United States to leave. Only air corridors, clearly defined and registered almost incidentally for safety reasons, made it possible for the allied airlift to save the city.
When Khrushchev rattled his saber between 1958 and 1961, condemning the western presence as illegal, the allies replied - in nose-to-nose tank confrontations - with cold defiance. The communist regime built the infamous Berlin wall, and things have been relatively quiet. They have, however, not really changed.
For all of Gorbachev's new thinking in domestic and foreign affairs, his stand on West Berlin is old hat. The object is still to isolate the city politically, since not much more than that can be done in the present climate. Over time, it may die on the vine.
Even now, when Gorbachev is preoccupied with keeping the vine itself from dying, his policy has been marked by the old Kremlin rule: What's mine is mine - what's yours is negotiable. Flying in the face of the original and subsequent four-power agreements, he accepts East Berlin as the capital of the sovereign GDR. (A 10,000-man Red Army garrison within the city limits is not, apparently, incompatible with its status.)
On the other hand, the Kremlin considers West Berlin as a separate, anonymous entity, having no legal connection with West Germany. The Soviet Union does not accept West Berliners as German citizens.
To this day, even after the exchange of convivial visits by Gorbachev and West Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Moscow excludes Berlin from political agreements it signs with Bonn. An effort to strengthen ties by transferring the federal environmental office to West Berlin, came a cropper 15 years ago. So strong was the abuse and harassment by the communist authorities of the officials involved that the attempt was not repeated.
The original plan for four-power administration in Berlin and in Germany died in 1948 when the Soviets withdrew from the Berlin Komedatura and the Allied Control Commission. Joint management of Spandau prison ended with the death of its last inmate, Rudolf Hess. The British then tore the building down to build a community center and PX. Only the Air Safety Center functions under four flags. The ghost of four-power cooperation is abroad in the city. Britain, France and the US send daily military patrols into East Berlin, capital of the GDR or not.
A peace settlement of whatever kind cannot be devised legally without four-power agreement. Since the Soviets have not destroyed the pretense, Berliners hope that one day the reality will follow.