East, West Germany pursue detente in eye of Polish storm
East and West Germany are shielding their special relationship from the cold East-West winds of the past 16 months. The two German states are not taking any steps forward, but neither are they retreating from the pragmatic cooperation they established during the 1970s detente.
This is clear after the exchange of public messages on the subject in West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's parliamentary address April 9 and Socialist Unity (Communist) Party chief Erich Honecker's keynote speech at the East German party congress April 11.
Arguments remain between Bonn and East Berlin -- on citizenship, the concept of a unified German nation, the flow of visits between West and East Germans, and other issues. But both sides are simply stating their differences, then proceeding with business as usual.
Thus, Mr. Schmidt criticized East Germany's quadrupling last fall of the border-crossing fee for West German visitors to East Berlin. Since the imposition of the new fee, 25 deutsche marks (about $12.50), the number of private West German visitors to the East has fallen by almost half. Schmidt also condemned the automatic weapons firing at any East Germans who attempt to escape to the West.
But the chancellor went on to point out that even in the present tense world situation West Berlin's lifelines to West Germany have not been tampered with. And he specified that West Germany, which so highly values the East-West German contacts of the past decade, would not retaliate for East German shrinkage of these contacts.
On the East German side, in the same vein, the party newspaper Neues Deutschland sharply rejected Schmidt's reproaches. But this relieved Honecker himself from attacking Schmidt at the much more important forum of the party congress.
In his speech Honecker dismissed "the arrogant claim of the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] to speak for all Germans." But he did not dwell on the subject, even though he had portrayed it half a year ago as a major stumbling block in East-West German relations.
Mr. Honecker further gave the unusual assurance -- "to avoid any misunderstanding" -- that East Germany is not manipulating its policy to try to "loosen the Federal Republic's [West Germany's] relations to its alliance partners, especially the US."
The East German party and government leader gave West Germany an even more concrete reassurance in his prepared text, but omitted this section when he spoke. He said East Germany supports a "quiet and normal" life for West Berlin on the basis of the 1971 Four-Power Agreement that normalized West Berlin's status.
He added that in line with "common sense" East Germany remains "ready to deal with the (West) Berlin Senate about issues of common interest." Observers took the deletion of the West Berlin section from the delivered address as a way of conveying the message to West Germany without sounding too chummy at the ideologically important party congress.
Notably absent from Mr. Honecker's speech -- a five-hour state-of-man reunification.
The current East-West German stabilization follows a period last fall when Honecker suddenly worsened relations, apparently in response to the Polish crisis.
Besides raising border-crossing fees, Honecker launched a sharp attack last fall on West Germany's policy of granting citizenship automatically to any ethnic German who wants it, including East Germans.
At the time West Germany, in effect, turned the other cheek -- and was therefore accused by some critics of being soft on detente and yielding to Soviet and East German pressures.The East German pique blew over, however, and the East German reception of West Germany's quasi-diplomatic representative has been conspicuously warm in the past month.
In retrospect West German analysts believe that Honecker misjudged the situation last fall and expected over-all East-West relations to deteriorate even more than they have over Poland. When he discovered that East Germany was alone in its embattled mood, he reverted to a more businesslike tone.
Given the continuing Polish uncertainty, the two German states are hardly in a position to expand their contacts. At present there could be no new deals on the usual pattern of West German money for East German economic projects, in return for increased East-West human contacts. Nor could the twice-postponed Schmidt-Honecker summit be rescheduled, despite East Germany's eagerness to have this stamp of respectability.
Nor are there any hints that East Germany might revoke the expensive border-crossing charge.
Yet the two German states have agreed not to let their differences or the Polish suspense degrade the bilateral relations that have become normal over the past decade of detente. Trade expanded 19 percent last year after stagnating the year before -- and as Schmidt has stressed, West Berlin's lifelines remain intact.
Further, the West Germans expect those lifelines would be maintained even in the case of Soviet invasion of Poland. They think that Moscow would have its hands full in Poland and would n ot gratuitously devise an additional conflict with the West.