Eerie silence hangs over East Berlin. No word on when -- or if -- E. German leader will visit West Germany
The silence from East Berlin is deafening. The West Germans had expected East German leader Erich Honecker to reschedule a trip to West Germany shortly after the superpower summit restored some East-West civility. But, almost two weeks after the final Soviet-American handshake in Geneva, there is still no word from East Berlin. Bonn's Intra-German Minister Heinrich Windelen now hints that it's unlikely that Mr. Honecker will make the trip he has been so keen on making before the end of the year.
Speculation about the reasons for this notable omission center on two factors: Soviet misgivings about the East-West German dialogue, and possible differences of opinion within the East German leadership.
Kremlin disapproval is seen as the more likely inhibition, especially since Honecker has recently realigned his own Politburo away from a hard line toward moderation.
It was Soviet suspicion of East-West German chumminess in the wake of NATO Euromissile deployments that forced Honecker to ``postpone'' his planned maiden visit to West Germany in September 1984. At the time the Soviet Union was trying to punish West Germany for agreeing to deploy new missiles that could reach Soviet territory.
Under the circumstances, Moscow did not like Honecker's pushing ahead with business as usual with Bonn. Nor did it like Honecker's pet phrase of a ``coalition of reason'' between the two German states across the East-West divide -- an expression that bore the strong implication that the Soviet-United States lack of dialogue at the time was unreasonable.
Honecker was eager to make the trip, not only to see his native Saarland again but also to enhance his domestic standing by means of ever-popular East-West German d'etente. He had to cancel the trip, however, after a highly unusual public argument over policy toward the West broke out between the Soviet and East German news media.
There is no concrete evidence that the Soviet Politburo still opposes a Honecker visit to West Germany, now that the superpower dialogue has been resumed. But East Europeans generally regard Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as demanding more discipline from Eastern Europe than did his frail and elderly predecessors.
And Soviet media have warned Eastern Europe against ``nationalism'' that might turn ``anti-Soviet'' (Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party daily, in June) or reminded East Berlin that it is treaty-bound to oppose West German ``militarism'' and ``revanchism'' (International Affairs, a journal published by Pravda, in July).
``Revanchism'' is an alleged West German desire to regain former German territories now belonging (primarily) to Poland. Moscow revived this old accusation against West Germany in spring of 1984 after NATO missile deployments began.
The East Germans have echoed the charge, but only half-heartedly.
Within the East German leadership, Honecker has seemed to be unchallenged. In the decade and a half since East-West German d'etente began, no rivals have presented themselves as alternative hard-liners on the pattern of the Polish, or earlier the Czechoslovak, Communist Parties.
Honecker's hand has been even more strengthened by two recent changes in the East German Politburo, however.
The first was the dropping from this inner circle of Konrad Naumann, the East Berlin party chief with a reputation as a hard-liner.
The second is the new vacancy on the Politburo after the death of the nation's defense minister for 25 years, Gen. Heinz Hoffmann.
Honecker is expected to name one of his own close associates to fill this vacancy. General Hoffmann was known in East Germany as the ``Father of the National People's Army.''