WHAT IF THE RUSSIANS MAKE GOOD THEIR THREAT TO RETREAT?
LESLIE F. HANNON
Madearis overseas editor
ON BOTH SIDES of the Brandenburg Gate, the historic arch that for sixteen years has symbolized the division of the German capital, the feeling is unmistakable. Sometime in the early winter the lid is going to blow off. This time Nikita Khrushchov really means it. After nearly three years of off-and-on pressure he is going to try to force the West to recognize the East (ierman Communist state as a sovereign nation, and at the same time set about neutralizing West Berlin, that irritating “bone in the throat” of the Communist empire. With a diplomatic technique that is either brilliant or criminal, depending on the viewer, he hopes to achieve his ends by threatening not war but peace.
Come what may, he says, Russia at last will be signing a peace treaty with Walter Ulbricht’s East German regime and turning over to it the control of the land and air routes that are the lifelines of West Berlin.
Every scrap of evidence, every straw in the wind from NATO that indicates any possibility of a waver in Western ranks on the German question is seized upon and magnified. One night last month in East Berlin's Friedrichstrasse 1 watched the neon ticker tape that flickers across the overhead railway bridge announce that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker advocated negotiating on West Berlin. The message didn’t say Diefenbaker had also insisted that any negotiations must not sacrifice the freedom of the people of West Berlin or interfere with Allied rights in the city.
If the Berliners are right in expecting the long stalemate to break this year (and their fears and expectations are matched to varying degrees in Bonn, Paris and London) what exactly is likely to happen? Will the Russian peace offensive change the balance in the cold war? What is the chance of the cold war turning hot? Last month l asked these questions all over the two Berlins and in the three European capitals most closely involved. An apparently sincere young woman in an East German government department (she looked like any Toronto typist) asked me in the nicest way if I really supported a philosophy that aimed at dropping an atomic rocket on her child’s kindergarten. In the foreign ministry on the Luisenstrasse 1 spent 2 hours with Siegfried Bock, a member of the executive board of the ministry and also head of its legal department. His deputy Rudi Amberg and a ministry inter-
preter made up the group. Bock is Italianate in looks, slight of build, with a warm and even humorous personality. He is the antithesis of the Communist ranter. Cigarettes, Turkish blend, were on the table with a pot of coffee and cookies, but only 1 smoked. Bock answered with a direct “¡a” when 1 asked if the German Democratic Republic was sincerely afraid of direct military attack from the German Federal Republic.
“Civil war?” 1 emphasized.
Bock shrugged. “It would not be the will of the ordinary West German citizen, but they would have no choice but to obey the Hitler generals who are in charge of the Adenauer army, and these generals would never be satisfied until they had revenged the defeat of the second world war.”
I then asked if the GDR believed the NATO partners of West Germany, specifically including Canada, would allow such an attack to take place. Bock looked at me steadily while Amberg reddened at the question. “No,” said Bock finally and quietly, “we don’t think Canadians want war, nor the American people either. But the militarists in West Germany would move so fast” — he made a cutting motion — “that nobody could stop them.”
After a moment he added: “The West Germans ask and ask for nuclear weapons — why? Do they plan to attack France? Do they plan to fight Denmark? They have an army of 250,000 men; we have 30,000. Who is for war and who is for peace?”
Because the legal existence of the GDR is denied by western governments, these men cannot cross swords with their opposite numbers in the ordinary diplomatic way. It was necessary several times to remind them that I was a magazine correspondent, not an official representative of any kind.
A TOPSY-TURVY POLITICAL DREAM_
It’s obvious that the West can do nothing to prevent the Russians and the GDR from concluding a separate treaty, if Khrushchov does finally decide to make that move. What do the Communists in East Germany expect would happen next? Would they, for instance, stop a U. S. supply convoy by force, if the Americans refused to deal with them at the border? Would the Russians really withdraw back into Poland, or even further, the thirty to forty divisions they are said to be maintaining in the Eastern Zone? I put these questions to Siegfried Bock. His answer after reflection was itself a ques-
tion. “Why should the GDR refuse the support of her allies?”
Finally I asked the foreign ministry officials what was the GDR’s ultimate aim. Did they think it conceivable that the present East and West German governments could merge in some kind of confederation? Yes, they said; with the aim of creating a neutral unified Germany, the GDR would be willing eventually to dissolve its own sovereignty into such a confederation. Nothing 1 heard or saw in the two Berlins was more topsy-turvy than this — the notion that Adenauer and Ulbricht could be envisaged working hand in hand under any circumstances.
“WHY TALK OF WAR? IT WONT HAPPEN."_
1 roamed East Berlin trying to get into conversation with all kinds of people. No effort was made by the authorities to nudge me into a guided tour. 1 went on foot, by taxi, by the underground and elevated trains. I tried to steer clear of people who looked as if they might be government servants. I didn’t see the platoons of cops that other correspondents often report. The street crowds were adequately if not fashionably dressed, like the crowds on Toronto's Spadina Avenue or Montreal’s St. Lawrence Main. I was surprised that people would talk as freely as they did, for I was never once asked to identify myself by document.
In a small beer hall, where I lunched on a mysterious ragout and a tepid uninspired beer,
I fell into conversation (in a dogged mixture of English and French) with a hefty young man who spotted me for a foreigner and cheerfully asked me what I wanted to know. I asked him if he would fight against West Germany or anyone else if the western powers tried to force their way through to West Berlin.
He laughed, and said that was crazy — the Russians wouldn't like it at all. Nobody was going to risk a big war. He insisted on buying me a beer.
But would he, personally, fight if it did come to that, I insisted. Then he told me he was a sergeant in the East German army on leave.
"Why talk of war?” he said. “It w'on’t happen.” So I asked him why the beer was so lousy; I had thought Germans made the best beer in the world. He agreed about the beer, and blamed the current heat wave (it was ninety outside) for a shortage of good brands. Smacking his massive stomach, he said that Germans were interested in only two things, and beer was cheaper,
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WHAT IF THE RUSSIANS MAKE GOOD THEIR THREAT TO RETREAT?
continued from page 10
"There is politics in everything even in a pair of socks," an East German newspaperman told me
(The beer, by the way. cost fifteen cents Canadian at the official rate of exchange.) My meal cost nearly a dollar. I saw dubious gin on sale at three dollars. Near the Alexander Platz I strolled into a department store which reminded me of a co-op store in northern Saskatchewan — enameled stoves without elements, baby strollers, nails, print dresses, pots, pans and tools were piled everywhere with no attempt at attractive display. I watched a pert girl clerk ask an elderly woman for her papers before accepting her money for some purchases. This is the way the Hast German authorities check on West Berliners who might have bought Hast German marks at the outside exchange rate of four Hast marks to one West mark. West Berliners and foreigners must pay for all purchases, except theatre tickets, books and records, in western currency.
1 bought a ball-point pen to engage the clerk in conversation. Was she a Communist? No, she answered without any embarrassment. What did she and her friends do for fun in the Hast Sector? T hey went sometimes to the West Sector to see the American movies. She played tennis. What did she know of C anada? Her reply baffled me until it dawned on me that she was giving me sotto voce a few bars of a tune made famous by I he Hour l ads. She was quite unconcerned by my question, and I wondered if a girl in a Saskatchewan co-op store would have done so well if quizzed by a German reporter in atrocious English.
A taxi driver, exasperated at the wheezing performance of his auto taking a corner on a grade, offered the opinion that the Moskvich was a no-good car. He waggled his hands to suggest top-heaviness.
I asked him, out of the blue, it he liked the Chevy; he turned his head, eyes round, and signified approval with thumb and forefinger in an O.
A middle-aged husband and wile (she was the spokesman), waiting for an S-bahn train, told me they had had enough war and enough politics. C ouldn't we foreigners just go home and leave them be? I got on the train behind a shapely girl with bleached hair and skin-tight slacks, but I didn't have the courage to speak to her. On the Stalin Allee a point-duty policeman got it across to me that he thought the architecture of this show place street was lousy, but that it was the best they could do at the time when girder steel had been in very short supply.
The 17 million people of Hast Germany are served by nearly sixty newspapers, from the leading Hast Berlin daily Neues Deutschland to local small town papers. Every one of them is a party paper, admittedly. so GDR spokesmen say there are five political parties active in the country, all of them members of the "democratic bloc" which is dominated by the Socialist Unity party tie. Communist). In western terms it's a one-party state. I he Neues Deutschland is the major mouthpiece of that state. In the foreign news department at the Neues (it is housed in the former offices of Josef Goebbels' infamous Völkischer Beobachter) I met 1 othar K i 11mer and his colleague Martin Kauders. Kauders, a mild bespectacled man. spent a year in two Canadian internment camps during the war. Kilimer, who is head of the foreign news staff, is a fiery blackhaired man. He turned out to be the only emotional doctrinaire Communist 1 met.
I had hoped not to waste time listening to the umpteenth restatement of basic East-bloc views but to get some glances of everyday life in Communist Germany.
Breaking into Killmer’s party-line torrent, I said I'd prefer to talk more generally. "Impossible,” he said. "For every intelligent man, there is politics in everything” — he glanced downward — "even in a pair of nylon socks. Since 1917 the world has moved into two positions, one of reality (he meant the Communist) and the other of wishful thinking.” He clapped both hands to his eyes. "The Americans will not face the reality of a changing world. But sooner or later the play must come to an end."
Attempting to be helpful, Kauders told me that the GDR, officially recognized by the West or not, was now the fifth industrial power in Europe. The first four, by his reckoning, are Russia, West Germany, Britain and France. Without Marshall Plans and cut off from the traditional German industrial complexes lying to the west, the GDR had increased the industrial output of the territory threefold compared with the prewar year of 1936. Kauders also indicated it might have been a mistake for the GDR not to have prettied up the ruins on his side of the Brandenburg Cíate, even though housing for the workers and the rebuilding of factories had to come first. As a traveled man, he said he realized the comparison between, say, West
Berlin’s Broadway-like Kurfürstendamm and Hast Berlin’s patched-up Friedrichstrasse struck every foreign visitor. But he cheered up — by 1965, when the sevenyear plan ended, the whole Unter den Linden area, which was the core of the GDR capital, would be rebuilt. (I didn't see a single excavation on the area. Thistles still blow in the fields around the bunker where Hitler died. )
It seems possible that Khrushchov may have picked a bad year to push the G DR’s claim to full sovereignty. In Hast Germany proper, that is outside the Soviet occupation zone of East Berlin, the farmers were organized into collective units last year and there are now widespread reports of actual food shortages in Leipzig and other cities. The Neues Deutschland reported one GDR spokesman as admitting "impossible and inexcusable" supply failures in some areas. Government edicts have ordered villagers into the fields on a round-theclock basis. West Germans with families and friends in certain areas over the border are mailing regular food parcels. Two out of every three actually arrive, they say.
On both sides of the sector border, Britain is regarded as the western power mostly likely to change course in the face of the renewed Soviet pressure. In the present
almost feverish cordiality of West Berlin, no responsible German would use blunt terms about any of the occupying powers, but they are nervous about the word "negotiate" which crops up in most statements out of London. "Negotiate,” to a West German means one thing only — gains by the Communists. “What is there to negotiate?” they ask. Recognition of the GDR would put Hast Germany irrevocably behind the Iron Curtain. What concessions are the Communists offering? Who could believe they’d five up to any guarantees they might offer for the integrity of a free West Berlin? Of course Khrushchov was for peace — his kind of peace.
These points were made to me by a group of chance-met West Berlin business and professional men at an expensive country club in the Grünewald. One man, the traveled and scholarly editor of a West Berlin daily, added with a rueful smile: "Perhaps all of the English don’t see it so clearly. They’ve got special reasons for being fed up with the Germans. It’s understandable that they’d like to get something settled.”
German correspondents in London feed this nervousness by cabling back every scrap of anti-German comment, most of it published in the Beaverbrook papers. Official reassurances from Prime Minister Harold Macmillan don’t seem to be given full weight. Last month Macmillan said: "It is quite clear that we and our allies cannot countenance interference with the allied rights in Berlin. This is an issue on which the peoples of the western world are resolute. It is a principle which they will defend.” A few days after he spoke, his government stuck to its decision to allow German tank crews to train in Pembrokeshire against fierce opposition from the Labor benches and country-wide muttering. At the Foreign Office before 1 left for Germany I had been given an outline of British policy on Germany that differed in no essential point from the long-standing agreed western attitude — that is, in simplest terms, the acceptance of a stalemate under the present circumstances.
Outside Whitehall, though, some strong gusts of a wind of change can be felt. In a recent week three varied and responsible publications. The Observer, The New Statesman, and The Sunday Times, called for a reappraisal of western attitudes. The left-wing New Statesman advocated acceptance of Russian guarantees on West Berlin in exchange for recognition of the GDR. In a front-page editorial it asked: "Is there anyone in Europe, even among the harassed and discontented population of Hast Germany, who would not choose to wake up now rather than sleepwalk into nuclear war?" In the Conservative Sunday Times Emery Reves reintroduced the old idea of negotiating for a corridor twenty-five miles wide from West Germany to West Berlin as the price of recognition of the GDR. This idea was first published in the West Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel three years ago as coming from Russian sources. (Moscow’s Izvestia immediately denied any Soviet knowledge or approval of the proposal. ) The London Observer’s recent suggestion was that Britain, in its role as the most loyal friend of the United States, should counsel President Kennedy to reverse the current tide of public opinion in America and negotiate the recognition of the GDR in return for a Berlin settlement.
None of these papers would admit to appeasement thoughts. Rather, they would argue that they are simply being realistic — that the West Berlin-GDR situation
cannot remain in aspic for ever, and that we’d better make the best deal we can. Many Britons feel the West has been hopelessly outmanoeuvred by Khrushchov's proposal that even half a peace treaty is better than none. The democratic image would be badly tarnished if we talk fight while the Communists talk peace.
In mid-July West Germany replied officially to Moscow’s veiled ultimatum in mild terms that in no measure reflect the determination in Bonn and West Berlin to stand pat. Adenauer patiently repeated that only free elections in all Germany could lead to the establishment of a unified state with which the victorious allies could finally sign a proper peace treaty. A separate treaty with only one part of Germany would violate the right of self-determination of peoples, recognized as one of the basic principles of the United Nations Charter. The problem of the two Berlins could only be properly solved when the city coidd at last again become the capital
of a unified Germany. The West Germans were careful in their note to comment upon Russia’s call for constructive counterproposals: any proposals, they said, that had to be founded on the acceptance of the partition of Germany could not be constructive as they could never lead to lasting peace.
In West Berlin, and later in Bonn. 1 continually put the question: "Let’s say the .vest doesn't budge an inch, but the Russians at least are going to sign with East Germany and the chances certainly are that the GDR will impose unacceptable conditions of its own on the access routes to West Berlin. What will most likely happen then, in physical terms?” One American plan given wide publicity in Europe was for a task force to blow a hole through to West Berlin for one test convoy. using conventional weapons. I his would be intended as a no-nonsense demonstration that the West intends to maintain every comma of its legal rights in Berlin. It would also start a shooting war. But level-headed people over here are confident that President Kennedy, especially in view of the Cuban fiasco, will reject the go-for-broke urgings of American militarists.
In Bonn 1 talked with Ludwig von Hammerstein who. after eleven years in the department of all-German affairs, now leads a nongovernmental society that aims at bettering German relations with other nations. "Here is something concrete the West could do.” he said. "We can tell Russia in advance, before she pulls East Germany right behind the Iron Certain, that we’ll consider her unilateral action as abrogating all the four-power agreements still in force. We can announce that we’ll cut off every scrap of trade between the Communist bloc and the West — they need it a lot more than we do. That’s the kind of negotiation Khrushchov under-
stands. Any concession, any backward step by the West, he will simply regard as evidence of the inevitable victory of vibrant Communism over decadent capitalism, and all the new nations in Africa and elsewhere who are watching every move in this crisis will get their cue for the future.”
Did he think West Berlin would again be blockaded? "I don't think so.” he said. "After all. they’ve failed at that game once already. They know' we would simply reinstitute the air lift, and that they’d have to bring down our planes to stop it. and
they would have to fire the first shot.”
In East Berlin I had put the same kind of questions in meetings with government officials and when possible in casual conversations. Officially I was told with a certain smug satisfaction there would be no trouble; once the Russians handed over control to the GDR. the West would have no alternative but to co-operate if they wanted access to West Berlin. The GDR would be capable of settling any problems that might arise with the influence of its allies. 1 couldn't get a word on advance plans to handle any difficult physical prob-
lems. They realty seemed to be convinced that this time they finally had it made.
In a cafe on the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin one night 1 shared a table with a handsome polite young man who turned out to be a cosmetic salesman for a West German firm. His name is Klaus Sieler. He was born and educated in C hemnitz, now Karl Marx City, deep in East Germany. He was eight years old when the war ended. He is married to a Düsseldorf model, and they expect their first child at Christmas. His parents came out as refugees in 1948 and he was left
behind with his grandmother to finish his schooling. He followed them in 1953. Many cousins and boyhood friends remained behind. Sieler doesn't pretend to be well read on international affairs, but he has likely had more firsthand experience of Communism than many a western politician who has a hatful of opinions about Russian intentions.
“To a German it seems simple.” he says. "We are here on the Ku-damm tonight. The Russians say they want peace, but what they really want is the Ku-damm and all of Berlin. Or maybe the ‘free city’ would really be a free city for a while, two or three years even. Then one day, one morning would be enough, when the Americans are arguing about something
else — poof! West Berlin would be swallowed up. Would the Americans really go to war to get it back? All would be quiet then for a long time. Then Russia would start making troubles for West Germany and after that, years after, for France. Communist children are taught that it's only a matter of time. They’re taught that wars are not necessary any more.” Klaus took me for a city tour by night in his Volkswagen. We stopped inevitably to stare at the Brandenburg Gate. The floodlights on the western side made the massive arch look stark and grim against the rainwashed sky.
“It’s a long way from here to Canada,” Klaus said, “but don’t you agree we’ve got to stop them somewhere?” -fa