From the capital, Bonn, to the financial district of Cologne—and from the hightech centre of Stuttgart to the gritty Ruhr valley city of Dortmund—Mikhail Gorbachev received a hero’s welcome. In marked contrast to the last visit by a Soviet leader to West Germany in 1981—when demonstrators in Bonn greeted Leonid Brezhnev with shouts of “Ruskie go home”—last week, thousands of excited Germans poured into the streets with signs, banners and deafening chants of “Gorby, Gorby.” Their enthusiasm was infectious. Along the highway from Bonn to suburban Bad Godesberg—the site of foreign diplomats’ residences—Gorbachev waved delightedly to a row of life-size cutouts of himself. But the fourday visit engendered more than pop-star hysteria. On June 13, Gorbachev and Chancellor Helmut Kohl signed a six-page document that both leaders said defines a new stage in SovietWest German relations. Gorbachev went even further, declaring, “Our co-operation can serve as a catalyst for new relations between the whole of East and West.”
The implications of the agreement are indeed far-reaching. Gorbachev and Kohl pledged to respect human rights and selfdetermination, to expand economic co-operation, and to work to overcome the postwar division of Europe—without upsetting the superpower balance on the continent. Moreover, both leaders expressed support for a series of concrete disarmament measures. They include: a 50-per-cent cut in U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear weapons; a balance in conventional forces in Europe at lower-than-current levels; a verifiable worldwide ban on chemical weapons; and a verifiable nuclear test ban. Anticipating concerns from their respective allies about the increasingly close relations between Bonn and Moscow, the joint declaration added, “This policy takes bilateral treaties and alliance responsibilities into consideration. It is not directed against anyone.”
The document was the centrepiece of a visit that symbolically reconciled two nations whose bitter rivalry in the Second World War—after their short-lived 1939 nonaggression pact— had left Germany and Europe divided. An exultant Kohl said that Gorbachev’s visit—just two weeks after U.S. President George Bush came to Bonn—confirmed West Germany’s status as a major world power.
But recent newspaper editorials in the West warned that improved Bonn-Moscow ties could transform West Germany from NATO’s strongest link in Europe to its weakest. Citing Bonn’s recent objections to NATO’s planned
deployment of new short-range nuclear missiles, some newspapers expressed fears that West Germany could accept neutrality in exchange for promises of eventual reunification with East Germany. Last week, Gorbachev and Kohl pointedly avoided the contentious issue. But when pressed by reporters about when the Berlin Wall would be tom down, Gorbachev said, “If we are wise and farsighted, then a good number of profound changes can take place in Europe.” That prompted an editorial retort from London’s Daily Telegraph: “On the 50th anniversary of the Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact, the West Germans must realize that the rest of Europe does not share their enthusiasm” for reunification.
Still, even hard-liners found some reason to applaud the Soviet-West German declaration. NATO diplomats in Brussels said that one passage in the agreement—it recognized that every state “has the right to choose freely its own political and social system”—amounts to a renunciation of the so-called Brezhnev doctrine, under which the Soviets had claimed the right to intervene militarily when they deemed that Communist rule was threatened in a sister country. “The West has been calling incessantly upon Gorbachev to repudiate the Brezhnev doctrine,” said one diplomat. “He has finally made his position clear. We have it in writing.”
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