The crowd chanted “Helmut, Helmut” as the West German chancellor approached the podium in stately Cathedral Square, in the heart of the East German city of Erfurt, last week. And when the master of ceremonies introduced Helmut Kohl as the “chancellor of our German fatherland,” many of the nearly 100,000 spectators erupted in thunderous cheers. “We are one people,”
Kohl declared, echoing his earlier calls for a rapid unification of the two Germanys.
And Kohl, who was in Erfurt to campaign for a coalition of three conservative parties running in East Germany’s March 18 elections, pledged that West German businessmen would soon help to establish a “booming” economy in the East. Still, East German officials have complained bitterly about Kohl and other West German politicians campaigning in the East, claiming that it reflects an arrogant approach to unification. Those concerns were evident on the fringes of the crowd in Erfurt, where protesters heckled Kohl and unfurled a banner saying “Unity, yes. Kohl-inisation, no.”
Representatives of almost all of the major political parties in East and West Germany have said that they accept reunification as inevitable; only the timing and the method remain unclear. But the euphoria that surrounded the overthrow of East Germany’s hard-line regime last October has faded as residents face rising uncertainty about their future. On the day before Kohl’s visit to Erfurt, a relatively subdued crowd watched as East German soldiers used bulldozers to knock down the section of the Berlin Wall near the city’s historic Brandenburg Gate. Several East German border guards wept openly. The prospect of a strong united Germany, with nearly 80 million people and one of the world’s most robust economies, has also raised concerns in other European countries whose citizens suffered under Nazi Germany’s onslaught in the Second World War. And East Germany’s reform-Communist leaders have said that they fear their country’s social security system will
be swept away in the rush towards unity.
Last week, a visibly angry East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow criticized Bonn for failing to give his country $10.8 billion in immediate economic assistance. He told his country’s parliament that East Berlin would not
“enter into a unified Germany as a beggar.” And although East and West German officials sat down last week for preliminary talks about monetary union, Modrow said that Bonn will have to provide substantial aid before currency talks can be successfully concluded. Modrow also insisted that Kohl give an explicit commitment to accept Germany’s postwar borders. So far, Kohl has said only that he cannot make promises on behalf of a united Germany.
Last week in Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki also demanded that both Germanys unequivocally renounce claims on any part of Polish territory. And Mazowiecki insisted that Poland have a seat in the so-called two-plusfour talks, in which the two Germanys will sit down with the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and France—the postwar occupying powers—to work out a new security arrangement for
Europe. Bonn has rejected Polish participation. But Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said last week that Poland must not be “left out” of negotiations. And officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels said last week that the United States, Britain, France and West Germany had agreed to consult other NATO countries, including Canada, in the reunification process.
Kohl is also facing resistance from within the 12-member European Community to some parts of his reunification agenda. In early February, EC Industry Commissioner Martin Bangemann, a West German, declared that Bonn would pay 70 to 80 per cent of the cost of reunification, but he added, “There will have to be a shift of resources within the community to cover the rest.” The total amount could be staggering. West German analysts say that it could cost between $360 billion and $720 billion to merge the two countries’ monetary systems and bring East German incomes and economic structure up to Western levels. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has flatly refused to pay any part of the bill. And other EC leaders are expected to support her. The issue is likely to provoke a showdown with West Germany when EC leaders meet in Dublin in April.
Meanwhile, many East Germans have expressed concern that their savings will be severely reduced if the West German mark, the deutsche mark, is accepted as the joint currency at freemarket rates, by which the East German currency, the ostmark, is valued at only about one-tenth of its Western counterpart. Last week, ¿ many East Germans lined up at banks to clear out their 1 accounts and purchase items ? of long-term value, including refrigerators and washing machines. Many East Germans are simply leaving, fleeing to the West at a rate of 2,000 a day.
According to an opinion poll by the Central Institute for Youth Research in Leipzig, published last week, three-quarters of East Germans support reunification. But only a third of the 1,800 people polled said that they wanted a unified Germany to have a Western capitalist system, and half said that they preferred unity to take the form of a German confederation in which West and East Germany would remain politically autonomous. Still, with most of the economic and political influence on the Western side, East Germans may soon find themselves in a united, federal and capitalist Germany—whether they like it or not.
MARY NEMETH with JOHN HOLLAND in East Berlin and PETER LEWIS in Brussels
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