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Relations Between the Two Germanys
Although Honecker pursued a tough policy against internal dissidents
and carefully guarded the GDR's unique identity as the state in which
the old Marxist dream of socialism had become a reality, he was keenly
aware of the necessity for communication and reasonable working relations
with the FRG. His dream of being received at the White House as a guest
of state by United States president Ronald Reagan was never realized,
but Honecker opened more lines of communication to Western politicians
than had his predecessors.
As a consequence of the Helsinki Accords, the reception of Western news
media broadcasts was tacitly allowed in the GDR. In the early 1980s, it
also became possible for citizens of the GDR who were not yet pensioners
to visit relatives in the West in cases involving urgent family matters.
Under a new regulation, refugees who had gone to the West before 1981
and had therefore automatically lost their GDR citizenship could now enter
the GDR with their West German passport. These measures benefited East
Germans and, together with access to Western television, helped to create
a new relaxed atmosphere in the GDR.
On the economic side, the GDR fully utilized the advantages of the Interzone
Trading Agreement, which allowed special consideration for the export
of goods from the GDR to the FRG and other EC member states, as well as
the import of vital industrial products from the West. Diplomatic relations
with the EC were established in 1988, a reversal of the former policy
that saw the organization as a threat to the GDR's sovereignty. The annual
Leipzig Industrial Fair also provided a convenient forum for meeting Western
politicians and industrialists.
The severe shortage of Western currency in the GDR, one of the key concerns
of the SED leadership, was alleviated by agreements with the FRG that
tripled the bulk contributions to the East German postal administration
by the FRG. Similar agreements, financially advantageous to the GDR, improved
the highway links to West Berlin. More significant, however, was the granting
of bank credits amounting to DM2 billion to the GDR during 1983 and 1984.
The CSU leader and minister president of Bavaria, Franz Josef Strauss,
was the principal negotiator of these credit agreements.
At first, the credits appeared to yield positive results along the inner-German
border, where mines and automatic guns, which had so long posed a deadly
threat to East Germans attempting to flee to the FRG, were dismantled.
Later, however, it became clear that these devices had been replaced by
nearly impenetrable electronic warning systems and with trained dogs at
certain sectors along the border. The order to shoot at refugees was not
rescinded but remained in effect almost until the end of the GDR regime.
Also remaining in effect were strict controls for West German citizens
at GDR border crossings and on transit routes to and from West Berlin,
although there were no further reports of people being abused at border
However much relations improved between the two states in some areas,
the stance of the SED leadership toward the FRG's NATO membership remained
hostile. Harsh attacks in the East German press labeling the FRG as an
"American missile launcher" became more frequent during the debates on
the stationing of Pershing II and cruise missiles. On occasion, high-level
official visits were canceled to signal the GDR's opposition to Western
military policies. The FRG responded in kind. For example, Federal President
Karl Carstens (1979-84) did not attend as planned the East German celebrations
on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther
In October 1987, when the two superpowers were striving for détente
and disarmament and the relations between the two Germanys were cordial,
Honecker visited Bonn as the GDR head of state. The visit, postponed several
times, was in response to Chancellor Schmidt's visit to East Germany in
1981. Honecker was in the West German capital for an "official working
meeting." He signed agreements for cooperation in the areas of science
and technology, as well as environmental protection. Honecker's statement
that the border dividing the two Germanys would one day be seen as a line
"connecting" the two states, similar to the border between the GDR and
Poland, attracted thoughtful public attention in the West. Honecker was
cordially received by members of the government, in the words of Federal
President Richard von Weizsaecker (1984-94), as a "German among Germans."
However, at various stages of the visit--which subsequently took him to
several federal states, including his native Saarland--large numbers of
demonstrators chanted, "The wall must go."
The East German media coverage of the visit provided the opportunity
for Chancellor Kohl to speak to "all the people in Germany" and to call
for the breaking down of barriers "in accordance with the wishes of the
German people." Although the visit yielded no immediate concrete results
and Honecker's hopes of increased political recognition for the GDR were
not realized, a dialogue had begun that could make the division of Germany
more bearable for the people involved. As of late 1987, however, there
was still little hope of overcoming the division itself.
- The Honecker Era, 1971-1989
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
- The New East
German Constitution and the Question of Identity
- Relations Between
the Two Germanys
- The Peace Movement
and Internal Resistance
- The Last Days of East Germany