Full Citation

  • Title West sees the writing on the Wall
  • Author Milligan, Stephen
  • Publication Title The Sunday Times
  • Supplement Title News Focus
  • Collection The Sunday Times Digital Archive, 1822-2006
  • Date Sunday,  June 11, 1989
  • Issue Number 8600
  • Page Number 9[S]
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
THEWQ Bftfiai West sees the writing on the Wall THE remarkable victory of Soli - darity in the Polish election has underlined the pace of the demo - cratic revolution that is under way in Eastern Europe. Hungary is set to follow suit next year with a simi - lar partial election. President Mikhail Gorbachev will no doubt make much of the changes when he meets Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn tomorrow at the start of a four-day visit to >Yest ! Germany. But amid the de - li ght about/the reforms, a nagging fear is starting to grip the chan - celleries of Western Europe : if Eastern Europe goes democratic, what will stop the reunification of West and East Germany ? Since 1945 , the rest of the West has always supported German reunification, confident that it could never happen, because Europe would always be divided into two. That assumption is no longer valid. It has also been assumed that the Russians would never allow Ger - many to unite again , after 20 m Russians died at the hands of Hit - ler . But Gorbachev was only eight years old when the second world war started, and he does not have the terror of a united Germany that his predecessors had. In the past month four of his senior officials have hinted that Soviet policy towards Germany is changing . Vyacheslav Dashichev, of the Foreign Ministry , said last week that the time had come to end the "separation" between the two Germanys; and Valentin Falin, Gorbachev's top adviser on Germany, said the Soviet Union was prepared to discuss re - unification at some stage. The attraction to the Russians of German reunification is that it could destroy Nato at one blow. Suppose Gorbachev announced that he would knock down the Ber - lin Wail and pull all Soviet troops out of East Germany — provided the West Germans withdrew from Nato and that all American troops left German soil. Margaret Thatcher would be horrified, yet such an idea would be welcomed by most Germans. Outsiders have long underesti - mated the depth of West Germa - ny 's desire for reunification; a desire that is almost as strong among young as old Germans. ¦ West Germany's constitution obliges the Bonn government to do all it can to achieve German unity; and polls by the Allensbach In - stitute show that 90% of ordinary Germans agree it should do so. ~' Another poll has tried to find out whether Germans think their country should be aligned with America, the Soviet Union or should be "equidistant" from both . The latest figures show that two - thirds of Germans want to be equi - Germany By uniting the Germanys Gorbachev could destroy Nato at a stroke, reports STEPHEN MILLIGAN distant from the superpowers. Add to this the growing mood of anti - mili tarism that has gripped the Germans since Gorbachev took power , and it is not hard to see why an offer of reunification - plus - neu - trality would be potent. Of course, the East German leadership might object to such an offer. It remains one of the most primitive communist regimes in the world — one of the few that supported the Peking massacre. But East Germany 's leaders would invite popular unrest if they re - sisted ; and anyway, there are signs that the Honecker regime may be unseated at the five-yearly party conference due next year. Until President George Bush's bravura performance at the Nato summit, the West had been clumsy in its handling of the Germans. Instead of trying to understand the new mood in West Germany, Western leaders like Thatcher merely denounced them for going soft. This only encouraged the Ger - mans to be even more friendly to the East. If the West makes the same mis - take in a future debate over reunif - ication , the consequences could be fatal . Were West Germany to leave Nato, the alliance would collapse. The United States would hardly waut to keep troops in Europe , and France would remain outside Nato. The British Army on the Rhine could retreat to the Ar - dennes , but a few regiments from Britain , Holland and Belgium would hardly amount to a credible defence against the Soviet Union. An intelligent policy for the West would be three pronged: to abandon hypocritical support for full German reunification; but ac - tivel y press for much freer move - ment between East and West Germany as well as more cultural links; while trying to make West Germans feel more different from East Germans by seducing them into a politically united European community. Such a policy would advance the human rights of the luckless citi - zens of East Germany. It would show that the West appreciated the legitimate desire of West Germans for closer ties with their kith and kin. And it could preserve Nato. The links between East and West Germany are already closer than they might seem. Most East Ger - mans tune into West German tele - vision ; East Germany is treated as a secret member of the EC, since there are no tariffs on intra - Ger - man trade; and human movement between the two countries has be - come far freer in recent years. But many barriers remain. Even if travel is easier, for example, it can take up to' six months for an East German to obtain a visa to visit his relations in the West. The seduction part of the policy would not be attractive to those who want the EC to be just an economic club. But if it is no more than that, why should the West Germans be paying DM22 billion to Brussels this year? Public dis - illusion with the EC is running strong in West Germany, and Brit - ain 's reluctance to consider closer unity is a prime cause. The West Germans have always been willing to restrain their own political power , provided their views can be represented by a united Western Europe. But if this is not possible; is it any wonder that they are seduced by the lure of the East? The view that the European community is the best way to con - t ain the Germans has long been understood in Paris, where fear of German neutralism is almost para - noid , but it has yet to be grasped in London . Stephen Milligan is BBC Tele - vision 's Europe Correspondent Demolition squad? If the East goes democratic, there is little to stop Gorbachev, meeting Kohl this week, doing a deal to knock down the Berlin Wall and rebuild one Germany