Manipulation as if German Unification was Result of Soviet Policy

23 September, 2019

On September 6, 2019, Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi of the Alliance of Patriots party told Obieqtivi TV in its late night program Gamis Eteri that German unification was the result of correct policy pursued by the Soviet Union.

Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi, Alliance of Patriots: “Today, Germany is united and it is united because in its time, the Soviet Union pursued an absolutely correct policy and the country got united.”

Davit Tarkhan-Mouravi’s statement is manipulative. In fact, it was just the Soviet Union, which deepened the division and polarization between West Germany and East Germany through building the Berlin Wall and imposing the Berlin blockade in response to the economic assistance provided by western allies to West Germany. As for the unification of Germany, it was the result of not Soviet policy, but the developments that took place before the unification, among them weakening of the Socialist Party in other Eastern European countries, movement of the Germans from East Germany to West Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

  • Division of Germany and Berlin blockade

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in the World War II, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones between France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union. Berlin, the capital, located within the Soviet Union controlled eastern part, was also divided into four sectors. Beginning in the summer of 1945, the occupation authorities permitted the formation of German political parties in preparation for elections for new local and regional representative assemblies. When it had become apparent by 1947 that the Soviet Union would not permit free, multiparty elections throughout the whole of Germany, the Americans and British amalgamated the German administrative organs in their occupation zones in order to foster economic recovery. The resulting unit, called Bizone, was a combination and economic unification of the British and American zones. In July 1947, the Americans, British, and French implemented a currency reform in their zones that replaced Germany’s badly inflated currency (the Reichsmark) with a new, hard deutsche mark, or DM. Western Germany’s economy responded quickly, as goods previously unavailable for nearly worthless money came onto the market. This angered the Soviet Union and prompted it to take strict measures. 

On June, 1948, the Soviet authorities announced that the four-power administration of Berlin had ceased functioning and that the Allies no longer had any rights there. Power supplies and all road and rail links to the city were closed, thus beginning the blockade of Berlin. On 26 June, Britain, the U.S. and other countries began to supply West Berlin by air. Over the next 321 days, Western fliers made 272,000 flights into West Berlin, delivering thousands of tons of supplies every day. On May 12, 1949, Stalin ordered to lift the blockade and reopen the borders. 24 American, 23 British and 7 German pilots lost their lives during the airlift. 

  • Formation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany

On August 1, 1948, the French occupation zone joined the Bizone, which then became the Trizone. On May 23, 1949, it was called the Federal Republic of Germany. As for the Soviet occupation zone, election for a People’s Congress was held there in May 1949. But instead of choosing among candidates, voters were allowed only the choice of approving or rejecting. According to the official results, about two-thirds of the voters supported the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). In October 1949, a constitution ratified by the People’s Congress went into effect in the Soviet zone, which became the German Democratic Republic.

  • Building of the Berlin Wall

The Soviet Union-formed Democratic Republic of Germany significantly dragged behind its western neighbor by the level of economic and social development. Therefore, in 1949-1961, a lot of citizens, including highly skilled workers moved to West Germany. To prevent migration, the Soviet Union began to build a wall - the Berlin Wall – overnight on August 12-13, 1961, to permanently close off access to the West. Initially, it sealed off free passage between East and West Berlin with barbed wire. Quite soon, a 120-kilometer wall became the symbol of Cold War and Iron Curtain. The West Berlin city government and population even referred to it as the “Wall of Shame”, a reference to its restriction on freedom of movement. More than 100 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall in 1961-1989. More than 5,000 escaped by going over and under the Berlin Wall.
The Brandenburg Gate, 1961

  • The beginning of the end

In the summer of 1989, a reformist Hungarian government began allowing East Germans to escape to the West through Hungary’s newly opened border with Austria. By the fall, thousands of East Germans had followed this route, while thousands of others sought asylum in the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw. The wave of migration was gradually increasing. Meanwhile, mass demonstrations in the streets of Leipzig and other East German cities defied the authorities and demanded reforms. 

Erich Honecker, then Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic, was replaced by another hardline communist, Egon Krenz in an attempt to halt migrant flow. However, on the evening of November 9, Günter Schabowski, a communist functionary, mistakenly announced at a televised news conference that the government would change its migration policy. Asked when it would happen, he responded “immediately.” The communist politician, definitely, did not mean the opening of the Berlin Wall, but his statement proved enough for the population. So, crowds gathered and demanded to pass into West Berlin.  

  • Elections in East Germany

Several days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl presented a ten-point plan, calling for unification of the both parts of Germany. The first and only free parliamentary elections in the GDR since 1933 were held on 18 March 1990. The CDU-led Alliance for Germany won with 40.8% of the vote and after forming a coalition with other parties, it garnered most seats in the Parliament and the Cabinet. The defeat of the former Socialist Party made it clear that the population of East Germany supported German unification. On September 20, 1990, the democratically elected East German Parliament supported the agreement on unification, which entered into force on October 3.

  • The U.S. position

Prior to the era of “Perestroika” in the Soviet Union, U.S. President Ronald Reagan said during his visit to West Germany in 1982 that he would like to ask the Soviet leadership one question “why is that wall there?” Speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987, President Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the wall. Later the White House also supported German unification: George Bush was in favor of unified Germany within NATO that actually happened in 1990. 

When speaking about the U.S. role, it is worth noting that the U.S. State Department suggested a “2 + 4” solution— the two Germanys would negotiate the particulars of German reunification while the four occupying powers—Britain, France, the United States, and the USSR—would work out the international details. According to the agreement reached among the parties, united Germany would be a member of NATO, but would reduce its troops and abstain from possessing atomic, biological and chemical weapons. 

  • Gorbachev’s position

After 1987, Gorbachev’s foreign policy was rarely discussed formally at the Politburo but instead only in a narrow circle of advisers. It is worth noting that beginning in the same period the Soviet Union almost did not interfere in Eastern Europe’s internal affairs. Economic crisis was one of the reasons. In January 1989, Gorbachev announced the reduction of Soviet forces in Central and Eastern Europe by 14% and cuts in the production of armaments by 19%. The Soviet leaders did not have the money to influence the events in Central and Eastern Europe and had to watch as the governments of these countries turned to the West for credits and other forms of support.  

The Soviet leadership kept silent when Hungary opened the borders in summer 1989. On September 27-28, then Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze met with his American and German counterparts, James Baker and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, respectively, to discuss the growing crisis of East German refugees in Prague and Budapest. The result was that East German refugees were allowed to stay temporarily within the compounds of West German embassies in those cities.  

Gorbachev later claimed that by 1989 he was ready to withdraw all Soviet troops from Central Europe, but that he wanted to do it gradually, largely because of domestic constraints. 

It is worth noting that on June 11-15, 1989, Gorbachev visited West Germany and took a very tolerant stand when Chancellor Helmut Kohl suggested joint interference in the affairs of the GDR in order to remove Erich Honecker and encourage changes. During the same meeting, the sides voiced the respect for the right of national self-determination. It was a hint that the Soviet Union would not oppose by force changes in East Germany. In response, Kohl assured Gorbachev that he and his government did not want any destabilization of the GDR. This informal understanding was crucial for the subsequent peaceful reunification of Germany. 

Gorbachev made a decision to dismiss Honecker in October 1989. Instead of addressing the full Politburo, Gorbachev convened a conference in his office.  He learned from the new GDR leader, Egon Krenz that the GDR owned the West USD 26.5 billion. Later he admitted to his Politburo colleagues that without assistance from West Germany, the Soviets could not save the GDR. The Soviet leader approved the proposal of Krenz to simplify travel between East Germany and West Germany, but they did not discuss in detail the plans for the gradual removal of the Berlin War. 

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, caught everyone in Moscow by surprise. Gorbachev, however, did not create the crisis management commission; moreover, only constitutional amendments and developments in the Baltic States were discussed at the Politburo session that day. 

During the Malta conference in December 1989, Gorbachev met with George Bush and strongly criticized the 10-point plan by Kohl concerning Germany as an attempt to swallow the GDR. According to Gorbachev, there were two Germanys and history had to decide their fate, as well as the fate of the new world. 

Various officials in Moscow, including the ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, Yuli Kvitsinsky, and Eduard Shevardnadze had been warning Gorbachev since November 1989 that the GDR was about to disappear and suggested a preemptive strategy: to put pressure on Kohl for the idea of confederation of the two states. Only by the end of January 1990, after accepting a 2+4 format, Gorbachev admitted that German unification was unavoidable. 

Gorbachev met with Kohl in July 1990. The two leaders already had friendly relations and they had to reach an agreement. The USSR economy was declining on a daily basis and money was needed to save it. Just that was the reason why the Kremlin accepted German unification. Kohl agreed to pay the costs from withdrawing Soviet troops and resettling them at home. He also promised financial help aimed at stabilizing Soviet finances. The total amount West Germany ultimately paid to the Kremlin for reunification is unknown, although it is usually estimated at between 50 and 80 billion German marks. 

Prepared by Mariam Dangadze
Myth Detector Lab