Thirty years ago today, on 3rd October 1990, ‘Germany’ was reborn. The division of Germany into East and West was supposed to have been permanent, following the end of the Second World War, and this division was recognised again in the 1975 Helsinki Accords. Nevertheless, just fifteen years later, the separation was over.
Some would say this was inevitable, following the demise of communist rule in the GDR, but nothing is inevitable until it happens. East and West Germany could, conceivably have continued as separate states, at least for a number of years. Indeed, that is what many, including UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was very apprehensive about reunification, hoped for.
The turning point was undoubtedly Helmut Kohl, the West German Chancellor at the time, declaring ‘Wir sind doch ein volk!’ (We are one people!) on 10th November 1989. ‘Deutsche Wiederervereinigung’ (German reunification) thereafter became a juggernaut that proved impossible for anyone to stop. Of course, as Kohl said, self-determination was paramount, but if reunification had to take place, it could have been done in a different way. Rather than being a ‘merger’ between East and West, what actually happened was that the West ‘took over’ the East. The Federal Republic of Germany was never ‘put to sleep’, but the German Democratic Republic was. In other words, reunification didn’t create a ‘third’ country, but simply enlarged the Federal Republic. And that arguably, is where things went wrong.
I spent time in both West and East Germany in the summer and autumn of 1989. I had been to West Germany a number of times in the 1980s and on each occasion I was impressed by what I saw. There was a high standard of living, great art and culture and a pretty vibrant society.