Friday, September 11, 2009

Thatcher opposed German unity

It can be said without exaggeration that the world changed forever eight years ago today. But we are also approaching the 20th anniversary of another pivotal event -- the fall of the Berlin Wall that completely surrounded West Berlin for twenty-eight years. Poignantly, and perhaps not too ironically, it happened on November 9th, exactly fifty-one years after Kristallnacht.
Today, however, quite a bit of a shock. Newly declassified documents show that Margaret Thatcher, the then PM of the United Kingdom and in effect the supreme governor of the "British sector" of West Berlin, was delighted with the fall of communism. But, Thatcher also worried that a too rapid reunification of West and East Germany would lead to a Europe heavily dominated by a single Germany and might eventually fall back into the "bad habits" that led to the partition of the country in the first place after World War II. Not only that, she also worried that a rapid union of East and West would undermine the authority of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. She and then French President François Mitterand fought bitterly against German reunification behind the scenes but eventually came to the realization that without either's support (France was also an occupier of West Berlin, the other state being the US) the Berlin question could never be resolved. However, neither could convince their fellow NATO partners on the issue; even Thatcher's own Cabinet objected to her position.

Apoplexy about Germany has been a historical constant for several hundred years. However, there is a major difference between pre-World War II Germany and now. In the past, various German emperors (and later, President Adolf Hitler) was in league with the Vatican either by mutual agreement or by blind ignorance of each other. And of course, all were dictatorships. Today, with Germany's economy fully integrated with its European neighbours in the EU, including a common currency for most states, and with democracy fully entrenched from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean, such concerns seem to be misplaced on the surface. Not to mention the full separation of church and state in most countries, freedom of religion in all, and a great reluctance to pay any of the pronouncements of the Holy See any creed; especially given its collusion on the sex abuse issue.
As well, the East German economy was left in such tatters after decades of Communist rule that the massive reconstruction costs to bring the East's infrastructure in line with the West was a drag for the Deutschemark and the Euro which subsumed it and 11 other currencies in 2002. Germany was in no position to dictate terms to its partners and even if it was, its neighbours would have strongly objected. Even now, people in Germany speak of an invisible curtain which divides not just the "East" and "West" states, but even inside the capital of Berlin -- it is quite common to say that one is from East or West Berlin, rather than Berlin as a whole. It's hard to see twenty years on how Germany wants to go back to the so-called "glory days." Such would require, first off, withdrawal from the Euro and resumption of the DM, and while there is support in some quarters of Germany for this it's a minority position.
The fact is, by a forced pooling of the resources of war, war has become impossible within Western and Central Europe; and the collective of NATO, most of the ex-Warsaw Pact and a handful of neutral countries is actually stronger -- and both the UK and Germany are better off financially as well as militarily by being allies and not rivals. Their main enemy is not each other, but an increasingly resurgent and more dictatorial Russian Federation.
As far as Gorbachev was concerned ... once he renounced the Brezhnev Doctrine and replaced it with the so-called "Sinatra Doctrine" (i.e. the Warsaw Pact states could "do it their way" and no longer had to submit to Moscow's foreign policy) the only issue was who was going to pay for the 300,000 Soviet troops stationed in the East. It turned out to be West Germany, and they stayed another four years until their withdrawal in 1993. And in any case, Gorby was gone by the end of 1991 not because the Warsaw Pact was history but because he waited too long to disavow Communism.
Naturally ethnic pride is bound to come forth, but there are enough safeguards in the individual countries as well as the collective nature of the system to ensure no one country can ever come to dominate the continent as a whole. In my humble opinion, Thatcher was wrong. Keeping the two Germanies apart was untenable -- once the border was gone, the point of having two separate governments was also moot and reunification was just a matter of time. However, there is a point to be made that the process happened way too fast; a couple of years more might have been preferable to ensure that it wasn't the shotgun takeover of the East by the West as it turned out, but rather a marriage of equals as the Allies intended it to be.

By the way, don't get me started on the whole "British Israelism" thing. It's not only a racist ideology, but its self-styled proponents are also false prophets. The man I refer to only by his initials, HWA, said that the UK would never join the EU -- five years before it did. Several months later, he predicted it would rapidly withdraw. It's still in 26 years later, and I think the British presence has only advanced the cause of democracy across Europe and not derogated from it.

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