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Germany: Politicians Bicker Over Credit For Unification

  • Roland Eggleston

A celebration tomorrow in Dresden to mark Germany's 10th anniversary as a unified state is being overshadowed by a row between the two major parties over who should get the credit. RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston reports from Munich that what should have been a national celebration has become just another round of party bickering.

Munich, 2 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Tomorrow (Tuesday) Germany officially marks the 10th anniversary of the union of Communist eastern Germany with the democratic West.

But what should be an occasion for national harmony is being marred by angry arguments between the right-leaning Christian Democratic party of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the governing left-leaning Social Democrats about their role at the time. Each party accuses the other of trying to rewrite history to its own advantage.

Insults flew across the German parliament last week as the Christian Democrats charged unification would never have happened if the Social Democrats had been in power in 1990. The former CDU Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel accused the SPD of having lacked what he called "the unwavering will for unity." Other CDU spokesmen said reunification was not on the political program of many in the SPD at the end of the 1980s.

Angry Social Democrats described the charges as ridiculous. In turn, they accuse Kohl's party of failing to give credit to the basis created by SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt years before in trying to build closer relations between the two Germanys. The SPD said it was these moves which paved the way to unification.

The row continued throughout the weekend, with Helmut Kohl personally accusing the present chancellor and SPD leader Gerhard Schroeder of showing only lukewarm support for unification at the end of the 1980s:

"The leadership of the Social Democratic party and with them a great part of the left in Germany had abandoned respect for the provision in the preamble to the constitution on unification."

Schroeder was not in federal politics at the time but had a prominent role in the SPD as leader of the state of Lower Saxony. He and other leading Social Democrats warned before unification took place that bringing the two Germanys together would be costly for western Germany.

In a sharp response to Kohl's accusation, Schroeder told a regional party meeting in Stuttgart the Christian Democrats were trying to distract attention from a financial scandal in the party by giving Kohl major credit for the unification process.

Kohl has been excluded from tomorrow's official celebration in Dresden largely because of the continuing investigation into financial irregularities in the Christian Democratic party, which he led for 16 years from 1982 to 1998. Kohl has declined to identify the source of several large donations to the party, although he acknowledges that his refusal violates the law.

It was not the present government led by Gerhard Schroeder which excluded him from the festivities. The decision was taken by the organizer of the event, Kurt Biedenkopf, leader of the state of Saxony and a member of Kohl's Christian Democratic party. Biedenkopf has been critical of Kohl for his refusal to identify the source of the donations.

The angry exchanges between the two major political parties have been condemned by many Germans. Former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who also played a prominent role in bringing the two Germanys closer together, said the public row was embarrassing and spoiling what should be a joyful celebration.

Kohl has now modified his remarks and even paid respect to former SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. In the 1970s, Brandt was responsible for introducing the policy of "Ostpolitik" which allowed discussion between the two Germanys and opened the way for a visit by Brandt to eastern Germany. Kohl also paid tribute to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in the unification process.

Both Kohl and Schroeder acknowledge the real heroes of unification 10 years ago are the people of eastern Germany.

Schroeder told the party meeting in Stuttgart:

"The Berlin Wall did not collapse in Bonn, in Washington or [in] Moscow. It was literally brought down in the streets -- and from the East to the West."

Kohl yesterday told a CDU celebration that unification was not the property of any single political party -- it belonged to all Germans.

But he said again it was the CDU which never abandoned the idea of a common Fatherland.

The claims of the two big parties were challenged by the Free Democratic party, which said its then leader, Genscher, was the real motor behind the unification. Genscher won a reputation in the 1970s and 1980s for his efforts to ease suspicion between East and West.

But at a meeting yesterday (Sunday) to mark unification, Genscher too gave most of the credit to the people of eastern Germany.

"Credit for the unification of Germany is not held by anyone alone. It belongs to no single party -- including our own. It belongs alone to the people because it was the people who fought for this unification."

Many Germans feel Genscher's approach is the most reasonable.