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Change through Rapprochement (July 15, 1963)

In the following speech, which was delivered at the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing, Egon Bahr emphasizes Germany’s special role in overcoming the entrenched East-West conflict in Europe. He proposes a policy of stronger cooperation, particularly in economic affairs, with the goal of gradually dismantling the status quo. The speech signaled a change of course in the Social Democrats’ policies towards East Germany and the Communist states of Eastern Europe.

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Egon Bahr on July 15, 1963, at the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing


The American strategy for peace can also be defined by the formula that Communist rule should be changed, not eliminated. The U.S. approach to improving East-West realtions helps change the status quo by first attempting not to change it. This sounds paradoxical, but it opens up possiblilities, whereas the previous policy of pressure and counter-pressure led only to a solidification of the status quo. The confidence that our world is the better one, the stronger one in the peaceful sense of the word, the one that will prevail, makes it conceiveble to try to open up ourselves, to encourage the other side to do so, and to renounce previous notions about liberation.

The question is whether this concept includes a special German responsibility. I believe this question needs to be answered affirmatively if we do not wish to exclude ourselves from the ongoing development of East-West relations. Within this framework there are even responsibilities that can only be fulfilled by the Germans, because in Europe we find ourselves in the unique position of being a divided people.

The first conclusion to be drawn from applying this strategy for peace to Germany is that the policy of all-or-nothing must be ruled out. Either free elections or nothing, either all-German freedom of choice or an obstinate “no,” either elections as the first step or rejection – all this is not only hopelessly antiquated and unreal, but in a strategy of peace it is also meaningless. Today it is clear that reunification is not a one-time act that will be put into effect by a historic decision on an historic day at an historic conference, but rather a process involving many steps and many stations. If what Kennedy said is right, that the interests of the other side also need to be recognized and considered, then it is certainly impossible for the Soviet Union to let the Eastern Zone be snatched away from it for the purpose of strengthening the West's potential. The Zone must be transformed with the approval of the
Soviets. [ . . . ]

If it is correct, and I believe it is correct, that the Zone cannot be snatched away from the Soviet sphere of influence, then the logical consequence is that every policy aimed directly at toppling the regime over there is hopeless. This conclusion is excruciatingly uncomfortable and runs counter to our feelings, but it is logical. It means that changes and alterations coming from the current regime are the only ones that are attainable. It is an illusion to believe that economic troubles might lead to a collapse of the regime. [ . . . ]

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