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A Difficult Balancing Act: Honecker's Visit to West Germany (September 11, 1987)

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, Rupert Scholz of the Christian Democrats (who represented the state of Berlin in the federal government), evaluates Honecker’s visit to the Federal Republic and discusses the ambivalent nature of East-West German relations. On the one hand, says Scholz, West Germans have to accept certain realities and respect the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic; on the other hand, reunification – as Chancellor Kohl stressed – has to remain a goal.

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Interview with Senator Rupert Scholz on Honecker’s Visit
by Karl Wilhelm Fricke

Fricke: Professor Scholz, as Berlin Senator for Justice and Federal Affairs you also have a direct say in the policies on Germany and Berlin, insofar as Berlin policy [Berlinpolitik] is always also “Germany policy” [Deutschlandpolitik]. Thus, my first question is: What is your fundamental appraisal of Erich Honecker’s official visit to Bonn? How do you judge the political results from a Berlin perspective?

Scholz: As the chancellor correctly emphasized again in the Bundestag debate, Berlin is and will remain a special kind of acid-and-scratch test in “Germany policy.” As long as “Germany policy” as a whole has to concentrate on structuring intra-German relations, that is, relations between the two partial German states, and changes corresponding to questions of principle are not possible, Berlin will always be the most difficult point because the other side, as we know, is not prepared to accept Berlin as part of the Federal Republic to an unlimited extent. The results of this visit must also be assessed against this background; one must say that they are generally good in the sum total, and they bring essential progress for Berlin. I’ll give special mention here to the two examples of railroad traffic and the electric power system.

Fricke: We’ll come back to that. First, I’d like to ask another critical question referring to the protocol, the rules of protocol according to which Honecker was received in Bonn. Were people here in Berlin sympathetic to that?

Scholz: I think the situation and the feelings in Berlin are certainly no different than in the rest of the Federal Republic. The feelings are ambivalent, and they have to be; in Berlin perhaps in a special way because people here have to live with the Wall every day. On the other hand, I think that by now Germans in general – in East and West – have a sense that our immediate situation is not going to change totally, that we have to live with reality. And since the conclusion of the Basic Treaty, part of that reality is the sovereignty of the GDR, though not in the sense of full recognition under international law. In particular, this involves legal questions that cannot always be immediately explained to the citizens.

Fricke: They are also hard to understand internationally.

Scholz: Yes, that’s entirely correct. These are also problems and we need to carefully analyze the international response to this visit. On the other hand, we have to consider what has been said in front of a large public – through television and radio. For me, that includes, for one thing, the very, very clear words of the chancellor on the unresolved German Question, on our unaltered goal of reunification. Honecker had to accept that. It was all printed in [the GDR daily] Neues Deutschland. That means it is now very topical for people in the GDR and in East Berlin; it is an issue. You have to imagine, even Mr. Honecker had to applaud the words of the chancellor. These are things that I believe will have a great impact on the political landscape in the future.

[ . . . ]

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