(This story was originally published on 3 October 2018 and is being republished on the anniversary of the German reunification.)
It has been 28 years since a forcibly divided Germany, serving penance for its role in the Second World War, finally regained its honour by becoming one again.
On 3 October 1990, the last of the divide between the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was wiped away. It went down in the annals of history as “The Day of German Reunification”.
But in truth, the decision to unify the two Germanys – with the west under the affluent and democratic domain of the powerful Britain-United States-France alliance and the eastern side, under the thumb of the Soviet Union that was experiencing cracks of its own – was a long time coming.
Helmut Kohl & Public Demonstrations
Following the manipulation of local elections in East Germany in 1989, East Germans began to amplify their protests, mostly peaceful, demanding for the two Germanys to unite.
Facing pressure, by 9 November 1989, the border between the two was opened.
The architect behind the German reunification was Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor from 1992-1998. As shown in this documentary by DW, by the autumn of 1989, Kohl had understood that it was time for a united Germany to reclaim its lost glory – taken from them by the victorious allied forces in the Second World War – and to be considered an important nation in Europe.
And the only way to do this would be to convince the four superpowers – Britain, US, France and Soviet Union – that this step would be beneficial to everyone.
However, not everyone was convinced. While the Soviet Union, then under the command of Mikhail Gorbachev, agreed, and President George Bush (Senior) of the United States seemed quite open to the idea, the problem lay with Britain and France.
Britain Viewed Unification as a Threat
At this point in time, the prime minister of Britain was Margaret Thatcher – nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’ for her unbending opinion on most matters.
As stated in the documentary, Thatcher was positively repulsed by the idea of a German reunification, and had even attempted to dissuade Gorbachev from supporting it, asking him to do “whatever necessary to stop it”. This included him asking the Soviet troops, that were stationed in East Germany, to remain.
Thatcher had her reasons. She had grown up in a Europe which witnessed the rise of Nazism. She said the Germans were trying to form a hegemony.
While France too was opposed to the idea of German reunification, François Mitterrand, a representative of the French President, understood that it was inevitable and told Kohl that France would support it, as long as it meant that Europe was given a bigger role to play in world politics.
Two Plus Four Agreement
On 25 November 1989, Kohl and Erich Honecker, the leader of East Germany, agreed that the two Germanys needed to be reunited by being "bound by a treaty".
Hence, the two-plus-four agreement was brought to life. This was also known as the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany.
According to this, a negotiation had to be signed between the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and the four powers – the United Kingdom, the US, France and the Soviet Union – where the four would all renounce all the rights they held in Germany, allowing a United Germany to become fully sovereign the following year, in 1990.
Before the final treaty was signed, four meetings were held between the concerned parties to flesh out the details. The questions raised by the representatives of both Germanys included:
- Would we get full sovereignty back?
- Would a unified Germany be a member of NATO?
- Would there be a withdrawal of Soviet troops from Germany?
German Unification on 3 October 1990
By late summer 1990, the only concern that remained for Germany was Poland. Poland had been waiting since the Second World War to recognise its western border (and hence, independence from Germany).
The UK, the US, France and the Soviet Union all told Germany that they would only give their final support for German reunification if it recognised the border. Germany had little choice.
The Unification treaty was finalised after four months, and two states, two societies and two armies were now to become one country.
The treaty was signed in Moscow. Following this, Kohl returned to a united Germany on 3 October 1990 – 45 years after the end of the Second World War.
Fun fact: The process to bring about German reunification was completed in a short span of eleven months!