History 118: Egon Bahr’s Ostpolitik: “Change through rapproachment” (1963)

Egon Bahr is generally credited with the invention of “Ostpolitik”—partial reconcialition with Soviet dominated Eastern Europe. As a prominent member of West German’s Social Democratic Party, he exerted a strong influence on the German Federal Government’s Chancellor Willy Brandt. Here is an excerpt from Bahr’s “Change through rapproachment” speech, given at the Evangelical Academy in Tutzing in July of 1963:

” . . . 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.

The American President has advocated the approach that we should generate as much trade as possible with the Eastern bloc countries without endangering our security. If one applies this approach to Germany, an unusually wide field opens up. It would be good, at the outset, if we could define this field according to our capacities and limits. I think they exceed all known estimates. If it is correct that intensifying East-West trade (with the qualification mentioned above) lies in the West’s interest, and I believe it is correct, then it is also determinately in Germany’s interest. We do not have to be so persnickety, to use that well-known Cologne expression for a familiar attitude. The goal of a policy like this, of course, cannot be to blackmail the Zone, for no Communist regime, and certainly not one as endangered as the one in the Zone, can let its character be changed by economic relations. But, after all, not even the Americans made this demand when they gave loans to Poland, and this is also not the meaning of the American wish for intensified trade with the East. Our concern right now is the people, and the exhaustion of every conceivable and responsible attempt to ease their situation. Material improvement would have to have a relaxing effect in the Zone.”

A fair use excerpt from German History docs.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *