German leaders agree to disagree. Honecker visit stabilizes East-West German compromise
West Germans welcomed the East German easing of travel restrictions announced yesterday and the reported end to the shoot-to-kill order for East German border guards - and in general drew a positive balance of the 15-year d'etente between the two Germanies. East Germans welcomed West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's acceptance of an invitation to visit East Germany, as well as the establishment of a joint economic commission to look at possible West German funding of projects in East Germany. And the East Germans, too, drew a positive balance of bilateral d'etente.Skip to next paragraph
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Both sides also approved the three agreements on the environment, radiation, and science and technology that were signed on the second day of the historic maiden visit by an East German head of state to West Germany.
Bonn was especially gratified that, after 14 years of deadlock over inclusion of West Berlin in the science and technology agreement, West Berliners may now participate in these exchanges on the West German side.
Apart from one brief answer to a question as he got into his car, Erich Honecker, head of state and of the East German Socialist Unity (Communist) Party, shunned reporters on his second and last day in Bonn, as he had on his first.
His press spokesman, however, made known Mr. Honecker's satisfaction with the course of the visit. And so did the exhaustive coverage of the visit in the East German news media: Almost every newspaper there devoted its first four pages to this theme Tuesday.
For the West Germans, Chancellery Chief of Staff Wolfgang Sch"auble told reporters that, while both sides maintained their differing standpoints, the visit demonstrated a mutual desire for good will.
Indeed, they did make their contradictory positions clear. In his toast at dinner Monday, Dr. Kohl talked of German unity in the abstract and said that Germans are ``suffering from separation.'' Honecker retorted, departing from his prepared text, that the two countries' political-economic systems are like ``fire and water'' and cannot mix.
Nonetheless, Honecker's visit confirms and stabilizes the compromise that has evolved between these differing systems. The arrangement could be summarized as a trade-off of West German money for East German relaxation of restrictions on contacts between East and West Germans. The deal will allow 1 million East Germans under retirement age to visit West Germany this year, along with more than 2 million pensioners. The arrangements over the past 15 years have helped give East Germany the most successful economy in the Soviet bloc.
West German financial relief for East Germany includes ``swing credits'' to finance trade, duty-free East German imports into the European Community, the ransom regularly paid by Bonn for the release of political prisoners and other East German emigrants, healthy fees charged to Western visitors to East Berlin and East Germany, and nearly $555 million a year that Bonn pays East Berlin for transit fees, street-use fees, and postal payments.
If the economic commission approves financing of a tourist hotel in East Berlin, electrification of East German rail lines between West Berlin and West Germany, or any other projects under discussion, this would add to the kitty.
The plan announced Tuesday to connect West Berlin with the West German electricity grid and share the power in winter with East Germany also should bring some money into East German coffers.
West German money to East Germans includes as well the $56 that Bonn gives each East German visitor to West Germany - recently raised from the previous $33 per visitor per year.
For its money West Germany has received increased human contacts between East and West Germans. In the joint communiqu'e released yesterday, East Germany promised further relaxation.
Furthermore, if the gossip newspaper Bild is right - the paper has in the past often received exclusive leaks from the Soviet bloc - then East German border guards will no longer shoot to kill East Germans attempting to flee the country, unless those would-be escapees are themselves border guards.
At his press conference West Germany's Mr. Sch"auble would only say cautiously that both sides share the wish that shootings not take place at the German-German border.