Bonn Looks to East Germany for Solution

THE moment of reckoning - one of them at least - has come to East Germany. About 340 of its citizens are camping out in West German embassies and a mission in Eastern Europe, seeking safe passage to the West. A virtual stream of vacationing East Germans flows through a ``hole'' in the Hungarian-Austrian border.

The resolution of this situation ``lies exclusively'' with the East German leadership, said West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on Tuesday.

None of the choices before the East German leaders looks very palatable to them:

Saying no. East Berlin could refuse the demands of its citizens holed up in the embassies. It could also reverse course and stop granting exit visas (see chart). But this would increase tension at home and could jeopardize West German aid.

Chancellor Kohl said this week that Bonn is willing to continue economic aid to East Germany, but ties it closely to humanitarian issues.

Saying yes. In the past, East Germans who sought refuge in the West German mission in East Berlin returned home after receiving East German assurances that they wouldn't be jailed and that their exit applications would get quick attention. Usually they were in the West within weeks.

The view from East Berlin, however, is that if it gives in now, this will only encourage more people to leave. Analysts here seem to feel that the citizens in the embassies will probably be allowed to go to West Germany, but there will subsequently be a slowdown on the granting of exit visas.

Reforming. Economic and political reform is championed by Bonn, because it gets at the root of the problem. But East Germany's leader, Erich Honecker, is digging in his heels. With a strong economy compared to other Warsaw Pact states, there's no need for reform, he argues. The country also holds onto its socialist identity with a vengeance, chiefly because it is its very reason for being.

Contact between Bonn and East Berlin has been intensified over the last week, but as of writing, no solutions were in sight.

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