EAST BERLIN — EAST Germany's new prime minister not only wants to turn his country on its head, but also to radically change its relationship with its neighbor, West Germany. ``The government ... is ready to extend full cooperation to [West Germany] and raise it to a new level,'' Prime Minister Hans Modrow told the People's Chamber (parliament) Friday. In the lengthy address, Mr. Modrow also proposed sweeping reform and a slimmed-down, multiparty Cabinet, which the 500-member chamber approved.
Both countries have much to gain from a new relationship, says Gerhard Basler, a professor at the Institute for International Politics and Economics in East Berlin.
The German Democratic Republic (East Germany or the GDR) needs West German investment, capital, and cooperation in all areas, including its polluted environment. But it needs ``the assurance that West Germany will help us ... without taking advantage of us,'' Professor Basler says. (East Germans are concerned that ``help'' really means West German firms buying up everything they can.)
Bonn, on the other hand, will get ``a GDR with a human touch; a country it can trust and with which it shares common values,'' says Basler. ``I think this, really, is what they've always wanted,'' he says, though reunification is certainly an issue that won't go away.
Bonn is sending an emissary to East Berlin today to discuss the reforms and lay the groundwork for a meeting between Egon Krenz and Helmut Kohl, the East and West German leaders.
In his address, Modrow spun his Communist Party 180 degrees when he said that ``the GDR is open to suggestions from capitalist partners, which until now ... fell on deaf ears.'' He said joint ventures, investment partnerships, and transfer of profits - conditions that West Germany has long sought - were no longer ``foreign words'' to the GDR.
An urgent problem that involves both countries is the East German currency.
East German marks are not officially convertible - which makes it difficult for the millions of consumer-hungry East Germans visiting West Germany to buy anything. Although the new visitors receive a one-time annual ``greeting'' of 100 DM from West Germany, it's already apparent that they are taking their savings out of East Germany (which is illegal) and bringing them to informal ``converting stations'' across the border.
While 10 days ago they were able to get one West German mark for every 10 East German marks, in some places in West Berlin this weekend, they needed 20 East German marks to buy that one West German mark. This lightning-quick devaluing, plus the threat of a drain of East German savings, is exactly what the new government fears.
Over the weekend, the finance minister in East Berlin announced that a currency plan would soon be presented to the new Cabinet, but he gave no details. Western press reports suggest that Bonn is willing to subsidize a 1 to 5 exchange rate - good only between the two Germanys and as an interim measure to full convertibility.
But a senior Bonn official, who has been present at nearly all meetings on East German policy, calls this plan ``speculation and rumor'' and said that monetary policy is ``entirely a question for the GDR to decide.'' When asked why Bonn is not interested in supporting some kind of subsidized exchange rate, however, the official said: ``We would be interested, provided the GDR introduces substantial political and economic reform.''
If Modrow's speech is any indication, East Germany looks well on the way to such a change. ``Anyone who doesn't see the opening of the border as irrefutable proof of the irreversible change of policy and life in the socialist GDR is either blind or malicious,'' he said.
Modrow clearly wants a break with the past and supported a parliamentary investigation of abuse of power by the former government. He emphasized pushing economic and political decisionmaking to the local level, and the need for private business and price and subsidy reform. He called for a ``better socialism'' that encourages individuality. In the legal area, he supported new election and media laws and the guarantee of basic rights. The government should serve the people and is subject to parliament, he said.
In building a new Cabinet, Modrow reduced the number of ministers from 45 to 28 including himself, 11 of whom are not Communist Party members. The Communist Party, however, kept the most important Cabinet posts (economics, foreign policy, defense, and interior, for instance).
The parliament agreed to set up a committee to review the Constitution, which ensures the leading role for the Communist Party. It also approved the elimination of the Ministry for State Security, which controlled the secret police. How significant this is remains to be seen. The ministry was replaced by an office for national security headed by Wolfgang Schwanitz, who has served in state security since 1951.
Manfred Gerlach, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, told parliament, ``In many places, now as before, citizens have well-founded fears because notes are taken, questions are asked, and they are told to denounce others. That must change as soon as tomorrow - better yet, today.''
Modrow reiterated East Germany's commitment to the Warsaw Pact and close ties to the Soviet Union. At the same time, he said, the GDR ``is for the overcoming of the division of Europe.'' In his opinion, that means stable relations between the two Germanys and the willingness to drop the ``dangerous speculation'' about reunification.