World leaders recall the fall of the Berlin Wall
Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush, and Francois Mitterrand give their account of 1989.
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But I can tell you those questions cannot even be compared with the problems the Soviet leadership was facing given our enormous sacrifices during the war. So, for us, taking the decision on German unification was not easy. We had to go a very long way. We thought the process would take a long time and would be coordinated with the building of new European institutions under the umbrella not of the Americans, but of a European process.Skip to next paragraph
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Like Chancellor Kohl, we thought that initially there would be some kind of association of German states, a confederation perhaps.
Then history began to speak when the masses created a new reality more rapidly than any of us were prepared for. Suddenly all these questions were put in a new frame.
We had ended the Cold War and said, as George Bush and I did in Malta, that we would no longer regard each other as enemies. We had come a long way in opening freedom in our country. We dismantled the totalitarian system, launched perestroika in the Soviet Union and reforms in Eastern Europe. The entire world had moved into a new stage of development.
Was all this to be sacrificed by trying to stop what the Germans themselves wanted by moving in troops? No. Only the political process was available to us. And the political process is constrained by the realities of what the people want. We had to recognize the free expression of the Germans.
President Bush was right about Germany. The Germans had accepted democratic values. They had behaved responsibly. They had recognized their guilt. They had apologized for that past, and that was very important.
So as difficult as it was, it was inevitable that the Soviet leadership took decisions consistent with this reality.
Bush: Our concern was not simply NATO. We were very concerned about the question of eastern borders. I personally worked with Chancellor Kohl and the Polish leaders on this. The Poles wanted a treaty which Chancellor Kohl wasn't prepared to agree to until the unified Congress of the Bundestag could vote on it.
Kohl came out with his 10-point plan on November 28, and you and I met on December 2 in Malta. If I am not mistaken, you told me then that whatever the Germans themselves wanted to do – self-determination – was OK with the Soviet Union. That relieved our concerns about the use of force.
The only differences we had on German unification, I readily confess, were with Margaret.
Gorbachev: Yes, indeed I said that to you at Malta. I said the same thing to Chancellor Kohl a little while later, in January and February. But, still, my position was that German unification should be a protracted process. At Camp David in 1990, we also pressed the Soviet view that a united Germany should remain neutral between the pacts. And I saw, at the Vienna discussions, that (Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard) Shevardnadze was alone on the neutrality position.
So, we agreed there at Camp David that we would each proclaim what we thought, but that it was for the German people to decide. The united Germany decided that it wanted to be a member of NATO, and I had to accept that given reality.
Thatcher: There had obviously been some discussions between us, and I think a number of people shared my fear that there is something in the character of the German people which led to things which should never have happened. To this day, I cannot understand why so many Germans, why these remarkable people who are so highly intellectual – their science is marvelous, their music is wonderful, they have a high degree of efficiency in industry – let Hitler do what he did.