East-West German detente endures -- despite the occupation of Afghanistan, and despite anxieties over Poland. True, the Afghan invasion and the tense Polish strikes were among the reasons behind three postponements of the long- planned summit between the two Germanys.
But this week, here at the leipzig trade fair, the East Germans have been at pains to demonstrate that East-West German detente is still very much alive.
On the opening day of the fair Aug. 31, state and party chief Erich Honecker visited the stand of the West German chemical firm Hoechst for a demonstrative 24 minutes and stressed that the summit had been postponed only because of events in Poland. East Germany is still interested in further normalization with West Germany and in "new horizons in cooperation." Mr. Honecker said. Unusually, he even joked with a West German reporter who was trailing him.
The eagerness of both East and West Germany to counter any impression that their detente is in trouble arises from the frequency of their summit's postponement. This is now the third time in a little over a year that an official summit had to be dropped because of outside events. The last time occurred early this year, when East Berlin begged off the planned summit in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The two leaders did meet informally in Belgrade this year at Marshal Josip Broz Tito's funeral.
This time the planned Aug. 27-29 summit was put off by Bonn, largely because of the uncertain course of the Polish workers' strikes and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's reluctance to seem to condone any possible Soviet or Warsaw Pact intervention in Poland. East Berlin, too, seemed glad not to have Mr. Schmidt visit just now because of possible misinterpretation of any display of East German public affection for the West German leader.
Any such welcome -- like the chanting of "Willy-Willy" that greeted West German Chancellor Willy Brandt at the first East- West German summit in East Germany a decade ago -- could have been viewed by the West or by the Soviet Union as a spilling over of the Polish workers' unrest into East Ger- many.
West German professional observers -- and presumably also East German policymakers -- believe that the Polish workers' economic and especially political demands arouse little sympathy among East German workers. But an East Berlin that has delicately balanced its own opening to the West does not care to risk a Western or a Soviet misunderstanding on this score.
At the last minute, therefore, the East German government rescinded its previous permission for Schmidt to top off his summit talks in a sequestered hunting lodge with the equivalent of a public appearance in the Baltic city of Rostock. It was the specific restriction -- besides the tense situation in Poland -- that Schmidt found unacceptable.
In other preparations the East Germans had been fairly forthcoming. All Western journalists who applied to cover the summit -- some 500 -- were swiftly given visas. Even Der Spiegel, a magazine the East Germans have refused accreditation for the past two years in unhappiness over the newsweekly's publication of an alleged memo of East German party dissidents -- was allowed representation. Press visas were valid for travel throughout the country -- and they were honored even after the summit was cancelled.
On formal humanitarian issues East Berlin is not ready to lower the (currently retirement) age of East German citizens permitted to travel to the West. But behind the scenes East Berlin has been willing to release a few thousand political prisoners annually to West Germany in return for commodity supplies, and to let an annual 5,000 young East Germans go to West Germany for family reunification.
The popularity of continued East-West German detente in West Germany can be gauged by the fact that even conservative chancellor candidate Franz Josef Strauss has jumped onto the summitry bandwagon. In the wake of the Polish settlement, he told an interviewer that if he is elected in October he, too, would be ready to meet with Honecker. Until now Strauss has vocally opposed an East-West German summit at this time.
Even pending the rescheduling of a summit meeting, East-West German trade continues to flourish. It rose 34 percent in the first six months of 1980 to what should be a year's volume of over 11 billion deutsche marks ($6.5 billion). Unusually, in the first half year East Germany ran a 434 million deutsch mark ($ 255 million) surplus, largely from the sale of gasoline and heating oil to West Berlin. The total volume is only one-sixth of West German-Dutch trade, but it is still large.
West German companies are expecting to get major East German plant orders next year, at the beginning of the new five-year plan.