Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti loosed the cat among the West German pigeons when he decried ''pan-Germanism'' over the weekend and said that Germany should not be reunited.
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl retorted immediately that Andreotti's remarks astonished him and were ''absolutely ununderstandable.''
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher called in the Italian ambassador twice within 48 hours and told him on Sept. 16 that Andreotti's comments were ''a serious insult'' to the West Germans. The Bonn government, he said, was ''especially disappointed'' at hearing such words from a close ally.
The Polish media seized on Andreotti's statement - made in a Communist-sponsored forum in Italy - as support for their charges of West German ''revanchism,'' or attempts to get back former German territories to the East lost by Hitler in World War II. One Soviet paper, Soviet Russia, in continuing the Soviet campaign against ''revanchism,'' meanwhile made one of its stongest attacks on Dr. Kohl and President Reagan. It accused both men of adopting Hitler's ''solutions and methods'' in mounting an anticommunist crusade.
The most surprising thing was the reaction of the major Italian newspapers. All backed the West Germans and criticized Andreotti - an unthinkable response even a few years ago.
La Repubblica called the West German reaction ''more than justified'' and urged the Italian government to apologize to Bonn. The paper reproached Andreotti for his vagueness and asked rhetorically what ''pan-Germanism'' had to do with Bonn's and East Berlin's policy of improving relations between East and West Germany.
In his reprimand to the Italian ambassador Sunday, Foreign Minister Genscher reminded Rome that the Italian government had officially backed the goal of eventual German reunification numerous times. The most recent occasion, he noted , was the May 31 statement of NATO foreign ministers saying, ''The alliance supports the goal of West Germany to work toward a state of peace in Europe in which the German people regains its unity through free self-determination.''