A leading Social Democrat has poked the sacred cow of German reunification -- and some conservatives are responding with cries of ``treason.'' J"urgen Schmude, deputy parliamentary opposition leader, set off the furor by suggesting last weekend that West Germany amend the preamble to the Constitution. The preamble -- written in the 1940s, when reunification was a near-term expectation -- specifies: ``The entire German people are called upon to achieve in free self-determination the unity and freedom of Germany.''
Dr. Schmude asked if it wasn't time to draw conclusions from the history of the past 40 years, and questioned whether Bonn's main goal should really be political restoration of a united German state.
Christian Democratic MP J"urgen Todenh"ofer branded the remarks as ``treason.'' Christian Democratic Chancellor Helmut Kohl asserted that the aim of reunification cannot be abandoned.
Criticism also arose from other conservatives, from Free Democratic Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and even Schmude's Social Democratic colleagues. The only full support came from the countercultural Greens party.
Schmude retreated somewhat, saying that he spoke only for himself, and that he still holds the idea of a single German nation as the most important goal. But he stuck to his original point: that other solutions are possible -- such as two German states under a common European roof or East-West German contacts comparable to West German-Austrian contacts.
All this is heresy to West German conservatives. In the 1970s the conservatives bitterly fought Bonn's d'etente agreements with the Soviet Union, Poland, and East Germany. And after the conservatives came to power in 1982 and basically continued d'etente, the conservatives' own right wing objected. In particular, the group of postwar refugees from former German lands to the east stresses that Germany retains a legal claim to these lands pending a peace treaty ending World War II.
The conservatives have seized on Schmude's comments as proof of their allegation that the Social Democrats are anti-American and pro-Soviet. But their real target is former Chancellor Willy Brandt, the Social Democrat who was the original architect of d'etente. Mr. Brandt is to visit Moscow next week and is expected to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
East German news media joined the controversy by repeating the position that Bonn must fully recognize the separate existence of East Germany. East Berlin is in a holding pattern in its relations with Bonn. It is much more restrained than Moscow in charging West Germany with ``revanchism,'' or a desire to regain lost German territory to the east.
In the uncertain first few months of new Kremlin leadership, however, East Berlin is moving cautiously in warming up relations with Bonn. East German parliamentary president Horst Sindermann just canceled a visit to Bonn, apparently because West German parliamentary president Philipp Jenninger would not receive him in the Bundestag office.