Honecker's homecoming

AT long last, East German leader Erich Honecker is to visit West Germany - to meet with his counterparts in Bonn, to make a pilgrimage to Karl Marx's birthplace in Trier, and to see his birthplace in Wiebelskirchen, in the Saarland, again. Mr. Honecker's September visit, the first ever by an East German head of state, comes at a time of general warming between the two states of the divided people. The East Berlin regime has increased considerably the number of East Germans allowed to visit the West - and this increase has proved to be Honecker's ticket to Bonn.

His visit will mark Bonn's final de facto acceptance of East Germany as a sovereign state, despite the legalistic subtleties of inter-German relations.

All this comes at a time when the Soviet Union is making much ado about its new policy of glasnost, or openness, and encouraging a general loosening up within the East bloc. The Soviets have evidently given their blessing to Honecker's trip - despite his general non-enthusiasm for glasnost.

That Honecker should be the one to open this new chapter in East-West ties is ironic, since he played such a decisive role earlier: He was the man in charge on ``barbed-wire Sunday,'' Aug. 13, 1961, when the Berlin Wall went up, walling in the residents of the Soviet sector of the city and stanching the flow of refugees to the West. He needed Soviet permission for that, too.

A Honecker visit to the West had been planned in 1984, but the Soviet leadership - at that point, Chernenko & Co. - withdrew its blessing at the last minute and the trip was canceled. More recently, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was expected to follow the example of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt and travel to East Germany. But the welcome mat was withdrawn after he made an ill-considered reference to ``concentration camps'' in East Germany.

Thus, Honecker's visit should be a much-needed foreign-policy victory for Kohl. And that it is occurring with the conservatives in power in Bonn shows, if proof be needed, that Ostpolitik is no longer the property of the Social Democrats but has been adopted across the political spectrum.

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