The East German Vote

ONCE again German events cause surprise. That's generally been the West's reaction to the resounding victory of the conservative Christian Democrats in the East German (GDR) elections Sunday. Only seven weeks ago the Social Democrats were expected to win in a landslide. Grandfather-figure Willy Brandt was out campaigning for them. Apparently, however, East Germans liked better the meat-and-potatoes promises of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, head of the West German Christian Democrats. Mr. Kohl played the issues well. He told East Germans, some of whom have lost their personal savings twice in 40 years, he was considering a one-for-one currency exchange.

It is too early to say, as many this week have, that the elections are a rejection of East German socialism. Socialist economics may have been rejected. But many in the GDR hope to retain socialist gains in the area of child care, schooling, and women's equality.

The sobering side of the conservative victory in East Germany is that it pushes even faster the reunification process. Kohl may push for an all-German national election next December, rather than a West German one. Either way, the unfolding domestic politics in the Germanys will play an even more important and immediate role in shaping such critical outcomes as the place of Germany in NATO, and the economic future of Europe, and thus the rest of the world.

Will the Social Democrats in West Germany headed by Oskar Lafontaine opt more for German neutrality and a removal of NATO troops? Will Kohl stick closer to NATO and ``European unity''? The shaping of German public opinion on these questions now bears close watching.

The new Berlin government (which may become a coalition) headed by Lothar de Maiziere must now sit down with Bonn. They must work out the first round of the ``two'' side of the ``two-plus-four'' reunification equation. The menu is full: currency transfer timetables, social security, borders, disposal of the East German army. What's more important is the tone and direction of Germany's role in the Helsinki process, NATO, and the EC.

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