Remarks at the Symposium of the New Policy Forum
Berlin, November 8, 2014
I am pleased to welcome all the participants and to see among them both the veterans of our Forum and some new faces. I expect all of them to make a contribution to serious and constructive dialogue which is so necessary now.
Our conference is being held simultaneously with the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall that divided Germany and Europe. I would like first of all to congratulate the Germans, and all of us, on the anniversary of this truly historic event.
Historic shifts that seem unexpected to contemporaries may later appear inevitable, preordained. But let us recall the time when it was all happening and how tumultuous and urgent the process of change was. Its outcome – the peaceful unification of Germany – was possible only because it had been prepared by great changes in international politics and in the minds of people.
Those changes were triggered by Perestroika in the Soviet Union. Having embarked on the course of reforms, glasnost and freedom, we could not deny that same path to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. We rejected ‘the Brezhnev doctrine’, recognized the independence of those states and their responsibility to their own peoples. I said as much to their leaders during our very first meeting in Moscow.
When, under the influence of changes in the Soviet Union, internal political processes gained momentum in neighboring countries, and the citizens of the GDR demanded reforms and, soon afterwards, unification, the leadership of the USSR was faced with the need to make difficult choices.
Not just in our country, but in many European countries as well, doubts and apprehensions were being raised by the process of unification. One could understand the doubts of Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand and other leaders. After all, the tragedy of the Second World War was still fresh in memory. There were other reasons, too, for their wariness.
Even more, the people of our country, which suffered the most from Hitler’s aggression, had reasons for concern.
Meanwhile, the events were unfolding with increasing speed, with the people being the main actor – the people who demanded change and declared their intention to live in a united country: “We are one nation’.
During a meeting of the Soviet leadership in January 1990 we discussed the evolving situation and came to the unanimous conclusion that the Soviet Union should not stand in the way of unification – but that it must happen in a way that would be in the interests of the whole of Europe and of our country as well as the Germans themselves.
If we had evaded a realistic and responsible assessment or taken a different decision, the events could have taken a very different, dramatic turn. And the use of force could have led to bloodshed on a large scale.
We took the path that required political decisions and active diplomacy. In order to address the external aspects of German unification, the 2+4 mechanism was created. The most difficult issue was the problem of the united Germany’s membership in NATO.
I was in favor of a neutral Germany. President Bush objected: Why? Are you afraid of the Germans? So they must be included, ‘anchored’ in NATO. I replied: It looks like it’s you who are afraid of them.
We discussed various possibilities. Eventually, it was agreed that the united Germany would decide for itself as to its membership in the alliance but, in the process, the security interests of the USSR must be taken into account.