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German Reunification and the New Europe

PARIS – I began writing this column shortly after a remarkable anniversary. October 3, 1990, was the effective date for the implementation of a stunning decision taken barely a month earlier. On August 23, East Germany’s House of Representatives, the Volkskammer, voted for unilateral adherence by the East German Länder to West Germany’s Constitution. Article 23 of the West German Basic Law permitted this, but neither West Germany’s government nor its Parliament had been consulted!

Reunification terms were subsequently defined in a Treaty signed in Berlin on August 31, 1990, and ratified by both the East and West German parliaments on September 20. The Peace Treaty between the two German states and the four victorious Allies was signed in Moscow on the same day, and reunification was officially proclaimed on October 3.

These events, accomplished by three actors, shook the world – and changed it forever. The first actor was Mikhail Gorbachev, who approved the act – the opening of the border between Austria and Hungary – that triggered the chain of events leading to reunification. And it was Gorbachev who proclaimed that Soviet forces would not intervene to support troubled communist regimes against the will of their people – a declaration aimed directly at East Germany.

The second key figure was West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who rushed into the opened breach, overriding his Allies’ caution, while the third actor was the East German people, who rushed into the streets, regardless of the risks, to demonstrate and push reunification forward.