Willi Brandt's Ostpolitik

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Describe Brandt’s “Ostpolitik”. Assess the achievements of this policy for the people in East and West Germany as well as in Poland.

“Ostpolitik” was a daring policy led by Willy Brandt during the 1960s. It was a bid to improve relations between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) with the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Soviet Union. It was progressive, successful and ultimately, it was done for the German nation and its citizens. Brandt knew that if changes were going to happen, if the divide between the two separate nations could be lessened; it would have to be done by the German people themselves. Many West Germans disputed over the “Ostpolitik” yet the lasting success of it benefitted many more people. Brandt declared ‘The Germans must be at peace with themselves so that the world can be at peace with Germany.’[1]

It has been said that “Ostpolitik” began when Adenauer visited Moscow in 1955 to sign a treaty that established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Efforts were made too by Kurt Georg Kiesinger, chancellor of the Grand Coalition of the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union and Social Democratic parties from 1966 to 1969, who also had the long-term aim of German reunification. However, their efforts made little ground and their attempts to ease relations with Eastern countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria were prevented by the Soviet Union.

The wheels of the “Ostpolitik” came into motion once more in July 1963 when Willy Brandt, a former Mayor of Berlin and future first socialist Chancellor of the FRG, and Egon Bahr (his “Ostpolitik” advisor), proposed new German and Eastern policies at a conference in Tutzing. They began with recognising that the catastrophe of World War II began with the National Socialists rise to power in 1933, and how Germany should accept their past and so began a period of détente.

The FRG had reconciled with Western Europe in the 1950s and had since then been successfully cooperating fully within Western Europe and with the USA. With this in hand, the FRG turned towards their Eastern neighbours, hoping to ease relations. Yet the party who had power until 1966, the Christian Democrats, not used to cooperating with the communist East, and particularly with the GDR, would not accept the GDR government and behaved as though they were in charge of the whole of Germany. They followed the Hallstein Doctrine to isolate the GDR which meant they would break relations with any country that recognised the GDR as a separate state.

When Brandt came to power, he realised for better relations they would have ‘to work from the existing realities’[2]. They were aware that a reunited Germany was highly unlikely for a long while. The Berlin wall had been erected on August 13th 1961; the Iron Curtain dividing the East and West was now in place. This led to the emergence of “Ostpolitik” again; a controversial policy that had little to no support from the right wing. Several members of the coalition defected and Brandt only narrowly survived a vote of no confidence introduced by the opposition in 1972, just three years after becoming Chancellor. The CDU/CSU found it difficult to accept, let alone agree with the Eastern policies introduced by Brandt’s government. Many West Germans were unhappy with the lack of effort put in by the Western powers to prevent the building of the Wall and rapprochement with the East was high on people’s list of priorities. One of the most striking features of “Ostpolitik” was their desire to prevent yet more division between East and West Germany. An invisible cultural and economic wall was on the verge of spreading the divide just as the Berlin Wall already did. There was now even less of a Zusammengehoerigkeitsgefuehl (sense of belonging together). A modus vivendi was needed to prevent the gap between East and West Germany increasing. The 1960s were a time of change throughout Europe, with radical students more...
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