On the Death of Hans-Dietrich Genscher: History As a Process

Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Hans-Dietrich Genscher had a major political goal: German unification. And he achieved his objective. This, and the way in which he did it, are the special and outstanding accomplishments of the politician and the man. He persistently followed his aims in spite of resistance. He did not understand politics as simply negotiating in politically opportune situations but rather as a whole process – a process with a goal at the end. And he made history – history as a process.

Three things were characteristic of his work: he inextricably connected German unity with European unification as he believed that German unity could only succeed in the peaceful, harmonious atmosphere of European political and social co-operation. He also saw the future of a reunified Germany as once again in a united Europe. In addition, Genscher’s work was characterized by his personality and his approach. He carefully thought through his objectives and then consistently pursued them, even when developments seemed to take a completely different direction. He knew that he could prevail against resistance and managed to stick to his aims and this was a further aspect of his work. He had a communicative approach, respected others and their opinions and cultivated the art of not merely trying to persuade other people, but rather to convince them. He relied on the intelligence of his colleagues, staff, and fellow human beings and in doing so, achieved both respect and recognition. He had his own style, a style that was often nicknamed “Genscherism” and which was not always free from controversy. Nevertheless, he was successful.

In 1970, Genscher formulated a still apparently illusionary goal for the first time as Minister: “In connection with today’s signing of the Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany has the honour to state that this agreement is not contrary to the political objective of the Federal Republic of Germany to work towards a state of peace in Europe in which the German people freely regain their unity through self- determination”. This letter on German unity from the Federal Government, was presented to the Soviet Government on the occasion of the signing of the Moscow Treaty on August 12, 1970 as a prerequisite for the signing of the basic treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic and established the basis for a new policy of rapprochement between the two German states. With this letter, the author (the former Interior and Constitution Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher) formulated the first step on the path to a destination whose first important stage was achieved with the fall of the wall on November 9, 1989 and which would finally be reached on October 3, 1990: the free and orderly reunification of Germany in a united Europe and the securing of European peace.

The most important stages of Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s term of office which define his political path and objectives can be described as follows: when Genscher took office in 1974, he was faced not only with the East-West conflict but also with the North-South conflict which was a challenge for the future strategic development of foreign policy, with all its implications. Here a strategy should contribute to long-term stability and security: instead of national unilateralism, a path to multilateralism was found and trodden in order to unite as many actors as possible in a common purpose. The establishment of the implementation of human rights is of particular importance here, also for the path subsequently taken towards the end of the cold war. A milestone for this strategy was the Helsinki Final Act which became the basis of Genscher’s liberal foreign policy over the following years.

The discussion on the NATO bilateral agreement marked another fixed point in Genscher’s political agenda. By combining defense and detente with regional and international security policy, a difficult but crucial step in domestic and foreign policy leading to an atmosphere of international understanding was achieved while at the same time building trust among allied partners and, not least, their own populations. Genscher also remained faithful to the principle of “cooperation, not confrontation” in subsequent years. Thus for example, Genscher’s European policy always utilized opportunities to harmonize his political aims with political possibilities and necessities and thus to work out a mutually acceptable solution for all participating states. The new thinking in the East in the early 1980s and the inauguration of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the CPSU led to recognition of Genscher as a starting point for the end of the East-West conflict and the opportunity was taken to accomplish the CPSU’s foreign policy. That he closely associated reunification with European integration, can be seen in the example of his commitment to the Maastricht Treaty.

Genscher’s work is determined by its liberal, value-oriented attitude, which runs like a thread through his time in office: freedom, security and democratic self-determination were the values in which he engaged as a liberal politician and with which he identified himself as a human being. He had the opportunity and the prowess to put his personal and political ideas on liberal policies into practice and he used this chance responsibly and in partnership with both European States and those further afield. He acted on the motto: Germany can only do well if other States do well. Thus he was able to achieve German foreign policy goals in conjunction with other nations and ultimately, realize the goal of reunification in peace and freedom.

This article was originally published at www.freiheit.org