Much is written and talked about in the Western media about the division of Germany in the decades after the Second World War, but very little about who was responsible for this in the first place, and for perpetuating it.
The fact is that it was the four allies of World War II, USA, USSR, UK and France who divided Germany between them, each having zones of occupation, for 4 years.
Then, in 1949, the three Western zones were allowed to declare themselves the Federal Republic of Germany, thus perpetuating the division, and leading to the Soviet zone declaring itself the German Democratic Republic, leaving Berlin asÂ a divided city in the heart of the former Soviet zone. East Berlin became the Capital of the GDR, while the three Western zones of Berlin just became a capitalist enclave 100 miles inside East Germany.
Even then all was not lost for those who hoped for a united Germany, for in 1952 the USSR offered to allow this if the united Germany remained neutral. This offer was made when Stalin was still in power, and the formula was very similar to that offered to Austria two years after Stalin’s death. In 1955 Soviet occupation troops marched out of Vienna, and Austria became a neutral country in the heart of Europe. Germany lost that chance when the Western powers rejected the Soviet offer of 1952. The division was sealed as the Federal Republic was in the Western NATO military alliance and the Democratic Republic was in the Eastern Warsaw Pact military alliance.
Western money was poured into the Federal Republic and West Berlin, whilst the GDR had to pay huge reparation fees to the Soviet Union for the damage the whole of Germany caused in the Second World War. Is it any wonder so many GDR citizens got jobs in affluent West Berlin while living in subsidized accommodation in East Berlin? Or that many GDR professionals and others moved permanently to West Berlin or the Federal Republic, bolstered by Marshall Aid and other Western assistance?
Even so the GDR struggled on, and eventually in 1961 erectedÂ border installations to seal off ‘the thorn in the flesh of the GDR’ (West Berlin) from the surrounding territory of East Germany. This meant East Berliners could no longer get the best of both worlds, and neither could West Berliners who had been stripping East Berlin shops of subsidized basic foodstuffs, etc.
It also, of course, caused the division of families and friends, since the opportunity to reunite Germany (and Berlin) as a neutral country like Austria had been rejected by the West 9 years earlier. However GDR pensioners could pay visits to the West, and on special days later on West Berliners were allowed to visit friends and relatives in the GDR capital.
However, even when the Wall eventually was torn down in 1989, Western leaders like Margaret Thatcher were against German reunification, as was the French government.
Many former GDR citizens also now regret being annexed by the Federal Republic with all the problems it brought unknown in the GDR before reunification. Full employment, guaranteed pensions/security in old age, subsidized public services, cheap rents – all the achievements of 40 years of Socialism lost overnight. Many had to flee West to find jobs even after the country was reunited.
Nor is Germany an exception. The division of Cyprus is blamed on Turkey, but once again it was the West which was largely responsible. USA and UK stood by and watched as a fascist junta in Athens invaded Cyprus in July 1974, tried to kill its President and installed a puppet ruler, Nicos Sampson, with the objective of driving out the Turkish-Cypriot citizens (or killing them) and annexing the whole island to Greece, a policy known as ‘Enosis’ or ‘union with Greece’.
Britain with thousands of troops permanently stationed on the island in two huge areas of occupation (called Sovereign Bases) refused to fulfil its obligations under the 1960 Independence Agreement and overthrow the Sampson coup. Turkey, therefore, felt it had no other option but to act to create a safe zone in the North for Turkish-Cypriots.
Once again the opportunity to reunite the island came in the form of the Kofi Annan plan in the early 21st Century, after decades ot unproductive talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. The Turkish Cypriots accepted the Annan plan for reunification, but the Greek Cypriots rejected it. Although the border has since been opened, Cyprus remains divided, with the North still unrecognized by any country but Turkey, while the Southern Greek-Cypriot republic, which rejected reunification, is rewarded with EU membership.
One could add to this list of divided countries Ireland, Vietnam (since reunited), the Indian sub-continent and Palestine/Israel, all the divisions caused by Western powers drawing lines on maps or, in the case of South Vietnam, trying to prevent it joining North Vietnam under Ho Chi-Minh. Free elections were canceled and a puppet dictator installed by the Americans in South Vietnam to prevent this, then a disastrous war followed.
Korea being an exception perhaps, divided since the undeclared peace stalemate of the early 1950s and living in tension between the two sides ever since. North Korea has made proposals for reunification, but these have never been taken seriously. The pariah state therefore closes in on itself, perhaps one of the most secretive and horrific nominally ‘Socialist’ or ‘Communist’ states since the murderous Pol Pot regiime in Kampuchea/Cambodia.
So next time you read about, or see a film about, the problems caused by the division ofÂ Germany, remember the West and USSR divided the country, the Soviet Union proposed reunification in 1952 and guaranteed neutrality, rejected by the West and therefore theyÂ continued the division of Germany for the next 37 years. JFK’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech of crocodile tears sounds very hollow when you know the true history of post-War Germany.
I too was against the annexation of the GDR by the Federal Republic after the fall of the Wall. I still feel this was a unique chance to democratize the first Socialist state on German soil, i.e. the GDR, and build on the considerable achievements of 40 years of Socialism. The GDR, despite all the difficulties, was one of the world’s leading industrial nations. Germans, being hard-working and efficient, made the GDR one of the most successful of the Socialist countries, along with Yugoslavia.
In 1989 there was a unique opportunity to have two friendly German republics existing side-by-side, with free movement between the two. Financial measures could have been introduced in Berlin to allow this free movement and prevent the scams which were bleeding the GDR dry.
I would have liked to have seen Germany, and indeed Europe, united under a genuine democratic Socialist government eventually.
The good news is that we now have the European Union, which although capitalist, has the potential to unite Europe in a federal state eventually with a single currency. This should enable free travel without controls around the EU once a level playing field in terms of prices, wages, etc. is achieved. I still hope, ultimately, for a European Socialist Union, perhaps a break-away entity from the EU itself. Probably not in my lifetime, however.