THE political and ideological struggle between East and West moved a significant step further when the East German government announced, on August 30, its five-day “little blockade" in Berlin, which consisted in refusing the citizens of the Federal Republic the right to cross from West into East Berlin. As a supplementary measure, the East Germans imposed checks on all citizens of the Federal Republic traveling from West Germany to Berlin and turned back about one thousand of them during the five days.
On September 8 the East Germans reimposed the ban on West Germans entering East Berlin. This time there was no five-day time limit. For West Germans it would in future be necessary to show “good reason" for wanting to enter East Berlin—or, as it is known in Communist jargon, the “democratic sector.” By “good reason” the East Germans meant the carrying out of commercial transactions useful to the East German Republic. Anyone doing this would be entitled to a temporary permit of residence made out by the People’s Police and countersigned by the East German Minister of the Interior, Karl Maron.
The East German measures had the appearance of a mere pinprick, and the sturdy Berliners have acquired much of the undemanding resiliency of a pincushion during the last fifteen years. It has become customary for the Berliners, when their livelihoods, and even their lives, have been threatened by a new twist of Soviet and East German policy, to tell the rest of the Western world to keep calm. Berline Schnauze is part of Berlin’s tradition — denoting an instinctive sense of independence, compounded of courage, cheekiness, and big-city wit.
Yet the East German measures were much more than a pinprick. For Germany, after all, is the chief battlefield in the East-West struggle, and Berlin is its focal point.
The East German measures were part of a creeping campaign which was almost certainly inspired by Moscow. When they were introduced, the real ruler of the East German Republic, Walter Ulbricht, was “on holiday” in the Soviet Union. And the Moscow press and radio supported the measures at once.
What is this campaign’s essential purpose? Khrushchev himself gave the answer, in advance, by defining the Soviet Union’s immediate aims in Germany as being the creation of a neutralized “free city” of West Berlin and the achievement of world-wide recognition of the equality of the two German states. Further objectives may be the complete detachment of West Berlin from Western Europe, its closer association with the East German Republic, and the latter’s emergence as the leading German state, preserving its role as an integral part of the satellite bloc until such time as the whole of Germany can be drawn into the Soviet orbit.
The East German measures against West Berlin were carried out with afficiency and politeness. The ragamuffins of the People’s Police of, say, five years ago no longer exist. Today the smart, alert People’s Police are disturbingly confident, and the hallmark of this confidence is their politeness. Furthermore, the East German measures made a sharp distinction between West Germans and West Berliners. The latter’s freedom of movement was not questioned, and Herr Ulbricht even referred to “our good Berliners.” The East German regime intends to woo the Berliners in a less brutal manner than it has in the past.
The measures were ordered by the East German Ministry of the Interior, which, under valid four-power agreements, has no authority in Berlin. Berlin’s four-power status was ignored, and the protests of the American, French, and British governments and commandants in Berlin received scant attention; the three governments do not recognize the East German regime and can only expect to be ignored by it in return.
The East German campaign can serve supplementary purposes. Herr Ulbricht is undoubtedly worried by the drain of manpower to the West. In August, for instance, 20,000 East Germans sought refuge in the Federal Republic. Four out of five of them took the obvious escape route to West Berlin. During the first eight months of this year, 3000 East German farmers chose the same route, with the East German Republic facing the prospect of the worst harvest in ten years.
This exodus is a painful running sore for the East German economy. The police checks along the sector boundaries in Berlin may, indeed, prevent West Germans from getting into East Berlin, but they may equally prevent East Germans from getting out.
The West strikes back
The campaign may unsettle the whole Western alliance. Within a few hours of its inception, West German newspapers were askingwhy the United States, France, and Britain were not doing something effective to counter it. What did the word “effective” mean? No West German could say with any degree of certainty.
The three Western commandants in Berlin could not institute local sanctions against the East Germans, such as halting through traffic on canals and railways in West Berlin. Such action would provoke far more damaging East German reprisals against West Berlin’s vulnerable communications.
Late in September the Federal Government in Bonn, with the support of the Western allies, struck back. Bonn gave three months’ notice that it would abrogate its agreement and suspend trade between the two German states if East Germany persisted in maintaining its blockade in Berlin. This cuts both ways. West German exports to East Germany last year were worth 850 million marks. East German exports to the Federal Republic were worth only 800 million marks and did not include so many key industrial products; but East German lignite and electricity are important for the West Berlin economy.
At any time the West can impose a total trade boycott of East Germany. But this last available trump card could provoke an East German blockade of Berlin. And Berlin, more than any other city in the world, save possibly Hong Kong, must export to live.
West German “militarism”
In the West, the Cold War is conventionally regarded as an affair of right and wrong, black and white, in which Communist dictatorship confronts the forces of freedom. Unfortunately, Communist propaganda in Central Europe has worked with many handles and has worked well.
The East Germans have depicted the West Germans, or rather their leaders, as militarists. This view is accepted by a fair number of East Germans, and even by some citizens of states allied to the Federal Republic.
The West Germans are partly to blame. There was, for instance, this year’s “Spanish adventure” of the Federal Defense Minister, Herr Strauss, who forgot to consult his NATO partners before trying to obtain military supply bases from General Franco.
There was also the Defense Ministry’s demand for bigger destroyers — up to 6000 tons, against the present 3000-ton limit. And there was the ill-advised Bundeswehr pamphlet of August 20, in which Strauss’s staff advisers “demanded” (the word used in the pamphlet) equality of nuclear armaments with NATO partners.
There were events like the rally in Saarbrücken at the beginning of September of one thousand members of the ex-soldiers’ association of the Stahlhelm (“steel helmets”). Before Hitler came to power, this association played a murky role as the strong-arm squad of the German Nationalist Party. Later it merged with the Nazi brown shirts. Today it has shed its old fighting slogans and lost its teeth. But it was shockingly tactless of the Saar Prime Minister and other West German politicians to send messages of welcome to the Stahlhelm on this occasion. It is this sort of action which lends a spurious credibility to East German chatter about West German militarism.
East German grievances
The East Germans were furnished with an equally useful grievance, against the irredentism of the millions of refugees in the Federal Republic from the lost German lands beyond the Oder-Neisse line or in Czechoslovakia. This irredentism is partly real, partly mythical. Every year, and especially at Whitsuntide, there are refugee rallies in West Germany which draw crowds of from a few hundred to many thousands. At these rallies there is a certain amount of loose talk about inalienable rights to the old “homelands.”
In the past, the Federal Government has adopted an attitude of wary sympathy, conditioned by knowledge of Western disapproval on the one side and of the voting strength of eleven million refugees on the other. This year both Dr. Adenauer and his Vice Chancellor, Professor Erhard, have attended refugee rallies in person and have made the principal, discreetly phrased speeches. They did this because they believed that they could surreptitiously apply the brake to refugee fervor.
Their new policy was seized upon by East German propagandists as evidence that the Federal Government was backing refugee claims up to the hilt. This was an obvious Communist gambit. But it led many people in the Western world to draw false conclusions too, and only two days before the “little blockade” of West Berlin the London Times published a leading article condemning “unnecessary” demonstrations of purblind nationalism, especially in Berlin. The Times article was quoted in most East German papers, to show how provocative were the meetings in West Berlin of the exprisoners-of-war and the refugees, against which the East German measures were ostensibly directed.
Yet another East German grievance is against “revanchists,” an absurd label for a list which used to be headed with the name of the Federal Minister for Refugees, Professor Oberländer. Since Oberländer’s resignation in May, the names at the top of the list have been those of the Secretary of State in Dr. Adenauer’s chancellery, Hans Globke, and the Minister of Transport, Hans Seebohm. But anyone can be called a revanchist, and the East German press fulminates equally against Bundeswehr generals, civil servants, and out-of-work, right-wing political extremists.
It seems surprising that a large number of East Germans are impressed by this claptrap; the truth is that they are increasingly, pathetically out of touch with West Germany and unable to sift the truth from their daily double-doses of Communist propaganda.
The pressures on West Berlin
The troubled post-war story of Berlin has entered a new and more dangerous phase, for the East German regime is evidently going to be used as the Soviet Union’s cat’s-paw in the campaign for the slow suffocation of the city’s freedom and independence. The regime will have no difficulty in trumping up excuses for increasing pressure on West Berlin. It will apply such pressure ruthlessly.
The suggestion which has been made for moving Berlin, physically, to the Lüneburg Heath, along with its industry and its 2.3 million inhabitants, may sound fantastic; yet all that is sure is that West Berlin, however valuable a listening post and shop window, will remain a source of human concern and diplomatic weakness for the West.
Dr. Adenauer’s other worries
Berlin has certainly not been Dr. Adenauer’s only worry. When General de Gaulle advanced his idea of a concert of European states in September, he struck a blow — the more painful because unexpected — at the Federal Government’s declared policy of boosting supranational European institutions. Flexibility is not Adenauer’s strong suit, and he has not been pleased by being asked to jettison plans which he has supported undeviatingly for the past ten years. He was even less pleased by the crows of delight of the Social Democrats — the least internationalist-minded party in Germany today — and of the industrialists, who loathe the European Goal and Steel Community.
Another source of concern to Dr. Adenauer has been the adoption of the Lord Mayor of West Berlin, Willy Brandt, as Social Democratic candidate for the chancellorship at next year’s federal election. Dowered with youth (he is forty-five), vitality, and a charming and attractive wife, Brandt is a shrewd political tactician. He has imposed his candidacy on the little cabal of Social Democrats which has for so long directed party affairs from its dingy offices in Bonn.
Brandt had first to establish himself as undisputed leader in Berlin itself, where another party cell had been entrenched since 1946. He had to show just the right mixture of reticence at the thought of leaving beleaguered Berlin and of enthusiasm at the prospect of leading a rejuvenated, middle-of-the-road, moderate, nonideological party to victory at the polls next year. Here is the first real challenge to Dr. Adenauer’s political supremacy since 1949.
In contrast to Berlin, Bonn remains relatively placid. The average West German is still primarily interested in his personal share in the economic miracle which goes on and on. The vital statistics of that miracle are the trebled consumption of tobacco since 1950, the 5 per cent annual increase in the consumption of alcohol, the decline of the humdrum potato, the soaring output figures of Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen, and the advance of the country’s gold and dollar reserves toward the $8 billion mark.
The Berliner sometimes wonders if the typical Bundesbürger of Bonn is much concerned about him. The thought may be a trifle unfair, but the busy prosperous citizen of West Germany has so many other things to think about.