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Unification or annexation?

September 1, 2010

Germany marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the treaty that sealed German unity, even as some eastern politicians were questioning the deal, which they say was more like annexation than unification.

Merkel and others look at Unity Treaty at ceremony
Merkel said the treaty is an example for the entire worldImage: picture alliance/dpa

German Chancellor Angela Merkel led a ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday to commemorate the signing of the Unity Treaty, which led to the eventual reunification of a divided Germany.

In her speech at the ceremony, Merkel said that Germany must fight around the world for the freedom and democracy that it achieved in its reunification.

"If we weaken in this regard, we weaken in our prosperity and success," she said. "The Unity Treaty should be a good example for other treaties that have yet to be signed around the world."

Brandenburg State Premier Matthias Platzeck
Platzeck has raised the controversial word "annexation"Image: DW-TV

The Unity Treaty was brokered by negotiators from East and West Germany and sought to ease and regulate the process of East Germany becoming part of a reunited country again, as well as its transition from a planned economy to a free market system.

But in a recent interview with the German weekly magazine Spiegel, the premier of the eastern state of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, used the word "annexation" to describe what happened between the two Germanys on October 3, 1990.

After only eight weeks of negotiations, Guenther Krause, then state secretary of the soon-to-be-defunct East Germany or German Democratic Republic, signed the treaty that would bring the two countries together.

"There were a couple of topics over which we were at loggerheads, including abortion laws, a unified education system and the right of families to send their kids to pre-school facilities which was absolutely normal in the GDR," he said. "And we failed to push through a lot of our wishes back then."

An unlevel playing field

Two equal partners at the negotiating table? Not quite. The GDR was bankrupt, and the wealthy West was about to pump billions into East Germany's recovery.

Map of Germany
Germany is now made up of 16 states, six of which were once in the GDRImage: DW

Historians agree that those who had the money also to a large extent called the shots. But according to Markus Meckel, a Social Democrat and the GDR's last foreign minister, the term "annexation" doesn't fit.

"I view the treaty as something that was jointly and painstakingly negotiated by both sides, and hence it cannot be described as a document that prepared the annexation of one country by another," he said.

At the same time though, Meckel concedes that the two sides weren't on a level playing field.

"Politically, there was a clear West German dominance in the talks. I think more time would have been needed to do an even better job, also in communicating the results to the general public," he said.

But for Meckel, there was no alternative to the Unity Treaty. The unstable political situation in the Soviet Union meant no one wanted to waste any time. Some stipulations in the treaty should never have been approved by the eastern negotiators, he said, particularly a clause concerning the return of property to West Germans.

Meckel has acknowledged that procedural mistakes were made that, for some, might smack of annexation - at least in hindsight.

"Tellingly, the East German parliament gave the green light to unification a week before negotiations on the Unity Treaty were completed," he said. "That was a major blunder, as delegates could not know the final version of the document."

Wolfgang Schaeuble (left) und Guenther Krause signing the Unity Treaty
Neither Schaeuble nor Krause say they regret signing the Unity TreatyImage: picture alliance/dpa

Reunification a longer process than just one day

While Krause signed for the GDR, Wolfgang Schaeuble signed for the West Germans in his post as interior minister. Both men have had careers as bumpy as the process of German reunification following the landmark treaty.

After emerging from his involvement in a Christian Democratic Union slush fund scandal in the era of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Schaeuble is now finance minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Guenther Krause was transport minister of a unified Germany in the early 1990s but has now shifted his focus to business.

"While the country was growing together, I myself got divorced," he said. "And then I had a couple of run-ins with the law, and had to face several allegations of fraud and embezzlement. I've left politics since then."

Both Krause and Schaeuble insist, though, that the Unity Treaty was a blessing for the German people. Neither of the two would claim that the document was perfect, but as they point out, the country's unification was an unprecedented event. This meant that no one could draw on any historical experience at the time. Any mistakes would only become obvious years later.

Author: Hardy Graupner (hf)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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