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Deutschland Hans-Dietrich Genscher in der Parteizentrale der FDP in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

Triumph of 'Genscherism'

Marcel Fürstenau / js
September 12, 2015

In Helmut Kohl's shadow, Hans-Dietrich Genscher quietly organized Germany's reunification. The agreement was a diplomatic masterpiece. Now, his party has organized a 25th anniversary celebration in his honor.


On this day, honoring this man, no superlative seems exaggerated in describing him: Today, Hans-Dietrich Genscher is being honored as "the architect of unity" at the Free Democratic Party's (FDP) Berlin headquarters. The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, it is said, represents one of the great moments in diplomatic history. That is the official name of the agreement between the victors and the defeated parties of the Second World War, and which put an end to 45 years of German partition. Genscher, as foreign minister representing the Federal Republic of Germany, signed the momentous Two Plus Four Agreement, as it is informally known, on September 12, 1990.

A quarter century later, Genscher, now 88-years-old, is rolled onto the stage at the Thomas Dehler House. Genscher is in a wheelchair and seems to tolerate the praise of his liberal party family rather than enjoy it. The elder statesman of German foreign policy was often in the limelight in the days of the Cold War, but he never sought it. It was more often the case that the light was automatically directed at him. Things still remain that way today, 23 years after his retirement from politics. His name is synonymous with several milestones of detente politics. During the celebration, the FDP reminded attendees of that fact by showing an illustrated timeline thereof: it began with the signing of the final accord of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, and ended with the first parliamentary elections held in reunified Germany on December 2, 1990.

Deutschland erhält volle Souveränität zurück 2 plus 4 Vertrag
Genscher (r.) and East German Premier Lothar de Maiziere signed the 2+4 Agreement on September 12, 1990, returning full sovereignty to GermanyImage: picture alliance/R. Holschneider

Genscher's Ostpolitik aroused a lot of suspicion

In the meantime, in fact for quite a long time, Genscher has worked hard to be a "detoxifier of East-West relations." That is the phrase that current FDP boss Christian Lindner, born in 1979, used to laud Genscher's services as foreign minister between 1974 and 1992. The new Ostpolitik initiated by Genscher's liberals and the Social Democrats (SPD) toward the end of the 1960s not only aroused suspicions among West Germany's allies; conservatives within the Republic were also up in arms about the dangers of the so-called "special path," and it's new orientation toward Moscow. Against that backdrop, the attainment of the Two Plus Four Agreement indeed seems like a miracle. For in 1990, one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, skepticism about such policies still loomed large.

More than any other, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the leader most fearful of a reunified Germany. During that time the prospect of ending German partition was hanging by a thread. "Genscherism," was a derogatory term that was coined in London at the time, but it was used elsewhere as well. Nonetheless, despite all of the rhetorical attacks and diplomatic crossfire, Genscher was able to allay fears. The very last fears, however, were not put aside until half a year after the Two Plus Four Agreement was signed: On March 4, 1991, the Soviet Union became the last treaty partner to ratify the agreement – signaling the ultimate victory of "Genscherism."

Kohl und Gorbatschow im Kaukasus
Chancellor Kohl (r.) met Soviet President Mikail Gorbachev (m.) in the Caucasus with Genscher in July, 1990Image: picture-alliance/dpa

'Our people have become a people of good example'

Today, that one time insult sounds like an honorific title. And the man to whom it was dedicated also has some advice for those who would follow in his diplomatic footsteps. Genscher sees nuclear weapons that could fall into the hands of the wrong people as today's greatest danger. In his view the only possible solution to the problem is the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. "There is still time, but not for long!"

Regarding his pet project Europe, he reiterates the importance of co-operation among states. "We Germans won't be doing well for long if our neighbors are doing worse for long." And keeping up with the topics of the day, Genscher praised his countrymen for their composure and engagement in tackling refugee relief: "Our people have become a people of good example."

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