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Willy Brandt on the International Implications of Unification (February 5, 1990)

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BRANDT: According to the law of the Federal Republic, German citizenship has always continued to exist. By the way, Switzerland still refers to itself as a confederation, but in our understanding it’s more of a united state, despite the significance of the cantons.

For me, this is crucial: the process of growing together is already underway. If a referendum were held, the vast majority would support it.

SPIEGEL: And then?

BRANDT: Then, whatever government is in Bonn will answer: “Friends, slow down. First we have to see how fast the economy can adapt, how the currencies can be merged, how the social legislation can be adapted.”

SPIEGEL: But it can also happen that the people of the GDR will sweep all step-by-step plans aside, that the people in the streets will demand “unification now.”

BRANDT: It’s indeed a historical oddity that the leader of the second strongest communist party in the world is issuing a warning about what is going on in the streets. Previously I’ve heard that only as a conservative argument. An old-fashioned Social Democrat like me would never put it that way, because I think when the people say what they want it must be taken seriously. But I agree with you here, there is some chance of a stampede.

SPIEGEL: Is it a danger?

BRANDT: There have been cases in the world in which good came of chaos, but there is no guarantee that good will come of chaos here. Only this is certain: what you are implying is possible would also be highly undesirable. Such a scenario can only be averted if the people over there [in the GDR] are told: It will not take years for things to change; things will change this year and next year, and the change will be dramatic. Otherwise we’ll be in for a big sprint or a real mess. Perhaps it will happen, but I’m in favor of preventing it.

SPIEGEL: A big sprint? Do you mean the wave of resettlers?

BRANDT: It could grow considerably. But even those who don’t want to leave could do a lot more than just express their discontent.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by a real mess? Do you mean that the consequences of yet unresolved economic problems might lead to unification more quickly than you would like?

BRANDT: I have nothing against speedy unification. I’m only saying that it won’t solve any practical problems. A monetary union won’t come simply because millions of people get up and move instead of thousands.

SPIEGEL: What do you think of the various scenarios presented by the Chancellery to prepare us for the fact that unification might actually come much more quickly, that the special meeting of the CSCE [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] will find a solution as early as this summer, and that a constitutional assembly for all of Germany will already materialize this year?

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