Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Willy Brandt, a different politician

A couple of weeks ago I visited in the center of Berlin, close to the Brandenburg Gate, an interesting photo and audio exhibition dedicated to Willy Brandt. Among many other new and old politicians of the post WWII Germany, Brandt makes a special figure, being one of the few who were fully engaged against Nazi Germany and who constantly fought for a reinstatement of an united Germany on the world scene. The exhibition was extremely interesting, with many audio and video materials, besides documents and photos.

The political CV

Willy Brandt was born in 1913 in the rich and bourgeois city of Luebeck, in the North of Germany. Between 1933 and 1945 he went in exile in Sweden and Norway. Due to his anti-Nazi activities, he lost his citizenship, that he will receive back only at the end of the war. He returned incognito in Berlin at a certain moment, under the cover name of Herbert Frahm, trying to organize some resistance movement. 
While in exile, he tried to create an unified front of the left movement in Europe. He returned in Germany 1945 as a journalist to report about the Nuremberg process, and in 1947, he moved to Berlin where he worked for the Norwegian military mission. One year later, he received back his German citizenship.
Between 1957 and 1966 he was the mayor of Berlin. During his mandate he restored the Reichstag and Schloss Charlottenburg, among other urban projects aimed to rebuilt the city seriously affected by the intensive bombings. JFK appreciated his political influence and predicted that he will be the one to succeed chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Due to his good relations with the Americans, the political propaganda frequently accused him of being a 'marionette' of the Americans.
In 1971, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent a nuclear war and launch bridges of dialogue with the East. He was the first social-democrat chancellor since 1930, a position he held from 1969 till 1974, when one of his closest aides were involved in an espionage scandal. 

'I work in order to regain 2 homelands'

Acknowledging the crimes made by Germany during WWII, Brandt outlined that being German means accepting political responsibility for the genocide of the Nazi era, but was against branding all the Germans as criminals. There are 'criminals and other Germans', he said.
Brandt played an important role in setting the main pillars of the nascent European community, successfully convincing France to accept the idea of the European community and expanding the dialogue not only with the Western allies, but also with the Eastern relatives such as Poland and Hungary. 
His personal life and frequent affairs were often used as a political weapon by his Christian Democrat counterparts. On the other side, he reacted by using the mean techniques of the American style that he embraced frequently for branding his political communication.
The policy towards East and its position towards East Germany particularly, was not always clearly understood. 'I work in order to regain 2 homelands', he used to say, but his recognition of the Oder-Neisse border brought him the accusations of treason. In 1972, he signed the treatise of good relations with the DDR. 
He pledged the cause of Ostpolitik to Nixon and Kissinger and was particularly appreciated at Moscow for his efforts to open doors of dialogue with the former foe. Years later, together with Gyula Horn and Alois Mock, he removed the borders of the Iron Curtain. 

The end of the affair

The end of his mandate of chancellor intervened in the middle of the Cold War tensions and was provoked by the discovery that Guenther Guillaume, a close aid and in charge with the relations with the trade unions was in fact a diligent spy of the DDR. Following the public scandal, Brandt - who said in his memoirs published later that he didn't 'sympathized' Guillaume whose ascension was considered rather the result of party dynamics- resigned as chancellor in 1974, but remained the chief of the party for almost another decade. 
Guillaume was an intelligent agent of Stasi, and a former member of the NSDAP. In 1956, together with his wife, he was sent under his real name in Germany and joined the Social Democratic Party in Frankfurt having a fast political ascension. Condemned to 13 years of prison, he spent only seven and half years without freedom, being subject to an exchange of prisoners. Back in the DDR, he was received with honours and awarded by Erich Honecker the order Karl Marx. In the reunited Germany, he was granted immunity to any further prosecutions and was a supportive witness in Markus Wolf trial in 1993. 
Markus Wolf, Guillaume's direct chef, considered later that the demission of Brandt was a mistake, and regretted in a letter sent to Brandt that 'the intelligence service of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) which was under my command, contributed to the extremely negative political events that led to your resignation in 1974'.

East German fears

According to archives made public in the last years, the KGB and Moscow in general weren't very keen of the change of Brandt with the more 'right' social-democrat Helmut Schmidt. Brandt opened many dialogue doors with Moscow and especially at certain levels within the KGB, he was considered a good partner for improving not only the political ties, but for an eventual economic and even military support for the old techniques used by the Soviets. 
On the other hand, the East Germans were afraid his policies will be made without them, while the West Germany will be the only 'German' voice in Europe. Very often, according to recent documents, Stasi used its 'intelligence' to project a bad image of the Ostpolitik to the Russians. Besides bugging the office of one of the authors of the Ostpolitik, Egon Bahr, who accompanied Brandt since he was the mayor of Berlin, they spent around $1 million to bribe German politicians to vote against the social-democratic policies in the Parliament. 
Most probably, the archives both in Germany and Moscow, still hide many interesting details about those even more interesting times. However, Brandt's role in the post-WWII Germany policies remains unchallenged. 

Hans-Joachim Noack, Willy Brandt, ein Leben, ein Jahrhundert
Willy Brandt, Erinnerungen

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