First Conversation between M.S. Gorbachev and Chancellor of FRG H. Kohl
On June 12, 1989, Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev began a four-day visit to West Germany, just two weeks after a similar visit to West Germany by United States President George H. W. Bush. Gorbachev had by the summer of 1989 become a popular figure and expectations were running high in West German society over the summit. From the Soviet Union's perspective, West Germany represented the largest economy in Europe and welcomed the possibility of increased trade. For many Germans, the visits by both Bush and Gorbachev during the summer of 1989 illustrated joint recognition of the new, pivotal role that West Germany played in East-West relations.
During this conversation with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev clearly articulated his new policy not to interfere with the internal affairs of the Eastern European governments, which represented a de facto repeal of the Brezhnev Doctrine. Gorbachev's decision not to intervene in Eastern Europe during the years of democratic reform and revolution was soon dubbed the Sinatra Doctrine by Western observers (referring to Sinatra's hit "Do it My Way"). Both the "Sinatra doctrine" and Gorbachev's adherence to the reform ideas of Glasnost and Perestroika created fertile ground for the explosion of democratic reforms throughout the Soviet sphere.
Helmut Kohl voiced his support for Gorbachev's change in policy regarding reform in Eastern Europe, but also raised his concerns that East Germany under the leadership of Erich Honecker was not following the reform initiatives as in other Eastern European countries. Although Gorbachev did not commit himself to fostering reform in East Germany, he would indeed make his feelings clear to Honecker during his visit to East Berlin in October 1989.
Mikhail Gorbachev, conversation with Chancellor of FRG H. Kohl, 12 June 1989, trans. Svetlana Savranskaya, Notes of A.S. Chernyaev, Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Kohl. ... We are watching the developments in Hungary with a great interest. The United States, and of course you, Mr. General Secretary, are following them too. I told Bush that as far as Hungary is concerned, we are acting on the basis of an old German proverb let the church remain in the village. It means that the Hungarians should decide themselves what they want, but nobody should interfere in their affairs.
Gorbachev. We have a similar proverb: you do not go to somebody's monastery with your charter.
Kohl. Beautiful folk wisdom. Both sides adhere to it. And if so, there could be no talk about any "crusades".
Gorbachev. I am telling you honestly — there are serious shifts underway in the socialist countries. Their direction originates from concrete situations in each country. The West should not be concerned about it. Everything moves in the direction of a strengthening of the democratic basis. Every country decides on its own how it does it. It is their internal affair. I think you would agree with me that you should not stick a pole into an anthill. Consequences of such an act could be absolutely unpredictable.
Kohl. There is an opinion of one side, there is an opinion of another side, but there is also a third opinion — a common opinion. This is a common opinion of the Soviet Union, of the United States, of the FRG, and of other countries. In short, we should not interfere with anybody's development.
Gorbachev. There is a very tense situation in a number of countries. If someone was going to try to destabilize the situation, it would disrupt the process of building trust between the West and the East, and destroy everything that has been achieved so far. We want rapprochement, not a return to the positions of confrontation.
Kohl. However, it is not a secret to anybody, that Erich Honecker is not inclined to undertake any changes or reforms, and thus he himself destabilizes the situation. I have problems because of that in the FRG. I say all the time that I am not interested in destabilizing the situation in the GDR. However, the people ask me all the time, why does the GDR remain on frozen positions[?] I am told that we should do something in order to let the people there experience the same freedom that now characterizes Hungary, Poland, and, of course, the Soviet Union. You cannot imagine what was going on here when the GDR banned the distribution of Soviet magazine "Sputnik". Everybody was laughing. But I did not. Because they demanded that I, as Chancellor, take new steps for the improvement of relations with the GDR, and I could not do anything about it.
Gorbachev. As far as our friends are concerned, we have a firm principle: everyone is responsible for his own country. We are not going to teach anybody, but we are not asking anybody to teach us either. I think that what I have just said makes it clear whether there is any "Brezhnev Doctrine." We are in favor of positive changes in all spheres, in favor of political normalization, of strengthening of the economy, but at the same time also in favor of preserving the special features and traditions of the socialist states.
Kohl. I support your ideas. To tell you honestly, we understand Moscow much better, and we feel much closer to it than to [East] Berlin now. 90% of the population in the GDR watch our television. They are informed about everything, but afraid to speak publicly. I just feel sorry for the people. But let me reiterate that I am not doing anything to destabilize the situation. This applies to Hungary, and Poland, as well. To interfere with anybody's internal political development now would mean to take a destructive line which would throw Europe back to the times of caution and mistrust.
Gorbachev. This is a very important statement, it fits the spirit of the time.