Third Conversation between M.S. Gorbachev and FRG Chancellor 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 their third official meeting on June 14, Chancellor Kohl and Gorbachev focused once again on the reform movements in Eastern Europe. Although Kohl sounded the alarm with the apparent hard line being followed by Erich Honecker in East Germany, Gorbachev deflected the question and instead steered the conversation toward Poland and Hungary. Both leaders agreed that nothing should be done that could further destabilize the governments. Instead, Gorbachev advocated for financial assistance from the West to help support a more managed transformation to a mixed economy.
With a great deal of foresight, Chancellor Kohl rightly identified both Romania and Yugoslavia as the most troubled states in Eastern Europe, foreshadowing the violent revolution in Romania and the lengthy and deadly civil war in Yugoslavia. Gorbachev's response seems to indicate agreement with Kohl's assessment but sounds a much more reluctant tone, implying the Soviet Union would not take any kind of direct action in either of these countries.
Mikhail Gorbachev, conversation with Chancellor of FRG H. Kohl, 14 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. ... Now a couple of words about our common friends. I will tell you directly that Erich Honecker does concern me a lot. His wife has just made a statement in which she called on the GDR youth to take up arms, and defend the achievements of socialism from external enemies if necessary. It is clear that she implied that the socialist countries which implement reforms, stimulate democratic processes, follow their own original road, were the enemies. First of all she had Poland and Hungary in mind. This is certainly a strange statement.
Gorbachev. What are your relations with Poland like?
Kohl. The country is in a difficult situation right now. But we want to help it to get out of the crisis. As well as in the case with the GDR, we do not want any destabilization. Tomorrow Francois Mitterand will travel to Poland. We agreed that France will be the first to extend aid to Poland, to give them financial assistance in the form of credits. Then George Bush will visit Poland. As for me, I consciously decided to be the third to visit Poland-after the French and the American. The Germans and the Poles are connected by something else. This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. I will probably visit Poland on those dates. Anyway, I would like my visit to contribute to the improvement of relations between the Germans and the Poles, even though I realize that it would be very very difficult.
Gorbachev. We need to support the Poles, they do not have anybody who has more authority and respect than Wojciech Jaruzelski now.
Kohl. We also plan to give Poland financial support. I understand your words, Mr. Gorbachev. We have rather good relations with the Hungarians. However, we also do not want destabilization there. That is why when I meet with the Hungarians, I tell them: we consider the reforms that are underway in your country your internal affair, we are sympathetic. However, if you would like to hear our advice, we recommend that you do not accelerate too much, because you might lose control over your mechanism, and it will start to work to destroy itself. In all the socialist countries we have the most hopeless relations with Romania. There is no movement at all, just complete darkness and stagnation. I do not understand Ceausescu. How does he not see what a ridiculous cult he created in his own country? I cannot believe that he can seriously think that he made the Romanians the happiest people on Earth.
Gorbachev. It is certainly strange that this kind of family clan would be established in the center of civilized Europe, in a state with rich historical traditions. I could imagine something like that to emerge somewhere else, like it has in Korea, but here, right next to us--it is such a primitive phenomenon.
Kohl. I like the Bulgarians. If you compare Bulgaria in the first post-war years and now--the progress is impressive -- like day and night. Bulgarian representatives -- leaders as well as simple professionals -- often visit my country. They think and operate with very modern concepts, and they avidly absorb our economic experience. They also, as we can observe, implement it in their economic life quite effectively. I really like Todor Zhivkov. He has been in power for a very long time, I think, since 1956, when I was still taking final exams in high school. He is a very flexible politician. I met with him several times, and every time we met, he criticized those leaders of various branches of the Bulgarian economy who could not manage their responsibilities. I am mostly concerned by the situation in Yugoslavia. The economy there is choking, and nobody knows how to help it. We need to think about how to prevent the Balkans from becoming the source of destabilization....