Egon Bahr


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Willy Brandt (1913—1992) German statesman, Chancellor of West Germany 1969–74

Helmut Schmidt (b. 1918)

Erich Honecker (1912—1994) East German communist statesman, head of state 1976–89


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(b. Treffurt, Werra, 18 Mar. 1922)

German; special ambassador 1967–72, Minister for Special Tasks 1972–4, Minister for Economic Co-operation 1974–6 Because he had a Jewish grandmother Bahr was not allowed by the Nazis to study, but he was conscripted to serve in Hitler's army. After the war he worked for several West Berlin newspapers before being appointed chief commentator of RIAS, the Radio In the American Sector. In 1960 Brandt, the governing mayor, appointed him head of the West Berlin press and information service.

When Brandt became Foreign Minister in 1966 he offered Bahr the post of special ambassador and head of the planning staff in his ministry. His brief was to conduct negotiations with the Warsaw Pact states. By that time Bahr was well known as the author of the strategy ‘change through rapprochement’ of the SPD towards Eastern Europe. By seeking agreement on practical matters West Germany would gradually be able successfully to reach out the hand of friendship to its Eastern Bloc neighbours. Bahr played a decisive role in the setting up of a trade mission in Czechoslovakia (1969), the conclusion of a ‘normalization’ treaty with Poland (1970), and the agreement over the 1971 Renunciation of Force Treaty with the Soviet Union. He also played a key part in the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Basic Treaty with East Germany in 1972. In December 1972 Brandt appointed him Minister for Special Tasks, a post he retained until Brandt's resignation in May 1974. Bahr had voiced his doubts about Günter Guillaume, the spy who brought down Brandt, as early as December 1969, but to no avail.

In July 1974 Schmidt recalled Bahr to serve as Minister for Economic Co-operation. In this capacity he was criticized for appeasing Third World élites rather than examining more closely the needs of their peoples. He was a member of the Bundestag from 1972 to 1990.

Bahr served as SPD party manager from 1976 until, increasingly at odds with the moderates over defence policy, he resigned in 1981. He remained influential helping to steer the SPD into its controversial dialogue with Honecker's SED. Like some of his colleagues, he gave up the aim of German reunification, overestimating the strength of the East German and other Communist regimes.

Subjects: Politics.

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