German Question

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Traditionally, this is the question of how Europe's most populous state at the centre of the European continent should be defined. Germany had never comprised a cohesive political entity before 1871, and many Germans lived in communities outside the German states. As Germans sought to define themselves as a nation-state, the question arose whether Germany should be defined culturally, through religion and\or language, a definition that included Germans living in pockets of Russia and Romania. An alternative definition focused on Germany's geographical characteristics, even if this excluded a large number of Germans living outside its natural boundaries. Germany formed a state defined by geography and geopolitics in 1866/71. The new state excluded Austria, with which it had shared a common cultural and political history.

After World War II, the concept received a new relevance as there were now two German states which tried to justify their existence in competition with each other. East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, GDR) emphasized the Communist ideology of its regime, and insisted that it was the first post-capitalist German state and the only part of Germany which had drawn the correct lessons from the Third Reich. Until the same socialist conditions obtained in West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG), the GDR was an independent, sovereign state. From the 1960s, the GDR even constructed a distinctive GDR-nationhood, though this was rejected by the overwhelming majority of the population. In contrast, West Germany claimed that it alone was the legal continuation of the German state, and insisted that its constitution and citizenship were valid for all Germans, including those living in the GDR.

West Germany developed the Hallstein Doctrine (1955), formulated by Walter Hallstein (b. 1901, d. 1982), according to which it refused to take up diplomatic relations with any country (except the Soviet Union) that recognized the East German state. The doctrine effectively prevented the diplomatic recognition of the GDR in the non-Communist world until 1969. In that year, the new German Chancellor, Brandt, changed West German policy vis-à-vis the GDR, based on the idea of cooperation with, rather than hostility to, the GDR.

As a precondition to that aim, Brandt's new Ostpolitik (Eastern Policy) began with the Moscow Treaty of 12 August 1970, in which West Germany de facto recognized the postwar annexations of German territory by the USSR and Poland. On 7 December 1970 the Warsaw Treaty was signed, in which West Germany again guaranteed the inviolability of Poland's western border. These treaties paved the way for an agreement on 3 September 1971 between the Allied powers, still sovereign over Berlin, in which the Soviet Union (and implicitly the GDR) recognized the Allied presence in West Berlin and guaranteed free access to the city through East Germany. Finally, in the Basic Treaty (Grundlagenvertrag) of 21 December 1972, the FRG and the GDR accepted each other's existence while West Germany continued to look forward to the self-determination of the German people in its entirety. The treaty paved the way for the admission of both German states into the UN in 1973. Despite fierce initial hostility by the CDU, the SPD's policy towards the GDR was accepted by the CDU when it came to power in 1982. Following reunification in 1990, the German question was finally settled, as Germany formally recognized its eastern border with Poland.


Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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