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Willy Brandt

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


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(b. 18 Dec. 1913, d. 8 Oct. 1992).

Chancellor of West Germany 1969–74

Early career

Born Ernst Karl Frahm, he joined the SPD in 1930 and fled to Norway, where he became a journalist and published under the name Brandt. He acquired Norwegian nationality in 1938, but escaped to Sweden following the German invasion of Norway in 1940. Brandt returned to Germany in 1945, rejoined the SPD in 1947, and reacquired German citizenship in 1948. He was a member of the Berlin city parliament 1950–66, and of the West German parliament from 1949 to 1957 and from 1969. As Lord Mayor of Berlin (1957–66) he proved an inspiration to Berliners when the Berlin Wall was built. Recognizing that the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was not a short‐term phenomenon that could be ignored, Brandt worked for a fundamental change in German internal relations to relieve the lot of individuals suffering from the German division. He became Foreign Secretary in 1966, and, after leading his party to its first election victory since 1945, he became Chancellor in 1969.

In office

Brandt's term in office was marked by a radically new approach to the German question, in particular through his policy of recognition and cooperation with the Eastern European states of the USSR, Poland, and in particular East Germany (GDR). His policies not only proved to be a new departure for German internal relations, but also introduced a new phase in the Cold War globally. In recognition of this achievement, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971. In domestic politics, Brandt took over at a time of deep social divisions caused by the student protest movement. Under the slogan ‘Daring more democracy’, Brandt's government, with the support of the Liberal Party, dramatically increased funding for universities, and introduced co‐decision in university administration. His ministers reformed many of Germany's penal laws, liberalized laws on sexual behaviour, and instigated a change in abortion legislation. Many of Brandt's social reforms were stopped by the onset of the oil price shock in 1973, which made them financially unfeasible. Soon thereafter, his secretary was uncovered as an East German spy. Brandt resigned as Chancellor, though he remained SPD Chairman until 1987. In this position, he retained a significant influence on his party, and his lack of support for Schmidt contributed to the collapse of the SPD‐led government in 1982. From 1977 to 1989 he chaired the North–South Commission, which produced the Brandt Reports.

Although Brandt was Chancellor for a relatively short period, his government was crucial in two ways. Its domestic policies paved the way for the ultimate political integration of the radical left active in the student protest movements. Brandt's policy towards the GDR served as a new basis for the policies of every West German government towards the GDR until 1989. This improved the lives of the citizens in the GDR, while increasing contact with West Germany helped keep alive East German desires for reunification.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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