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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 70: Letter from Helmut Kohl to George H.W. Bush June 28, 1989

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1In their telephone conversation on June 23 (see previous document), Bush mentioned his upcoming trip to Poland and Hungary, and asked Kohl for his suggestions and personal views on what the West should be doing to help the transition to democracy. Kohl responded that he would send a letter laying out his views, and Bush assured him it would be treated in strict confidence. That communication, which appears here, includes a briefing that compares the “painful” history of German-Polish relations to the “exemplary” relations between Germany and Hungary, and details the backstage negotiations between Germans and Poles over a “package” that is being put together to resolve ongoing controversies before Kohl travels to Poland for his own “breakthrough” trip. Ironically, Kohl’s visit would put him in Warsaw on the day the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, and his attention to Poland would be supplanted by the demands of dealing with East Germany and ultimately unification (see Document No. 100). Here, Kohl highlights for Bush the “paramount Polish interest” in “economic-financial cooperation,” while reinforcing Bush’s own cautious and parsimonious approach by warning that the grim Polish economic situation is the result of earlier “careless policies on national debt” and “failed attempts by the West to provide aid.” Kohl explicitly rejects the analogy of the Marshall Plan (a version of which Poles like Lech Wałęsa would continue to ask for) in favor of treating the Poles the way Western financial institutions handle developing countries, with a donor conference making all decisions about aid.


2Dear George,

3As we agreed during our telephone conversation at the end of last week, I would like to inform you about the main points of my policy and my concrete plans regarding Poland and Hungary.

4The German-Polish relationship is stamped with a long, painful history, which has left a heavy political toll on the relationship between the states and deep emotional wounds in the consciousness of the people that have not yet healed. This history painfully returns to our consciousness in connection with the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II, which began with the attack on Poland and the creation of the Hitler-Stalin pact that shortly beforehand divided Poland for the fourth time.

5Precisely because of this I would like to make a political and psychological breakthrough this year in our relations with Poland and open new ways for understanding between the states and for reconciliation between our peoples.

6Poland and Hungary make up the leading group of the Warsaw Pact countries that have undertaken radical reforms in the political, economic, and social spheres and thereby paved the way toward more political pluralism, increased attention to human rights, more private initiative, and the step-by-step introduction of market economics. The West should use its best powers to support these processes—and I know we are of the same opinion on this—not least because successful reforms in Poland and Hungary promise to have a positive effect on the Soviet Union as well as on the GDR, and herein lies our particular German interest. I would like to reinforce both the new beginning in our bilateral relations and our support for the Polish reform process through an official visit to the People’s Republic of Poland this year. Of course, before then a multitude of open questions must be resolved and a “comprehensive package” has to be proposed, as I discussed with Prime Minister Rakowski earlier this year. We have appointed delegates to negotiate this package (from our side it is Horst Teltschik). The delegates have met seven times since late January and have already to a large extent brought their positions closer together, but their talks have to continue. We have agreed from the beginning that until we have a conclusive “comprehensive package,” the date for my visit will not be set. The comprehensive package consists of a number of difficult questions. To some extent, the federal government under my leadership and that of my predecessors has been striving to find solutions to these problems for decades. Among other things, this concerns the following issues:

  • A number of agreements, such as a youth exchange, the formation of cultural institutions, collaboration in scientific-technological work, collaboration in environmental work, protection and promotion of investments;

  • humanitarian and historical issues: care for the graves of war casualties, remembrance of the German opposition to Hitler and of German historical figures;

  • one of the focal points of our interests is the rights of Germans and people of German descent living in Poland: support for their religion, language, culture, and traditions, according to the Vienna Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international deeds;

  • the paramount Polish interest is economic-financial cooperation: Horst Teltschik has outlined our offer in a telex to Brent Scowcroft from June 27.

7From the Polish side there is also a desire to integrate this comprehensive package into a “joint statement.”

8The negotiations over economic-financial collaboration have proven to be particularly difficult for the following two reasons:

  • First of all, the current devastating economic situation is primarily the result of the system, of the careless policies on national debt of the 1970s as well as the failed attempts by the West to provide aid during the same era (to which the earlier FRG government contributed); Western countries alone cannot resolve the Polish economic problems.

  • New Western support measures have to be very closely coordinated so that they benefit concrete and workable projects in Poland, particularly in the private sector. Poland should not play off the Western countries against each other, as is regrettably the case today with the national creditors of the Paris Club and the private banks of the London Club.

9Therefore, I would like to propose to you that at the economic summit in Paris we discuss with our partners a coordination mechanism for Western countries that would allow us to organize the support measures of potential donors and provide political guidelines for the upcoming deliberations of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Paris Club, which naturally must also include larger foreign policy considerations. Additionally, we could think about the possibility that under the authority of this mechanism we could establish an office in Poland for a coordination committee of experts from mainly Western countries including the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland. This group would select and inspect cooperation projects locally, and assign them to particular donor countries (this would be comparable to the so-called donor conference in developing countries, rather than the mechanism of Marshall plan aid, except that we would not introduce this terminology).

10My preliminary queries lead me to believe that it would be possible to reach agreement with the Polish government on this issue. We have already bilaterally conducted some conceptual preliminary work: during talks with the delegates, the Poles announced their agreement that in conjunction with the reopening of export credit guarantees [Hermes-Bürgschaften] a new mechanism for joint project inspections would be introduced, which one could now make multilateral. I would greatly appreciate it if before the Paris economic summit you could communicate your assessment of this proposal, which I have not yet taken up with the other partners.

11With Hungary the issues are politically much easier for us. For over a 1,000 years—which is arguably a singular European record—there have been no armed conflicts between Germany and Hungary. After World War II, exemplary good-neighborly relations developed between the Federal Republic of Germany and the People’s Republic of Hungary.

12Hungary carries on commendable policies toward its national minorities. In 1987 we reached a bilateral agreement regarding the Hungarian Germans, which allows us to provide cultural support to the German minority population. This is an exceedingly valuable precedent for our dialogue with the Soviet Union, with Romania and, last but not least, with Poland.

13In terms of foreign policy in relation to us, Hungary has consistently shown itself to be open and understanding; in particular, it did not take part in the Soviet Union’s confrontational policy in the first half of the 1980s. Even then it sought to bridge the differences between East and West and at the same time introduced political, economic and social reforms in the domestic sphere.

14These factors persuaded me to support Hungary more than the other countries of the region. Thus, during the official visit of former General Secretary Grósz in 1987, Hungary received an untied term loan for 1 billion DM from a German commercial bank, which the FRG government vouched for in consideration of larger political reasons. Now there is a plan to increase this credit by an additional 250 million DM, and the FRG government will renew its guarantee on the loan. Additionally, it is expected that two federal states will grant a credit facility to the amount of 750 million DM; so in an interval of less than two years, Hungary is receiving 2 billion DM of “fresh money.” We hope that this new financial aid will already enable Hungary in this critical phase to continue steadily with its political reforms and economic openness to the West.

15I intend to come to Hungary on an official visit this year. There is no set date yet; in any case it will be after the forthcoming October 7 Congress of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party.

16At the forthcoming economic summit we should come to an agreement on our policies towards Hungary. Despite the difficult economic situation and the still high per-capita indebtedness in comparison with Poland, active help from the West could be particularly beneficial because of the relatively small size of the country. In Paris we should further consider whether to propose for Hungary the kind of cooperation mechanism I described for Poland, as well as a local project inspection committee.

17Dear George, since you are going to be in Warsaw in a few days and will be visiting Budapest, you will have the most current information from both countries for the Paris economic conference. Therefore I am looking forward to our talk even more. I wish you every possible success for this visit and send you and Barbara, also in Hannelore’s name, the warmest greetings and best wishes.

18Kind regards,
Helmut Kohl

19[Source: Deutsche Einheit: Sonderedition aus den Akten des Bundeskanzleramtes 1989/90. Eds. Hanns Jürgen Küsters and Daniel Hofmann. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich, 1998. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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