London and Paris were shocked by German reunification

OCTOBER 30: Tourists from Israel kiss in front

of the mural by Russian artist Dmitry Vrubel

of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev

kissing his East German counterpart

Erich Honecker, painted on a segment

of East Side Gallery, the largest

remaining part of the former Berlin Wall, in Berlin.

Photograph by: Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters

By Anne-Laure Mondesert, Agence France-Presse

PARIS - Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall,
newly released diplomatic files reveal the extent
to which Germany's supposed friends in London
and Paris were fearful of the country's reunification.

France's then president Francois Mitterrand

and Britain's prime minister Margaret Thatcher

were both caught out by the speed with which

the Germans remade their country

in the wake of Communism's collapse.

While Thatcher's supporters would go on

to portray her as the heroine of the West's victory

in the Cold War, a victory symbolised

by the Wall's collapse, at the time the prospect

of German reunification "horrified" her.

And, while Mitterrand has been seen as

a great friend and ally of Germany's then

chancellor Helmut Kohl in the campaign

for European integration, in 1989 he neither

foresaw nor supported the re-integration of Germany.

"In 1989 we gave the impression of wavering

in the face of history. Twenty years on, let's

do it justice," said Pierre Lellouche, French European

affairs minister, as he followed Britain

in opening the 1989-90 diplomatic archive.

Given the subsequent success

of the reunification project, and the warm ties

that Paris in particular now has with Berlin,

the files will make uncomfortable reading

for some French and British political veterans.

"France and Great Britain should pull

together today in the face

of the German threat," Thatcher told

the French ambassador to London

in March 1990, according to a French diplomatic

telegramme released for the anniversary.

"Kohl is capable of anything. He has become

another man. He doesn't know himself any more.

He sees himself as the master and

is starting to act like it," she warned,

according to the French translation of her remarks.

French historian Maurice Vaisse,

who helped supervise the release of the files,

said that Thatcher appeared "horrified" by

the prospect that German reunification

would make Berlin the dominant force in Europe.

According to the British archive, two months

before the fall of the Wall, Thatcher told

the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev

that "neither Britain nor Western Europe

wanted the reunification of Germany.

"This would lead to a change

to postwar borders, and we cannot allow that

because such a development would

undermine the stability of the whole

international situation and could

endanger our security," she said.

In effect, she was asking the Britain's former

Cold War enemy to help her

thwart German ambitions of one

of the West's staunchest allies.

Mitterrand adviser Jacques Attali — who in

another irony of fate would go on

to head the European Bank of Reconstruction

and Development set up to fund

post Cold War reform in Eastern

Europe — also opposed reunification.

The British archive records him meeting

Gorbachev aide Vadim Zagladin in Kyiv

one month after the wall came down

and complaining that Russia had not

intervened in East Germany

to head off reunification moves.

"This has caused a fear approaching

panic," he said, according the files.

Four months later, in April 1990 and

with reunification imminent, Attali reportedly

told Mitterrand that he would

"fly off to live on Mars" if the inevitable happened.

Mitterrand and Thatcher also

shared their concerns in person.

In January 1990, the French leader

told his British counterpart at a Paris dinner

that a united Germany could "make more ground

than even Hitler had" according to a note

by Thatcher aide Charles Powell.

Shortly after the fall of the wall, in

December 1989 — when his foreign ministry

was telling him reunification was

"not a realistic possibility" — Mitterrand even

visited East Germany's moribund Communist regime.

Trapped in a Cold War mentality, and mindful

of their countries' suffering at the hands

of a powerful Germany during World War II,

the leaders of the day had difficulty

envisaging such a rapid sea change in European politics.

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