Which major domestic and international factors made German unification possible?
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Which major domestic and international factors made German unification possible? There were four major groups which played a large role in the unification of Germany in 1990 and whose actions made this unification a possibility. The first of these was the Soviet Union. and in particular President Gorbachev, whose actions in the USSR set the scene for the end of the Cold War and made reunification a possibility. Second, the SED, the communist government in the GDR, which essentially failed to react to Gorbachev's reforms. Third, the people of the GDR, who became increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of reform in the SED and soon began to act of themselves. Fourthly, there was the government of the FRG, under Helmut Kohl, which reacted to the changes in the GDR in such a way as to bring about speedy reunification. To begin, then, the role of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev was vital in resolving many of the international difficulties inherent in German reunification. Prior to Gorbachev's reforms in the USSR, the western powers and the FRG were unwilling to consider repeated Soviet offers to allow the reunification of a neutral Germany. The reasons for this refusal are obvious. The two German states formed the frontline between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and the west was not prepared to contemplate the formation of a Germany which was not actively involved in NATO.
Between September 1989 and February 1990, membership fell from 2,300,000 to just 890,000. Furthermore, the limited reforms the SED had made, and the speeches made by Gorbachev, encouraged the reform movement in East Germany, and led to the formation of the numerous opposition groups which eventually led to the end of the GDR. There can be no doubt that the ordinary people of the GDR played a highly significant role in making the unification process possible. It was large scale demonstrations by East Germans during October 1989 , and especially the November rally which drew over a million people, which led to the resignation of the Politburo in November. It was opposition groups like New Forum which participated in the round table arrangement and helped to arrange the first free elections. Thus, it was the people of the GDR who brought down the communists, a necessary precondition for unification. However, the role of the people and the opposition groups representing them did not end with bringing down the SED. In late November 1989, the first rallies were held demonstrating not just for a reform of the GDR, but for unification with the FRG. The chant of the demonstrators changed from "we are the people" to "we are one people".
Arguably, had an SPD government been in power in Bonn, unification would not have occurred, since Lafontaine was committed to a "go slow" approach to the issue. Indeed, it is likely that the majority of politicians, CDU or otherwise, would not have handled unification in the way Kohl did, since it was he who took the risk of allowing economic union to precede political union. While many believed that this course of action would lead to people simply taking their Deutschmarks and ignoring the issue of political unification, Kohl recognised that economic union was needed immediately to attempt to turn around the economic crisis that was occurring in the GDR. Thus, the vision and courage of Kohl were essential to the unification process. In conclusion, three things were needed in order to make unification a possibility. Firstly, the relaxation of Soviet control, which was granted by Gorbachev, perhaps by accident, through his programmes of glasnost and perestroika. Secondly, the overthrow of the SED in East Germany, which was achieved by a combination of the party leadership's own ineptitude and the demonstrations of the people of the GDR. Thirdly, it was essential that there be a pro-unification government and chancellor in Bonn, with the vision to undertake the unification process. Such a man was provided in the form of Helmut Kohl.  The German Polity, David Conradt, 6th Edition, p24
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