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Emotions Beneath the Surface

July 23, 1987

A West German spokesman said that East German leader Erich Honecker's September visit to West Germany "will prompt manifold emotions in this divided country." He called on the press to treat the visit with "proper circumspection" and avoid arousing unrealistic expectations.

It was good advice, but the Honecker visit will inevitably arouse considerable excitement in West Germany; it will also be watched with keen interest by the Soviet Union, the United States and West Germany's European allies.

Honecker will be the first East German leader ever to visit West Germany. In 1984 a trip was canceled only a month before it was to take place because of Soviet objections. Moscow's change of heart presumably reflects a Soviet desire to encourage still closer economic relations between the two Germanys, and to further enhance Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's already-positive image among the West German people.

It is anticipated that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Honecker will sign agreements on environmental protection, as well as scientific and technological exchanges. The two leaders will also discuss European security arrangements and the human-rights situation in East Germany. And an unspoken item on the agenda will be the explosive issue of eventual German reunification.

Germany was divided at the end of World War II. The West German constitution specifically cites reunification as a national goal. Most West Germans recognize that reunification is a distant dream at best, because it can't happen without Soviet approval. And the Soviets, remembering the suffering of the Russian people at the hands of the Nazis, have no intention of allowing the reemergence of a powerful, united Germany.

But hope springs eternal. Some West Germans, most recently on the political right, want to believe that Soviet opposition to reunification would erode if their country were less closely tied to America. The French in particular worry that the German hunger for reunification will in fact feed an incipient trend toward neutralism in West Germany.

There are occasional signs that the Soviets are willing, up to a point, to nourish wishful thinking in West Germany in order to encourage German neutralism and drive a wedge between Bonn and other members of the Atlantic Alliance.

West German officials scoff at such concerns, which in fact probably are unfounded. But the visible nervousness of Bonn spokesmen betrays a deep-seated concern over the emotional forces that lie just beneath the surface.

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