Herbert Ammon (Berlin peace politics), 1990

Herbert Ammon — in Berlin, summer of 1990. He was a peace activist in West Berlin. His daughter Ruth came to live with me for about six months.
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Spencer: That’s interesting because I would not have said that —from my conversations with END people I would not have said that they were really tackling the German Question.

Ammon: They were not tackling it. Certainly not, and their discussion was not continuously focused on the German Question. The END is not a one-man- affair but there were a couple of people like John Sandford, John Thibolt , Patrick Burk, others ,who had contacts with East-German dissidents on the one hand and who were the mediators (…) such ideas expressed of guys like Peter (?). Walter Grunwald was one of the early protagonists of this group and he maintained these contacts with END people. I met John Williams at the Glasgow-conference for the first time.

But anyway this was a national level. People like Juergen Gralfs is also one of the early protagonists of the Havemann letter and then German Question, the END-committee, elsewhere. I don’t know what other positions he had on the European level. So this group of people was then very active in preparing the second END conference in Berlin in May or June ’83. And we had some wall-crossing activities and messages and there were at least two workshops on the German Question. And Russians were there, of course —people like Lomeiko.

S: Who?

A: Lomeiko. He was editor of “Pravda”. And Projecto, who was one of the clear heads of their peace committee. Who else was there? And they for the first time, no, not for the first time because certainly East-West rivalry which had been sharpened the Missile conflict, there were a number of people within the Soviet establishment, of a power elite who apparently were playing with the German Questio, be it as a means to change the status quo, or be it on a basis envisioned in the ’50s or be it for the purpose of causing unhinging West German loyalties within NATO.

S: That’s an interesting angle. What is your reading of what they were doing?

A: Well, both. You never know.

S: Did they sound serious to you?

A: Well, I had a discussion here in Berlin in November ’81 (when the Havemann letter appeared) with a guy from the FDP, sponsored by the Liberals, considered a leftist Liberal. Later on he was booked on the fraudulent charge of having cheated his class. (laughs) Rather funny thing. His party sponsored this discussion and there were people from the Soviet Consulate in West-Berlin, established after the Four-Power-Treaty, the General consulate of which has played a key role in East-West relations and in Soviet policy regarding Germany. So quite a number of people have occupied posts in the General Consulate and then transferred to the Russian Embassy in East-Berlin and from there to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

S: Do you have the names of these people?

A: Yea. People like Mitrieyev, his successor, first secretary Nikatin and other guys. And whenever we had a West-German politician travelling to one of the leading characters appearing in Moscow, people from the consulate were present as interpreters, counselors and so forth. And then there was Portugalov who was the guy in charge, secretary of the committee concerned with German questions. Nikolai Portugalov. On one of the meetings, conferences carried on (sponsored by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung of the SPD), elsewhere were all been smashed. That was latest January ’83 or even at the Bundestag-decision on deploying the Missiles in November’83. Put forth a carrot by saying, Well, We could envision German confederation, if you wish. So I would interpret his pronouncement as goading rather than serious offers.

S: He wouldn’t have been in the position to do anything!?

A: Oh yes. They are the very same guys who have been in charge of the central European affairs and they are affiliated with the Third Department of the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, covering East- and West-Germany. This was the Third Department.

S: They are not there now?

A: Sure they are. There is Valentin Falin, who was the ambassador to Bonn in the ’60s, who is one of the chief advisors to Gorbatchev, there is Portugalov. Oh, I forgot, I have to go back to this first discussion I had at this public meeting sponsored by the Liberals here in Berlin. This is where I met a very interesting personnel. Professor Illiard Kremer who is one of the top-intellectuals of the Moscow Academy of Sciences and Economics. This is the brain tank in Moscow.


A: That may be the English abbreviation. (This is not the department concerned with the Americans. Of course the guy in charge there, Arbatov, also had a sharp eye on the German Question in his relations with the Americans, in his analysis of the East-West relations.) It is the Academy of Economic Sciences. This is the brain tank. This is where I think Yakovlev came out of this institution and Daristchev .

S: I don’t know Daristchev.

A: Daristchev is who in April ’89, presented a paper to Gorbachev proposing a clear change on their German policies.

S: Aha. And he ‘s been here at the German embassy?

A: Oh no, no, no. But so these would be the scientists, these would be the diplomats and the politicians. The scientists were people like Kremer, even Arbatov, Yakovlev, Daristchev. And people like a guy I met a couple of weeks ago at an informal gathering which is a forum for East-West encounters which was established in ’68 or so.

S: What’s it called?

A: “Politischer Club”. Rather neutral thing, based in Berlin. It has a second name. “Workshop for European Cooperation”.(“Arbeitskreis fuer Europaeische Zusammenarbeit”). This is a grouping holding discussions worldwide, from Washington to Moscow, Rome to Helsinki and so forth. Participants are requested not to divulge statements.

S: Who participates?

A: Politicians, scientists, scholars,journalists. So it’s just one of these you know…

S: Floating shows?

A: Floating shows, except that the statements,the ideas, positions, opinions voiced there are not carried to the public. Anyway, this is where I met this guy Melnikov. He is also one of the leading experts on the German Question in the sixties. Wrote Stalin’s biography, indicating the change of position in the Soviet Union. He said, off the cuff, “Well it was me who wrote the first draft of the Stalin note in ’52.” So this is a very closed shop of experts and advisors representing different schools and presenting various frames of foreign policy focused on Central Europe and on Germany. And it would be a future task for historians to track down the various degrees of opinion and their promoters.

This is exactly the reason why our deviant view, our critical attitude towards NATO-strategy and NATO-security doctrines, was frowned upon by the Western elites because we were suspected of misleading Germany onto a third road — to the abyss probably. So any kind of opposition to the bloc structure was noticed with great misgivings among the establishment.

S: Sure. And I’m especially interested in what you are saying about the contacts in that early period with the Soviets.

A: These were just very informal contacts. The people were interested in what the German dissidents were saying in regard to the security problem and they were not (a person like Ilian Kremer certainly not, their experts and diplomats certainly yes) were interested in finding out whether there was a strong movement or whether the movement itself was united on any position and in which way the peace-movement could be utilized for their political purposes. And let’s face it, there was a very strong CP-influence in the movement, as there always has been. And people who were adamantly opposed to our ideas because they were smart enough to realise that GDR’s existence depended on block structures and were opposed to any idea of establishing nuclear free zones. At this time as early as ’81 Alva Myrdal’s article had been published by END and by a journal here in West-Berlin.

S: I am sorry I don’t know which article you mean.

A: “Nuclear Free zones in Europe”

S: And I don’t think I have ever read it.

A: This also gears the objective of denuclearization to the German Questionm creating a belt of nuclear free and if possible neutral states.

S: Was she behind the Palme..?

A: No she wasn’t. She died as early as…

S: ’85 maybe?

A: And was she on the Palme-commission?

S: I wasn’t aware of it. That’s why I was surprised because you seemed to be describing what seemed to be the Palme …

A: Well, the Palme report reduced the denuclearized zone to some 300 km. She was talking about a belt of nations.

S: More like the Rapacki?

A: Sure. She referred to all the disengagement schemes of the ’50s and did not refrain from pointing at the German Question in this context. And despite the support of leading personalities in the peace movement, Alva Myrdal being the grand-dame of European peace, even people like Galtung coming out in favor of disengagement, of creating a neutral zone in order to overcome the block division. Despite these analyses, which we could mobilize in favor of our views, our influence in the peace movement was decreasing, even within the Greens. And this had to do (a) with the seizure [or decease?] of Havemann, who was no longer there as the main promotor, unassailable, and (b) with the deep-rooted aversion of large sectors of the left to come to terms with the German reality other than by reaffirming the status quo — or the unilateral war-cry: “West-Germany, get out of NATO!” If so (if FRG out of NATO) this would have entailed a total upsetting of the status quo because NATO stands in polls with the cornerstone which is West-Germany or now united Germany. So, probably this was not meant too seriously. Anyway, we lost support within the movement and in the mid ’80s within West-Germany or within the German movement there was very little response to these ideas. However, they had been well received by certain groups in East-Germany. Although our mail was sifted by the Stasi and sometimes letters got nowhere, a certain exchange was taking place. The emphasis on the German question became a factor within the East-German peace movement more so than in the West. These East-Germans had been in contact with the East-European dissidents ever since ’68, since the Prague Spring. So the joint German-German network was supported by the East-European network, whereas our emphasis was on taking up the German Question was eliminated from the debate, the German Question cropped up in the East European debate. The most on behalf of Czechs, Hungarians and a few Poles. It was in ’85 that Jiri Dienstbier, Sabata and others came forth with the Prague Appeal in which they focused on the German Question. In ’87 in Coventry we had a (sponsored by the English END-group) a workshop on the German peace treaty issue and a couple of Hungarians were there.

S: Do you remember who?

A: Ferenc Mislowitz. They were also still open to the issue. In the meantime a group also affiliated with END called “East-West Dialogue” centered around Dieter Esche and Marie Louise Lindemann who had also been in close contact with East-German groups and East-European groups. They for a moment tried to bypass the German Question, therefore it did nor recur in the ensuing documents of Charta 77.

S: “Giving Real Life to the Helsinki Accords”?

A: Right. Exactly. This is when the West-Germans, as far as I know, were responsible for eliminating these passages.

S: Fascinating. I didn’t know that.

A: That was Esche. They were too touchy about the whole thing. Well, and then they had the crisis of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union coming to the fore. And certainly the Soviet leadership, the reform-minded leadership, was aware that any attempt to reshape their system was dependent on sort of not only restructuring Eastern Europe but on a change in East-West relations and a modification of East-West conflict, which apparently they have been losing after having triggered a new round due to the missile crisis. So it may have been the missile issue that backfired and served to bring the downfall of the empire because the arms race apparently imposed an even greater burden on their economy than on the American.

S: That’s a whole other discussion I’d love to go into, however…

A: When the KGB reform group, Andropov’s favorite son Gorbachev, was placed on top, a number of factors cooperated in bringing all these dramatic changes about. One was the evident crisis of their technology erupting in Chernobyl. Another was that even after Chernobyl they were apparently trying to gain the upper hand in the East-West conflict by taking the lead in the race for disarmament. This is how it was perceived by the American elites, who were by no means ready to concede to the Soviets’ peaceful intentions. Rather, they were very apprehensive of the Soviets trying to again unhinge the West-Germans from NATO. And this is apparently the way they had been setting the rules for the game after Honecker showed himself refractory at changing his worn out economy and political system. They were looking for reform-minded substitutes and it took some time until they had found their team headed by Modrow and a couple of others and they were so unperceptive as to even think of a person like Krenz. So they had no clear view of what was going on in East-Germany or the situation in East-Germany. Otherwise they would have never picked a person like Krenz. So what they were up to was to install a reform-minded regime which would not only promote their interest in disarmament, relieving the strain on the economy, but also establishing a new, more cooperative relationship with West-Germany. As late as summer of ’89 they were [surprised?] to offer freedom of travel for the East-German citizens, which would have been hailed as great success here in West-Germany. Everybody would have been very well satisfied with leaving it at that and then you would have the full recognition of the two states, plus some mild additional modification of the status quo of Berlin etc. and the situation would have been settled on terms that everyone in Europe and worldwide would have preferred, it would have been the ideal situation of the status quo except for the Americans who would have … (INTERRUPTION)…

But what the Soviets had in mind was making the new East-German leadership establish federal relations, making some […?] on the national question by way what Modrow in his first speeches called a “The Conference of Treaties”(?). The kettle had been boiling to such a degree that the lid went up. This is when they, by mistake, opened the wall and this brought down the whole thing. This actually falls into the pattern of the perfect revolution. External and internal factors revolutionizing the previous status quo.

See also
Herbert Ammon (Berlin peace movement), 1994

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books