Herbert Ammon (Berlin peace movement), 1994

Herbert Ammon, April 24 1994, by telephone from Toronto
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

I believe you said that Dieter Esche was particularly important in killing the motions you put forward about confederation and the peace treaty.

Ammon: Whether it was Dieter by himself is one question, but the fact is that the impulses given by people like Sabata, Dienstbier, and others coming out of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland — people who cooperated with some of the people in East Germany, namely Stephan Bickhardt (who is a minister at Ebes Walder??) , Ludwig Mehlhorn and others at Namburg at a theological seminary who were highly active. They formed a very active peace group that Hans Sinn can tell you about. I don’t know whether he met any of them but he correspoded. Also, connected with the Edelbert Richter, who is now connected with the Social Democrats. He was one of the leading characters in the protestant church, who had openly spoken out in favor of tackling the German question. These ideas were integrated with similar analyses in Czechoslovakia, so you had a particularly closet contact between Stephan Bickhardt and his group with people like Sabata, Jiri Dienstbier and I think even Peter Uhl, who also had realized that the ony way to break the deadlock of Central Europe, the bloc reality, was coming to grips with the idea of the inconclusive situation lying over the political reality of postwar Germany.

MS: Did they meet?

Ammon: Oh yes. I don’t know how they managed to cross the border but they did and spent days and nights describing the future of Europe. So Dieter Esche’s group —

MS: Yes, which group is he with?

Ammon: The East/West Dialogue. They were very well aware of these discussions and Walter Grunewald was also involved with them. He had been one of the originators of the idea of focusing on the interrelationship of the German question with the reality of the arms race. He was originally one of the guys who came out in favor of dissolving the blocs with German unity and then in 98 or 85 (he also had connections with Eppelman, who was given travel permission once or twice) but at the same time he was cooperating the Dieter Esche’s group which was called East-WEst dialogue.

MS: Dieter Esche isn’t a Green is he?

Ammon: Well, he left the Greens, along with his brother, he left the Alternative, as they were called here in West Berlin, due to their all-too lenient position toward the GDR. They collaborated with the GDR.

MS: The Greens did?!!

Ammon: Sure, some of the Greens. Of course there were a couple of spies in their ranks.

MS: I didn’t know any Greens who were of that mind.

Ammon: Those who dominated the Green pragmatism were the ones who were not ready to follow up their proclamation on overcoming the bloc division of Europe. Rather, they came out in favor of accepting the status quo. They were ever so keen to copy the Social Democratic line, so some of them — particularly in Berlin and Lower Saxony — they were dominated by the Communist League, and they were very close to the SPD. These people reacted so they were able to counteract all the impulses that had motivated the Greens from the beginning.

MS: Dieter Esche left Greens because—

Ammon: He left very early, I think 83 or 84, and his brother left the Greens a couple of months later. His brother was one of the coordinating committee of the Alternative ticket of the Greens then in West Berlin. These people were strongly committed to breaking up the blocs and promoting human rights in Eastern Europe. So when Dieter formed his group there were people like Guntolf Herzberg, who had left the GDR or had been kicked out. And Walter Grunewald. Wolfgang Schenck (sp?) also was active in this group. He also had been active in the Berlin Workshop within the Alternative ticket who were pushed to the side by the mainstream, the communist sympathisers within the Alternative ticket. So this Workshop on Berlin and the German Question that had originally exerted quite an influence in the Alternative ticket, they lost their impact around 83 or 84 when the people like the Stasi agent, Dirk Schneider, who was a member of the Bundestag, and others used the argument of rights wing tendencies to stifle these impulses. Then Grunewald switched to the Dieter Esche group who originally had cooperated with us and Dieter Esche pursued politics with Polish groups and some Hungarians, I think. And somehow the Czechs (I don’t know of any Slovaks involved in this) who had up until 85 strongly promoted the German question, no longer insisted on it. In fact, yeah, they had insisted on putting the German question on the agenda but it was this West Berlin group around Dieter Esche who somehow dropped it. And all this contributed to the fact that in the critical momentof 89 there were not too many Alternatives who were prepared to head the movement for change by focusing on the imminent or foreseeable current toward German unity. So in some way these West Germans missed their chance to contribute.

MS: You said Dieter Esche actually had contact with the Czechs.

Ammon: With the Czechs, the Poles, the Hungarians. Dialogue was a small working group. On the way to 88 or 89. I don’t know how long this group existed. There people never amounted to more than 10 or 12 people.Elsbeth Zylla was one. They were quite active in setting up contacts, visiting with these groups in Poland, etc.

MS: I talked to Nikita Maslennikov, who used to be an editor of Kommunist, who told me the story about the Soviet troops blocking the road that Honecker would have used to put down the demonstrations.

Ammon: I’ve never heard of this particular incident. It is quite correct that the Soviets made it clear that they would not put down the demonstrations, would not support Honecker’s regime. They had a two-pronged strategy. ON the one hand they were prepared to accept peaceful demonstrations so long as they were not directed against the Soviet presence. Second, they had in mind to install a reform-minded regime in East Berlin. This was decided quite late. When they actually were going to do so in October of 89 it was too late. They had no real reform team, so their side —

MS: Who took Honecker’s place when he left?

Ammon: Egon Krenz. He had been his crown prince, as far as intellectual leadership qualities, they certainly were not sufficient to handle the situation, nor did they have any other. They promoted Mudrow. I don’t know what his job was at that stage. As it turned out, there was no convincing reform-minded team. In fact, they had the idea of gathering a manifestation on October _, it was put on by the KGB and Stasi. They were there on the podium. The demonstrators were in part aware of this so they jeered and heckled them.

MS: Can you say that this story is not true?

Ammon: I could not confirm it but it would not surprise me. And of course there is so much mystery about the Soviet nonintervention that one does not know what went on. There’s another thread of fabrication and myth about the failure of the people’s army or rather the Stasi forces to intervene.Krenz claims that he ordered the security forces not to use force. Then this is denied by Honecker. There is no historical clear evidence as to who gave orders or did not give orders. Eventually it was probable that it was the Soviets who had made it clear to the EAst German leadership that they did not want to see any blood shed.

MS: I talked with Ulrich Albrecht, who said that Egon Bahr had had quite a bit of influence on Soviet policies about common security.

Ammon: He certainly had a lot of contacts. The real question is, who were the people whom he influenced? Who did he name?

MS: I called Egon Bahr and Falin to ask about it.

Ammon: He is at Bahr’s institute in Hamburg.

MS: Falin didn’t tell me anything special,but he has written a book.

Ammon: I bet it is made up of all kinds of constructions and rectifications. He said that he had been cheated by Kohl and the others because this is not the deal that he had arranged with them. Falin’s role is ambiguous. He had a master plan to save the GDR. The idea was on the Soviet side to allow E Germany some special relations with West Germany, to try to lure W Germany out of the closed Nato connection by establishing a nuclear free zone and a complete or partial withdrawal of troops.

MS: That sounds pretty good to me.

Ammon: Sure it does. It would have been a total win. As it turned out, for the Soviet side, who when they decided to play this scheme it was far too late. On the other hand, it would be another question whether any West German government — Kohl — would have gone along with this scheme. So as it turned out, a plan to preserve the empire by putting off pressure on its western flank, by promoting the peace issue, promoting disarmament, etc. but also by loosening W Germany’s ties with NATOI and the U.S. Now, all this failed so eventually it was Shevardnadze and Gorbachev who totally capitulated to the Western position. But though Falin was one of the best-informed specialists on German affairs, he did not recognize the revolutionary atmosphere in E. Germany that made comprehensive soutions essential.

MS: Have you read Falin’s book?

Ammon: I just read passages of it. I just read his accusations against Gorbachev and Shevardnadze. Now Shevardnadze turns the idea around and says, I had been informed as early as May by Kwizinsky — the funny thing is that somehow they had got the idea of what was going on but then some East Germans, maybe not too many, had as early as January of 89 gotten the perception of a very tight and resentful mood in the population. However, even at that stage, nobody knew, except the reform-minded group of the Stasi, who teamed up with the reform-minded group of the KGB, whose exponent Gorbachev had been in the first place. But all this came to light. In fact, you did have a classical revolutionary situation with the exception that it was the Soviets, the hegemonial power, the occupying power, that permitted the revolutionary process to set in at a certain moment of foreign relations vis-à-vis the Western powers, decided to abandon their stakes in the game altogether. This took shape from Feb up to June, July. In fact, as early as Kohl’s and Genscher’s trip to Moscow and then Stavropol, the Soviets had not yet abandoned the idea of total troop withdrawal — not only Soviet troops but also Western troops— from German soil and total denuclearization. Originally, their position, as they had formulated it as late as January, had been neutralization of Germany.

MS: When I talked to Albrecht he also mentioned two other people who — he said Falin wouldn’t be able to say that of course they were adoptng ideas from the peace movement, but that Egon Bahr, through the Palme Commission, through Arbatov, got his ideas about common secruity to Gorbachev. He told me to interview Kwizinsky.

Ammon: Very good idea. Of course, you can’t rely on these people to give the real story.

MS: The other person is Fedosov. Albrecht said I could get more out of these two guys than out of Falin.

Ammon: Of course Falin was out of the picture by then.

MS: But according to Albrecht, way back before, Kwizinsky had sort of acted as a conduit of ideas from the peace movement.

Ammon: I’m not so sure. Kwizinsky, all through the—- well, how long did he act as ambassador to Bonn?

MS: I don’t know. I never heard of him before.

Ammon: He totally denied the connection of the peace issue with the German question all along. He certainy was not in favor of taking up this idea at all. Yet, this is what Shevardnadze writes in his memoirs, it was Kwizinsky who informed him that revolutonary situation had arisen in E. Germany so something had to be done about that. So they had good information. But certainly Kwizinsky was no promoter of the peace issue at this stage.

MS: Well the notion of common security somehow got through.

Ammon: Well, that’s all very true, but you could get that as early as Reykjavik, when Gorbachev came out in favor of total nuclear disarmament. This was a challenge to the Americans who were by no means ever ready to go along with this so they perceived it as a manoeuvre to leave the Americans with the bad cards. Then the Americans were the die-hards of the issue. I’m not so sure. Of course, Egon Bahr had very good relations with Arbatov and Arbatov had good contact with the Americans, but none of these guys ever came up with tying the idea of security partnership with the German question, only as late as 89, when Bahr wrote his book. He established the connection and disestablished it at the same time. This was one of the tricky things of Tricky Egon, as he is often called. Now one guy who needs to be mentioned in this connection is Yakovlev, who was also one of Gorbachev’s key advisers, and Yakovlev was one of those people who did see the connection and was ready to play the card.

MS: The card being the connections between the German issue and disarmament.

Ammon: Sure. So the Soviet leadership was undecided.

MS: How do you know that he was ready to play that card? I never heard anybody say that before. Tell me.

Ammon: Well, there were several schools or sectors within the Soviet leadership, most of them or all of them tied up with the KGB. They were the ones who, of course with Gromyko as head, were never ready to make concessions on that or trying to modernize the empire by counting on German cooperation after settlement of the German question, but there were others who were ready to embark on this line, which used to be one of the Soviet lines of foreign policy.

MS: I interviewed a young man who said that a lot of ideas about common security came out of Germany of a decade or two before, and he mentions Ebenhausen. Stiftung Wissenschaft un Politik.

Ammon: Ebenhausen is at Starnberg Lake near Munich. Of course these people were disarmament experts. they were headed by Habermas and then Karl Friedrich von Wiesecker (sp?) the Federal president’s brother, who is one of the leading philosophers and one of the deans of the peace movement in some ways, althought his idea was not total nuclear disarmament but rather disarmament of the continental arsenal but relying on sea-based systems. This was the Starnberg Institute and then they transferred to Ebenhausen. The funny thing is at Ebenhausen you had a top notch Stasi agent whom I got to know when he was dean of political science department here at the Free University. His name is Hans _________. He was an excellent guy. They were great disarmament experts, trying to influence the then-Social Liberal government, later on with less influence on the Kohl government. I’m not so sure whether all this had any decisive impact. The only advantage of these talks was to establish contact, to ease the threat of confrontation and ushering in to mutual destruction. There was never any sense of coming closer to ideas like the nuclear free zone in terms of the Alva Myrdal conception. Common security somehow was a good scheme but it was never adopted by the Americans, wouldn’t have had the least chance of being adopted by the French.So one should not overemphasize these ideas and this is Bahr’s personal ambition and his conceit to put too much hopes into his schemes or his discussions with the Soviet partners. What eventually brought down the whole thing was the inner corrosion of the Soviet system and the total collapse of the GDR system, which was even more broke than the Soviets.

MS: Tell me more about Ebenhausen.

Ammon: Ebenhausen at Starnberg, near Munich, in upper Bavaria.

MS: Is there someplace where I can find out about these ideas that were prevalent there earlier?

Ammon: There are people who were working at that think tank who did not promote an identical scheme but had all sorts of ideas. ONe of the people to be mentioned here are the brothers Afheldt. Horst Afheldt. I forgot his brother’s name. They came out in favor of substituting nuclear deterrence by conventional— dismantling the escalation scheme and setting up the concept of territorial defence, which would have totally transformed the Nato strategy, and subverted it even. So their idea was different from the Wieseckers, the mutual security scheme. I don’t know where it came from, or where Bahr got these ideas from. I do know that the other Social Democratic —- . Ebenhausen was independent, more or less. Later it has become no more than a supply think tank of the Kohl government, but the other social democratic institute was the Hessian Institute for Peace Research. They wre highly skeptical of Soviet intentions, they never departed from the idea of, at the most, small reductions in nuclear disarmament levels. They never even promoted the mutual security scheme.

MS: Where was that?

Ammon: Is it in Frankfurt? I don’t know. Adam-Otto Czenpieel was one of these guys. Polish name. Their concept of peace policy was quite different from mutual security.

MS: Do you know a Polish guy Prystrom?

Ammon: Yeah, I met him once. There isn’t much I can tell you about him. I only know that the Polish government had quite a number of independent-minded scholars who turned out at all these discussions to bring the idea of bloc cooperation. They were not at all keen on the idea of disarmament or military disengagement. The Poles were not much interested in bloc dissolution, as long as this might have entailed German neutrality. This was their ogre. The Poles’ fear always has been any distance idea of Russian-German cooperation.

MS. Yeah I can imagine. Now tell me the difference between the ideas of Karsten Voight and Egon Bahr.

Ammon: (laughs). Oh, whatever his role is, in most cases he would be his master’s voice.

MS: You mean he would be Egon Bahr’s?

Ammon: He’s the gifted party politician, but he didn’t come up with any original schemes of his own.

MS: One thing I got in Moscow was the statement that there were Germans here every week. There would be Egon Bahr or Karsten Voigt. So then when I mentioned Voight to Falin, he said that his views and Bahr’s views are very different.

Ammon: Oh, are they? I would think Voight would say what was expected of him. But what were Egon’s views in the long perspective? Was he really driving at a German-Soviet cooperation or not? That is hard to make out.

MS: To tell the truth, when he described his notion of common security to me, it sounded like mutual assured destruction. (Laughs) I mean, it sounded like he was saying, well as long as we have got these weapons, we are in fact in a situation of mutual security. That’s the same thing as saying we have a secure arrangement because we both know that we don’t dare more a muscle because the other side would obliterate us.

Ammon: Well, that is a positivistic scheme that everybody in the West —

MS. Yeah, I’m not sure what it all meant and I’m going to have to track it down.

Ammon: It was an instrument of ____ the Americans by saying, there isn’t much we can do about this but if you want to, we need to establish these connections and then bring in the German question at a much later stage. Of course, he had revised himself on his foreign policy conceptions on several occasions. Originally his idea was based on Brzezinski’s concept of convergence. When this failed, he thought that there would be a thing like a mutual interest in avoiding common destruction, thereby he was convinced of the necessity of a mutual security scheme and he tried to somehow, at a very low stage, tie in this necessity with German interests, which he believed to promote on a German-German level. Which made him the bete noir of the dissidents in East and West Germany.

MS: Brzezinki?

Ammon: Yes, this is where Bahr started out from in the sixties because Brzezinski had supplied Kennedy with the idea of the convergence of the sixties, so he believed it back in the sixties, that a convergence would take place eventually.

MS: Gee, I didn’t realize the Brzezinski ever took that position.

Ammon: Sure, this was the idea in those days. He revised himself when it turned out that the Soviets, the later phase of Brezhnev were as power-hungry as ever. This had been his original concept. He said, I was somewhat too optimistic. But this is where Bahr originally started out in the sixties. In the eighties, Bahr was certainly very much at odds with a guy like Brzezinski, but Brzezinski was at least honest enough to admit that the German question was the key issue of Europe. He has been aware of this all along, but he did not promote any disarmament.

MS: Fascinating. ….

Ammon: Falin was in on the August coup. This is when he left Moscow, sure. They were about to question him after the investigation. That is why he departed.

MS: What is the basis of this relationshp between him and Bahr? Isn’t he a hardliner?

Ammon: Oh, yes.

MS: So what does Bahr see in him?

Ammon: Oh, friendships are based not only on identical views but also personal likings. It is funny. So in contrast with what one might believe. All the best.

See also
Herbert Ammon (Berlin peace politics), 1990

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