Interview with Valentin Mikhailovich Falin, February 1994 by Julia Kalinina on behalf of Metta Spencer
Q: Some members of the European Nuclear Disarmament group, along with some human rights activists in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland prepared a document called the “Prague Appeal”, which was unusual for its time in calling for the reunification of Germany. I understand that the appeal was discussed in Moscow. It was, for example, read at Bogomolov’s institute. Can you recall any such discussion of that document?
Falin: It is well known that this document was in circulation in Moscow. It was a subject of discussion in a number of academic fora, and at Bogomolov’s institute in particular. However, official discussion of this document did not take place, either in government or in party circles.
Q: Since you were for a long time concerned with Germany, I suppose that you were well acquainted with many German politicians. The SPD, especially Mr. Bahr and Mr. Voight, often visited Moscow and I understand that their views were respected. Did you play a large role in making their views known in Moscow? Were you early in promoting such notions as common security?
Falin: First and foremost, I must point out that the views of Mr. Voight and Mr. Bahr were certainly not identitical, although they were members of the same party. They based their views on different notions and concepts, and advanced different proposals for what constitutes common European security and for solving problems of collective security. According to Mr. Bahr, this ought to proceed on the basis of relations of partnership between all concerned states. Although they didn’t hold opposing positions, the differences between their views were quite apparent. Their opinions, the offical position of the SPD and, in particular, the position of government of the Federal Republic of Germany were only formally, but nevertheless intensively, reviewed in Moscow. At various stages, this information had some practical implications for Soviet policy. But in the final stage of the existence of the USSR, under Gorbachev, our leadership listened more attentively to the views of President Kohl, Genscher and, from an official point of view, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Q: We have all heard rumours that the Soviet Union actively supported the uprisings of 1989 in Central Europe. For example, there was a story that the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia was precipitated when a secret policeman pretended to be killed in a Prague street demonstration, and that Soviets were involved in planning this provocation. According to another story, Mr. Honecker would have crushed the demonstrations in Leipzig had not the Soviet army blocked the highway along which his troops had to enter. How much truth can there be in such stories – or others which claim that Gorbachev assisted the popular uprisings in the WTO countries?
Falin: I should say that there are a great many rumours of this sort circulating in Western Europe and one must view them skeptically. Our military apparatus, which was spread throughout East Germany, Poland and Hungary, was under strict order never to interfere in the affairs of these republics and, in the event that something occurred, to act as if nothing unusual was taking place. Therefore, our troops did not support any one of the various sides engaged in political or military struggles at the time. And, even if circumstances seemed to be out of control politically, we would have remained neutral in so far as we had taken a principled stand after 1988 not to interfere in the developments which were unfolding, or could unfold, in the WTO countries. Our troops adhered to these directives absolutely.
Q: But what about Gorbachev? Did he somehow facilitate the uprisings and demonstrations in Eastern Europe?
Falin: Gorbachev, of course, did not actively help them, because his position was not to interfere in the internal affairs of these countries. But objectively, the dynamics of events in these countries were certainly influenced by developments in the USSR, and you can hold Gorbachev responsible for this. But the President never permitted our country to have any further, direct influence. We did not interefere in the internal affairs of Eastern European countries regardless of how these affairs were proceeding.
Q: The Soviet decision to allow the unification of Germany was remarkably swift. I have heard that you regarded it as hasty and unwise, in that the Soviet Union could have negotiated more favourable terms. Is that so? How did that decision come to be made?
Falin: There are two aspects to this issue: one concerns external affairs, particularly questions of European security and the security interests of each state effected; the second concerns the internal affairs of Germany. Within Germany, the model of unification had to be approved and implemented by both governments of the former, two German nations. I was of the opinion that, in so far as the unification process must embrace two independent sovereign states, each connected militarily, economically and politically with different countries, they could not simply be unified mechanically by an on-paper agreement between the two states. In my view, and in the view of the experts whom I consulted, the unification agreement would have and should have very serious, far-reaching consequences for all concerned with the future, unified Germany, as well as for affairs within that country. In the way in which the unification took place, our concerns about security were disregarded. The former East Germany became a part of NATO and thus created the basis for the further spread of NATO in the East. Today, in Russia under Yeltsin, it is acknowledged that the terms of the unification agreement are difficult to reconcile with Russian national interests.
The internal consequences of the unification are such that today, in both the former Eastern and Western German territories, there is significant opinion that the model of unification which Germany chose has not proven to be the most successful of models. This model has been very costly for Germany, not only in a financial sense, but also from the perspective of human relations and human interests. There is enormous unemployment. The destruction of much of what had been in place prior to unification has had both good and bad consequences. Today, all this has been recognised, and I would like to say that what has been done is done, and we must look to the future. The Germans themselves have chosen this more costly, more complicated road and, if in fifteen or twenty years they have coped with their difficulties, then we will be able to congratulate them. This is my viewpoint.
Q: Thank you very much. Would you like to add anything further?
Falin: Only that we needn’t dwell on the past but must look ahead and hope that the future will be brighter.