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Thursday, 09 July 2009

Willy Brandt

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Willy Brandt,  born Karl Herbert Frahm in Lübeck, Germany, on 18th December, 1913; died in Unkel, Germany, on 8th October 1992, outstanding West-German politician, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany 1969-1974, 1971 Nobel Piece Prize laureate.


Coming from a traditional social-democratic working class family, Frahm finished prestigious gymnasium Johanneum in Lübeck. He soon became engaged in politics, cooperating with the Socialist Workers Party of Germany(SAPD) from 1932. At that time, he also worked as a journalist.

After the Nazis had taken power in German in 1933, Frahm emigrated to Norway in order to found a branch of the SAPD and to lead the fight against the Nazis. He established numerous contacts to the Norwegian workers movement. In 1938, the authorities of the Third Reich deprived Frahm of his citizenship. Having already used the surname Brandt, he then received the Norwegian citizenship. To the German citizenship he returned only in 1947. From 1937 to 1939 he was war correspondent in Spain. After the Nazi had occupiied of Norway, Brandt escaped to Sweden, where he continued his political activity. At that time, he contributed to the creation of the International Group of Democratic Socialists,
whose task was to avert a breakdown of the socialist movement and the development of principles for a future of peaceful coexistence in Europe.

In these works, Polish socialists also took part: Among others, on behalf of the Polish Socialist Party, Jan Kwapiński, member of the Polish exile-government, and Maurycy Kamiol, representative of the aforementioned government in Scandinavia. In 1944, Kamiol informed the members of this body about the events in the Nazi extermination camps in Poland. After the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, the International Group of Democratic Socialists sent greetings to the “heroic soldiers of the Polish Home Army”. They also expressed the expectation that the Western Allies confer the fighting Poles with the status of combatants and provide them with appropriate assistance. During his time in exile in Sweden, Willy Brandt spoke on the relation of Germany to Poland and the shape of its borders. He recognized the right of Poles to build their own state, to national security and “territorial adjustments”. He supported the then only minor corrections of the postwar Polish-German border, which was to resolve any separatist tendencies in the future. After World War II, Willy Brandt returned to Germany as a correspondent of Scandinavian, mainly Norwegian press. He reported, among others, the process of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg. He also served as a press attaché of the Norwegian military mission at the Allied Control Council in Germany.

After returning to Germany permanently, Brandt tied his life to Berlin. Here, he began to work actively in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) – as an agent of its board and as the party´s representative in alliance issues. This was the beginning of his huge political career. For many years, he was representative of West Berlin in the Federal Diet. During his time as Mayor of Berlin (1957-1966), Brandt showed great political class, especially in the so-called Second Berlin Crisis (1958).  Resolutely, he turned down Khrushchev´s ultimatum, demanding the abolition of the occupation laws in West Berlin and its transformation into a free city. He supported the demonstrations of the population of Berlin. During the construction of the Berlin wall, Brandt demanded the U.S. to take political action. Admittedly, Kennedy did not give his assent to an armed intervention, however, he decided to strengthen U.S. presence in the western part of the city. A visible support for Brandt´s adamant policy in Berlin was president Kennedy´s visit to Berlin on 26th June, 1963. On that date, the President of the United States said the famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner”, which symbolized the existence of a community of people who advocate democracy.

In 1964, Brandt was elected chairman of the SPD (until 1987), succeeding Erich Ollenhauer. Holding that position, he supported reforms within the SPD (among them the Godesberg programme, 1959).  In the parliamentary elections of 1961 and 1965, he was the SPD-candidate for chancellorship.He advocated the need for changes in domestic and foreign policy (the policy of small steps). Brandt expressed his view in a speech delivered together with the head of his press office, Egon Bahr, in Tutzing in July 1963. Therein he claimed that Germany must become reconciled with the post-war status quo and seek conditions for peaceful solutions for the problems between democratic west and communist east.  It was necessary to find  “as much common points and sense of communication as possible”. During the term of the grand coalition of CDU (Christian Democratic Union)/CSU (Christian Social Union) and SPD from 1966 to 1969 Brandt held the office of vice-chancellor and minister of foreign affairs.  At that time, he managed to avoid  lurking isolation of the Federal Republic of Germany in the international arena (intensification of West-European unification and strengthening of alliances, first attempts to normalize the relations with the countries of the Eastern Bloc). After winning election to the Federal Diet by coalition of SPD and FDP (Free Democratic Party)  in September 1969, Willy Brandt was elected Chancellor (21st October, 1969). The government exposé demanded, among others, internal reforms. The slogan of the government was to “dare more democracy”.

His first years as chancellor marked steady, yet profound changes in foreign policy, especially towards the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (so called Ostpolitik). According to Brandt, conclusion of agreements with communist states was to assist the elimination of tensions from international politics and to help relaxation and reconciliation with the East. After signing an agreement with Moscow, Willy Brandt concluded an agreement with Poland on basic normalization of the mutual relations on 7th December, 1970. This treaty gave rise to the establishment of comprehensive Polish-German relations. On of its effect was the founding of the Joint Commission on Textbooks between Federal Republic of Germany and Polish People's Republic (1972), which had the task to revise existing, often stereotyped and with the state of research incompatible depictions of German and Polish history in school textbooks in both countries. This was to be one of the bases for dialogue between both peoples/nations. The visit of Chancellor Brandt to Poland in December 1970 obtained a symbolic dimension with his genuflection in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial. This was to pay a tribute to the victims of the German occupation by a politician who believed that, although he had always been an opponent of the Nazis, as a German had to bear part of the responsibility for the evils of war. "Over the abyss of German history and the burden of millions murdered" - Brandt recalled this event – "I did, what people do, if words fail them". The picture of the kneeling chancellor went around the world, but in Poland itself it was long regarded by the authorities as "offensive". Only in the 90s, Brandt´s gesture became operational as a milestone for Polish-German reconciliation in the Polish historical memory. Brandt also received much attention for establishing relations between both German states. He recognized the "existence of two German states of one German nation". This was a prerequisite for the realization of his German policy. After signing the Moscow and the Warsaw treaty, the Chancellor started first talks with the GDR. Brandt´s peace policy was appreciated internationally, as it became evidenced when he was granted the Nobel Peace prize in 1971. Brandt's foreign policy, however, received much critique, not only from the oppositional CDU/CSU, but also from his own party. The Chancellor endured a constructive vote of mistrust, but his party lost the parliamentary majority due to secession of a part of representatives. After a snap election Willy Brandt was again elected Chancellor in November 1972. This event was the best confirmation of the validity of his previous policy. The new eastern policy of the Federal Republic of Germany was crowned by the signing of a treaty with the GDR in December 1972 (so-called Grundlagenvertrag) and with Czechoslovakia in December 1973. In 1973, both the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR were admitted to the United Nations Organization.


Brandt´s successes in foreign policy were not accompanied by equivalent achievements in his domestic policy. In the Federal Republic of that period, manifestations of a financial and economic crisis could be observed (rising inflation), with which the government could not really cope. These problems overlapped with disputes within the SPD. The discovery of a GDR spy among employees of the chancellor´s office (the so-called Guillaume affair) weakened the position of the Chancellor to such an extend that he resigned on 7th May, 1974.

During the next years, Willy Brandt still held office as the chairman of the SPD. After resigning in 1987, he became honorary chairman of his party. In this period, Willy Brandt became involved in the international arena for the security and improvement of the situation of developing countries. As chairman of the North-South-Commission, he presented proposals for a reorientation of international policy towards the Third World. He still observed the development of the situation in the Eastern Bloc with great interest. After the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981, Willy Brandt appealed on behalf of the SPD and the Socialist International for the release of internees, legalization of "Solidarity", the lifting of martial law the start of a dialogue between the communist government and polish society. Brandt´s activities were to promote Polish anti-communist opposition, so that the SPD - despite initial reservations about the changes in Poland (policy of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt) - supported the struggle for individual and social human rights. This was intended, inter alia, to support his visit in to Warsaw in 1985, when he, among others, met with Tadeusz Mazowiecki and began a correspondence with Lech Wałęsa. In 1989, Brandt advocated the unification of Germany. His saying of that period, "Now grows together what belongs together", may correspond to the Situation of Germany, but also of Europe, where political divisions fell after several decades, and entered political language permanently. The signing of the treaty on good neighbourship and friendly cooperation by united Germany and free Poland in 1991 was for Brandt the conclusion of actions taken in a time when he was still at the helm of the Federal Government.


Krzysztof Ruchniewicz


Literature used for this text:

Willy Brandt a Polska. O pokój w warunkach wolności i sprawiedliwości społecznej. Pulication of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Anthology, edited by Dieter Dowe, Michael Schneider and Klaus-Peter Schneider, Bonn 2000; 

Peter Merseburger, Willy Brandt 1913-1992. Visionär und Realist, Stuttgart-München 2002; Retrieved at: .

Pictures with friendly permission of Fotostelle des AdsD / Friedrich Ebert Stiftung w Bonn

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