Primary Sources

Telephone Call from Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Federal Republic of Germany


In this telephone conversation between West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and U.S. President George H. W. Bush on October 23, 1989, the two leaders discuss the revolutionary events in Hungary, Poland, and East Germany. It is clear from Kohl's summary of West Germany's approach toward Eastern Europe that he preferred a slow course of reform, based primarily on economic reforms supported by new democratic leaders, and feared instability could also result if reforms were carried out too quickly. Kohl also voiced his concern in the western press that West Germany would abandon its commitment for NATO and the European Community (EC) in exchange for reunification with East Germany. Kohl reassured President Bush that this was not true and asked the President to assist him in calming such fears. President Bush responded with full support of Kohl's policies and that he agreed that a cautious approach toward the events in the East was the best way forward.


Helmut Kohl, conversation with George H.W. Bush, 23 October 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Chancellor Kohl: I wanted to tell you briefly how I see events in Hungary, Poland, and the GDR. In Hungary, things are going the best. The people are incredibly courageous, and very determined. The present government is taking an enormous risk: the changes have their origin with the reform movement in the Communist Party, but it is not at all certain that the reformers will be able to get credit in the course of the election. It is quite possible that the Party will come in only second, and there might be a coalition. We have supported the Hungarians quite vigorously. In December I will go over for two days to give further support, also optically.


Chancellor Kohl: ... On November 9 I will go to Poland for four days. Our negotiations have been essentially concluded. I will do all I can to support the new government, especially in the economic area. With the EC, I intend to give assistance in human resources. This seems to be the problem, if I may put it bluntly: there is a lot of good will and many good ideas, but the Poles do not know how to put them into practice. They have to introduce currency reforms, a new banking system, and other steps to open up a new market-oriented economy. I will be doing what I can, and I will also take into account and work on what you have suggested, so that Western activities can be homogeneous. My feeling is that our Western friends and partners should be doing more. There is a difference between words and deeds. I also want to enter into a new phase with the Poles, 50 years after the outbreak of war.

In the GDR, changes are quite dramatic. None of us can give a prognosis. It is not clear whether the new man will have the determination and the strength to carry out reform. Gorbachev told me that he had encouraged reform during his visit, but I am not sure how courageous he [new Party and state leader Egon Krenz] is. There is an enormous unrest among the population. Things will become incalculable if there are no reforms. My interest is not to see so many flee the GDR because the consequences there would be catastrophic. Our estimates are that by Christmas we will have reached a total of 150,000 refugees, with an average age of under 30.

My last point concerns the climate among the media in New York, the coast, London, the Hague, Rome, and Paris that, crudely speaking, holds that the Germans are now committed to Ostpolitik and discussions about reunification and that they are less interested in the EC and the West. This is absolute nonsense! I will again and again explain and declare my position. At the beginning of January, I will go to Paris to deliver a speech at a major-conference. I will say publicly — also to the left wing in the FRG — that without a strong NATO, without the necessary development of the EC, none of these developments in the Warsaw Pact would have occurred. I am firmly convinced of that, and that will be my message. It would also be good for you, as soon as you can, to deliver a public message that progress in disarmament and changes in the east are possible only if we stand together.

The President: I couldn't agree more. I have seen some of those stories, but I know your position and think I know the heartbeat of Germany. The strength of NATO has made possible these changes in Eastern Europe. We are seeing a spate of stories about German reunification resulting in a neutralist Germany and a threat to Western security. We do not believe that. We are trying to react very cautiously and carefully to change in the GDR. We have great respect for the way the FRG under your leadership has been handling this situation. You have done a great job.


How to Cite this Source

Helmut Kohl, "Telephone Call from Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Federal Republic of Germany," Making the History of 1989, Item #429, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).

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