Primary Sources

President Bush and Chancellor Kohl discuss Eastern Europe


The fall of 1989 was a turbulent one. A new reform-oriented government had been elected in Poland, new elections were scheduled in Hungary, and East Germany had a new leader, Egon Krenz, who was speaking openly about reforms in the GDR (German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany). In this telephone conversation, U.S. President George H. W. Bush discusses the situation in Poland, Hungary, and East Germany with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Of special note in this conversation is the attention placed by both Kohl and Bush on countering the image of West Germany (and its potential unification with East Germany) portrayed by the international press. Chancellor Kohl was also quick to point out that his support for both the European Community (EC) and NATO was strong and that he would not support a neutral stance of a future unified Germany.


George H. W. Bush, conversation with Helmut Kohl, October 23 1989, Bush Presidential Library, Public Papers, Bush Library (accessed April 2, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Chancellor Kohl:

In the GDR [East Germany], 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 [West Germany] — 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

President George H. W. Bush, "President Bush and Chancellor Kohl discuss Eastern Europe," Making the History of 1989, Item #28, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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