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My Life in Politics.


Willy Brandt. Hamish Hamilton. 20.00[pounds].

Germany, united, with its serious troubles after unification, is now in the centre of interest and attention. It is therefore really helpful to have at hand the autobiography of Willy Brandt, now 80, who has a fascinating and instructive story to tell about what he did in politics, leaving out his private life as the title indicates.

Willy Brandt is an extraordinary and very genuine international figure. He started as the illegitimate son of a worker in Lubeck, the port on the Baltic. His father did not realize he had this son for many years. His grandfather on his mother's side brought him up as a straightforward German Social Democrat. He had to flee, of course, changing his name from Frahm to Brandt. As an active Socialist he managed to get to Norway and then escaped to Sweden. He went on dangerous underground missions to Norway after the Germans had seized it. He reveals that he and many others survived because old-fashioned cannons in Oslo harbour sank the German cruiser on which were all the Gestapo with their files. He served in the Norwegian Occupation Force in Berlin but entered German political life encouraged by senior German Social Democrats. In fact, today he is the only post-war politician who worked in the Underground during the last war. Brandt, and this is often ignored, is the only North German who played a key role in post-war German politics. Leaders like Adenauer, Kiesinger and Kohl belong to the South and West and Genscher is from Central Germany.

Brandt gives a detailed account of his step by step rise to power, first to becoming Mayor of Berlin, then to advance to leadership of the Social Democrat Party, Foreign Minister and Chancellor. He goes into detail on the endless negotiations on Coalition governments, made inevitably by Germany's Proportional Representation system. He records also step by step, his new |Ostpolitik', his successful and shrewdly timed efforts to relax relations with what was then the powerful and dangerous Soviet Union and its now vanished Warsaw Pact Alliance.

As a traditional pre-war Social Democrat he was always wary of Soviet Communist tactics. He could make argreements with Soviet leaders and meet leaders like Breshnev and Gomulka of Poland. His Ostpolitik of 25 years ago made the abandoning of the Soviet position in Germany, the dropping of East Germany by Gorbachev, easier, without anyone knowing in advance. In fact one of the really fascinating features of Brandt's record is that he had no idea of the Soviet collapse. He goes into intricate details about the implications of his success in cohabiting with Eastern Bloc countries. Even in his Postscript, November 1989, he does not foresee the sudden unification a few months later. This suggests a sudden collapse of the will to rule in the Soviet Communist Party leadership which has not been properly appreciated and examined.

Having done his major part in easing the East-West tensions, Brandt, having had to resign as Chancellor because he had an East German spy, Guillaume, on his staff, took a leading initiative in easing the North-South tension, between the rich North and the poor South in the much praised but practically ignored Brandt Commission of which Sir Edward Heath was also a leading member. Brandt is a genuine internationalist and fervent European. He even unearthed a 1925 resolution of the German Social Democratic Party in favour of a United Europe.

Brandt, of course, has met most of the important people of the post-war era. He was Mayor of Berlin, when Kennedy made his famous Berlin speech. But his fervent admiration is reserved for de Gaulle. He paid homage to him visiting his grave privately during an official visit to France, just as he kneit before the memorial, in Warsaw, to the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.

There are amusing encounters related; a meeting, for instance, with George Brown, then Foreign Secretary, during the ups and downs of negotiations for Britain's entry into what was then the EEC. He quotes Brown appealing to him: |Willy, you must get us in, so we can take the lead'. He calls Lord Callaghan reasonable and Mrs. Thatcher |contentious'. Brandt may still play a part in a serious EC crisis.
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Author:Muray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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