The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany were hailed by many as triumphs of western ideals of democracy and the free market over communism or state socialism. The then leaders of the western world, especially British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, were widely seen as leading the ideologically-driven attitudes and policies which purportedly caused the collapse of communism. There is only one snag to the story. Mrs. Thatcher was deeply suspicious of German reunification and did all she could to prevent it. In effect, she would rather have let the citizens of the then German Democratic Republic remain under communism than have a reunified Germany. According to the former West German chancellor Helmut Kohl’s recently-published memoirs, Mrs. Thatcher attacked Mr. Kohl — at a dinner hosted by the French president François Mitterrand — for considering reunification. Further detail has also emerged; documents released by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) show that Mrs. Thatcher even claimed to speak for Western Europe and the United States when she bluntly told Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, the only person who might have prevented German reunification, that the west did not want that. Mrs. Thatcher was trying to mislead Mr. Gorbachev about the U.S. position, as the then president George Bush Sr. fully backed Mr. Kohl.

The Thatcher crusade failed completely. Mr. Gorbachev soon came to support reunification, as did Mr. Mitterrand. Secondly, Mrs. Thatcher was opposed by her own foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, and by eminent British historians. Thirdly, none of Mrs. Thatcher’s fears has materialised. The reunified Germany, which did not find the aftermath of reunification easy, has neither dominated the European Union nor looked at all likely to revive Nazism and aggressive nationalism. Indeed, German laws and policies against Nazism are implemented much more thoroughly than comparable laws and policies in many other EU countries. Neither has the general German political culture been affected. Germany has maintained the post-war consensus between government, labour, and capital and is said even by conservative analysts to be leading the west out of the recession. Moreover, the re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel has not allowed her major coalition partner, the right-wing Free Democrat Party, any significant influence. The point is not just that Mrs. Thatcher was totally wrong about German reunification but that those who are beguiled by so-called conviction politicians would do well to remember that such figures are rarely what they seem to be.

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