Free Elections in Germany

  January 20, 2024   Read time 4 min
Free Elections in Germany
A final Western attempt to win support in the UN on a cold-war issue concerned elections in Germany. For several years the United States, Britain and France had been calling in their discussions with the Soviet Union for free elections throughout Germany as a means towards the reunification of that country.

Pressure for reunification was of course strongest in West Germany itself, and it was the West German Government, Dr Adenauer in particular, that demanded that the Western powers should raise the issue in the UN. At the 1951 General Assembly the United States, Britain and France therefore proposed the setting up of a UN commission to examine whether conditions existed. for the holding of free elections throughout Germany. The communist states opposed any discussion of the question as an intervention in domestic affairs. And they pointed out that matters arising from the war were the responsibility of the victorious powers and not of the UN. The item was none the less accepted and it was decided to invite representatives of the West and East German governments, and of the two sectors of Berlin, to take part in the discussions. Dr von Brentano, on behalf of West Germany, declared that the rebuilding of a united Germany was an imperative necessity and that free elections would be a decisive step towards this. The Federal Government in West Germany, with the support of its parliament, had called for the setting up of a UN Commission to investigate how these could be held. The representatives of the German Democratic Republic and East Berlin said that any examination of the conditions for elections was the responsibility of the German people themselves, and should be done by ajoint commission composed of representatives of the governments in the two halves of the country (a proposal the West German representative had rejected on the grounds that the East German Government was not representative of the East German people). An investigation by the UN would represent interference in the internal affairs of Germany and would be contrary to the principles of the Charter.

On 20 December the Assembly none the less decided to set up a commission to investigate conditions in both halves of Germany, to consider the constitutional provisions in force there, the freedom of political parties, and the organisation of judiciary and police, and to report to the Secretary-General whether conditions for genuinely free and secret elections existed. The communist states denounced this as a gross interference in domestic matters, and Poland refused to take part in the proposed commission, as she had been invited to do. The Western powers, on the other hand, maintained that Germany was still under military occupation, and so had no real sovereignty to violate: the proposal was designed, on the contrary, to promote the restoration of German sovereignty. A less political Swedish resolution, which recognised that the commission would certainly not be allowed to travel throughout Germany and therefore merely declared the desirability of holding elections and called on the four powers to establish the necessary conditions for them, lapsed.

As was widely predicted, the Commission was not given permission to travel in East Germany or East Berlin. It had to report on 30 April of the following year that, while it had travelled freely in West Germany and West Berlin, and had had satisfactory discussions with the authorities there, it had been unable to undertake any investigation in the East. Meanwhile, in diplomatic correspondence with the Western powers, the Soviet Union had held that the only commission acceptable to it would be one composed of representatives of the four occupying powers. Thus the UN Commission did not feel it could pursue its task any further, though it would remain at the disposal of the UN in case conditions became more favourable. So the whole venture was clearly hopeless. The report was not taken up at the next meeting of the General Assembly, and the whole matter lapsed.

It was of course only too clear, even before the Commission was established, that it would not be permitted to travel in East Germany and East Berlin. If a constructive effort to bring about elections was wanted, the Swedish proposal for discussions among the great powers would have been more to the point, though its chance of success was slender. The whole episode must therefore really be regarded primarily as a propaganda exercise, designed to expose to the world the reluctance of the East German Government to submit itself to free elections, and so to demonstrate its unrepresentative character. The move's practical purpose was almost nil. No doubt the Western powers were being pushed hard by Dr Adenauer, and went through the motions of proposing a commission, however small the hope of a favourable outcome, to please him and his government.

This was only one of a number of propaganda items raised by the West at this time of its domination. That they were largely propaganda does not necessarily condemn themsince, some held, the public exposure of abuses was precisely one of the purposes the UN should serve. But it was a purpose unlikely to produce results. And it was one which the West would be able to pursue only at a time when it held a majority. Within a few years it was to find itself on the receiving end as a different majority made use of the organisation, equally ineffectively, for the same purpose.

Write your comment