It is fifty years since the start of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. Brandt was a peculiar figure in contemporary history. Brandt’s dropping to his knees in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in 1970 is one of the most iconic gestures of modern European history. In 1971, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to peace and security. His statecraft created a new quality of international relations. His Ostpolitik was aimed at the emergence of a united Germany and a Europe whole and free. His objective was to “reunite what belongs together” as he famously said when the Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989. Ostpolitik helped to lay the seeds of democracy in the Warsaw Pact countries.
Brandt’s aim was to encourage the slow and difficult process of Eastern Europe’s reassociation with the rest of the world. Ostpolitik and the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 turned freedom and openness into the pivotal principles of Europe’s security. The Final Act’s provisions on human rights and the freer movement of people, information, and ideas turned into the ferment for a transnational network of dissidents, human rights activists, and peace movements that challenged Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union until its demise. Willy Brandt had envisioned this dynamic Helsinki effect: He believed in soft power and in the ability to facilitate liberalizing changes in the societies of Eastern Europe. Läs artikel