“This was a peaceful revolution,” Teltschik said. “And it changed Germany, Europe and the world.”
Director of the Nanovic Institute Jim McAdams said Teltschik was a “consummate insider” who was one of the principal architects of the unification of Germany following the fall of the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989.
Teltschik said 1989 was a critical year not only for Germany, but also for countries such as Poland and Hungary, which elected democratic governments and began opening up their borders.
He also said there was a great deal of mistrust between the Soviets and the West in the years before Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power, which were marked by a series of sickly, old Soviet leaders.
“We went to the funeral of [Secretary General Yuri] Andropov just to make sure he was dead,” Teltschik said. “[With Gorbachev] suddenly there was a young and healthy Secretary General.”
When the Hungarian border to Austria was first opened, Teltschik said the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD) saw a sudden influx of 10,000 immigrants from the German Democratic Republic (DDR).
“Freedom was the main desire of these people,” he said.
Following this exodus, many within the DDR began to push for open borders. Teltschik said the primary reason for the fall of the Wall and unification was the desire of those in the DDR to be free. In the weeks leading up to Nov. 9, protests gripped the entire country.
“Within a few days there were protests all over the country and [there was] always no violence,” he said.
Teltschik said the peacefulness of the protests was critical to their success.
“[The Soviets] were ready to suppress the unrest, but fortunately it didn’t happen,” he said. “[One Soviet administrator said they] were prepared to meet all challenges, but not candles and prayers.”
Following the fall, Teltschik said the primary concerns were removing the estimated one to 1.5 million Soviet soldiers in East Germany and to sign a ban on nuclear weapons.
“It’s really unbelievable what was happening,” he said. “It was really a miracle [that] not one shot was fired.”
Teltschik said help from abroad, especially the United States and President George H.W. Bush, was crucial to the unification process.
“It was one of the best times in U.S. — German relations,” he said. “This was fundamental, because after [unification] U.S. focus switched to Iraq.”
Equally important was Gorbachev’s promise that he would not interfere as past Soviet administrators had.
“This is the real historic merit of Gorbachev,” he said.
However, Teltschik said his original estimate for the unification process was five to ten years, rather than the 329 days it took.
“Nobody expected that it would happen that fast,” he said.
Teltschik said the main reason the process was so expedited was the simple desire of the East Germans to be free and live in a prosperous society. He estimated that if unification hadn’t happened so quickly, the BDR would have been saturated with one million refugees by the end of 1990.
“Decisions on our side seemed so quick that Moscow wasn’t able to respond in time,” he said. “[Despite some objections from the international community] Kohl moved ahead and history has proved him right.”
Teltschik said he learned some important lessons in the years from 1989 to 1991. Firstly, it was critical that Germany continued to be a part of a more integrated Europe.
“[French President Francois Mitterrand’s] main concern was that a united Germany would not continue its path of European integration,” he said.
Teltschik said this path to a more united Europe has continued through the work of the European Union, but an equally important lesson was a united Germany would only be acceptable is it continued to be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Teltschik said both of these lessons are important when considering Germany’s history as an aggressor in several wars, most notably World War II.
“Germans should never forget their history,” he said. “[The rest of the world] cannot live with a bigger and stronger Germany outside of the alliance.”
However, Teltschik said both the roles of the EU and NATO have been called into question lately, with the EU going through the painful process of integrating new member states and NATO currently bogged down in Afghanistan.
“We still don’t know if NATO should have a regional responsibility or a worldwide one,” he said.
While invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Teltschik said “should a united, free and democratic Europe not be our goal?”
Nonetheless, Teltschik said not much has happened since 1991 in working towards that goal.
“We have wasted the past 20 years,” he said.
Lastly, Teltschik said he had noticed a recent shift in global power structure. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been able to act as a unilateral world power. Teltschik said recently, countries such as China, India and Russia have been challenging the U.S.’s hegemony.
Teltschik said “a multi-polar world would not be a safe world order,” noting last time power was distributed so widely it led to two world wars.
“The United States and the European Union are natural partners,” he said. “We need strategic and global leaders with the courage to make decisions and to act.”