Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Genscher, Hans-Dietrich (1927–)

Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) politician, leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), minister of the interior (1969–1974), foreign minister (1974–1992), and vice chancellor (1974–1992). Born on 21 March 1927 in Reideburg, Germany, Hans-Dietrich Genscher studied law and political economy at the universities of Halle and Leipzig, both in the Soviet zone of occupation, during 1946–1949 and became a junior lawyer at Halle after his 1949 graduation. During 1946–1952, he was a member of Germany's Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPD).

Due to rising Cold War tensions, Genscher left Halle in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) for Bremen in the FRG in 1952 and worked as a solicitor. In 1954 he joined the FDP; two years later, he became assistant secretary and in 1959 the secretary of the FDP group in the Bundestag. From 1962 to 1964, he served as FDP party secretary, and in 1965 he was elected to the Bundestag. From 1968 to 1974 he was FDP deputy chairman, and during 1974–1985 he served as FDP chairman.

Genscher was appointed minister of the interior in the Willy Brandt government in October 1969, a post he retained until 1974. In the Helmut Schmidt government, Genscher became minister of foreign affairs and vice chancellor on 16 May 1974. As such, he proved to be a strong supporter of Ostpolitik, the diplomatic effort in Eastern Europe, and of the close alliance of West Germany with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and its European partners. After disputes erupted over economic policies, Genscher and three other FDP ministers resigned from the Schmidt government on 17 September 1982.

A month later, in the new coalition government under Helmut Kohl, Genscher again assumed the posts of minister of foreign affairs and vice chancellor. In the 1980s, he committed himself to a new détente policy and cultivating better East-West relations, intending to take Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost and perestroika very seriously. During 1989–1990, Genscher and Kohl became the chief political architects of Germany reunification. Genscher reached the zenith of his popularity in September 1989 when he spoke to 6,000 East German refugees who had fled to the West German embassy in Prague and announced that they were allowed to leave for the FRG on the same day.

In May 1990, Genscher chaired the first meeting of six foreign ministers, the so-called Two-Plus-Four Talks, in Bonn, where the international ramifications of Germany's unity were discussed. In mid-July 1990, he accompanied Kohl to his meeting with Gorbachev in the Caucasus, which is regarded as a historic milestone on the road to reunification. In May 1992 Genscher retired from his ministerial posts, but he remained a member of the Bundestag until 1998.

Bert Becker


Further Reading
Nicholls, Anthony James. The Bonn Republic: West German Democracy, 1945–1990. London and New York: Longman, 1997.; O'Dochartaigh, Pól. Germany since 1945. Houndsmill, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.; Webb, Adrian. Germany since 1945. London and New York: Longman, 1998.
 

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