BONN GROPES FOR A RESPONSE

Is the reunification of the two Germanies happening in West Germany? One would think so after watching the stream of humanity pour out of Hungary into the West. What awaits these new West Germans, and what is the proper response

from the Federal Republic to the mass immigration?

Although most West Germans - except for followers of the far right Republican Party - haven't been jumping up and down with joy over the arrival of their Eastern countrymen, most believe that East Germans should have the right to come here. But while most people born during or before World War II see the two Germanies as one country, many born after the war don't have that view. Additionally, the sentiment is widespread that while it's OK for East Germans to come here, it would be better for them to stay and try to change the system at home.''I can only say that for me, East Germany is a foreign country," said Bernhard Becker, an insurance salesman in his early 30s. "I don't feel any special relationship to them because I come from another generation. Our generation, we are absolutely not nationally oriented. We don't want reunification. There are now two Germanies and I think it is good that way."

Eberhard Schmidt, a 24-year-old student, concurred. "Basically it's OK that people come here, but I think it would be better if one stayed and tried to improve the living conditions in East Germany," he commented.

Some of the tens of thousands who fled to the Federal Republic this summer have said they long ago lost hope of a change in the German Democratic Republic. Although Erich Honecker, the East German leader, is reported to be seriously ill, little change is expected should he be replaced. Yet West Germany, an already heavily populated country that is expected to acquire 2 million new residents by the year 2000, is unlikely to be able to cope with continued mass immigration.

What then is the proper response to produce change? Tie economic assistance to political reform.

The idea isn't new and many think it won't work. It's true that the East German regime is so encrusted with its ideology that it might be easier for Poland to turn Protestant than it would be for the Honecker government to change. But while past economic aid has been linked to concessions on such matters as West German access to Berlin and removal of the automatic weapons designed to shoot at East Germans trying to cross the border, there has been no serious effort to link economic assistance with reform of East Germany political life.

Massive change should not be expected at once, but small steps, like tying a portion of aid or trade ties to an agreement by the East German government to allow peaceful demonstrations, might be tried. Should that work, further steps could be taken to encourage the development of independent political groups that won't be faced with continued harassment from the internal police.

An economic stick to obtain political reform would prove useless with the East German government, but an economic twig could be tried to pry open a portion of political life. With that in mind, the West German Social Democratic Party has just floated a formal proposal to link economic assistance to political reform.

The application of economic incentives to produce needed change could also be used in Poland and Hungary. In these two cases, where political change is already on the right path, economic aid from the private sector could give reform-minded politicians a big boost, particularly in Poland. Joint ventures should be encouraged. A system in which Western companies first had full control of an enterprise before it was turned over to local managers might give East bloc directors a better idea of how market-style management works.

A passive Western response in the East German, Polish or Hungarian cases is inappropriate. It is perhaps ironic that massive political changes in Eastern Europe are occuring exactly 50 years after Hitler sent his troops into Poland. Western governments today should remember what resulted from their inadequate response to that event.

Miriam Widman reports from Frankfurt for The Journal of Commerce.

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