West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, defying loud jeers at a rally of German exiles from lands that are now part of Poland, emphasized today his country's acceptance of current Eastern European borders and its desire to enhance cooperation with Soviet Bloc neighbors.
Speaking to a crowd of 10,000 in Hanover, Kohl insisted that West Germany had renounced all territorial claims against Poland and wanted to revive the spirit of detente with the Soviet Union and its allies.
Kohl's conciliatory tone toward Soviet Bloc governments drew whistles and catcalls from the gathering of Silesians, who make up part of the large group of Germans whose roots trace back to East European homelands.
More than 3 million Germans were driven out of Silesia after Poland's borders were redefined following World War II, while other German families fled homes in East Prussia and the Sudetenland, which later became part of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Overall, one-third of Germany's territory was ceded after 1945.
The exiles and their offspring, most of whom are ardent supporters of Kohl's Christian Democrats, have been embittered by the chancellor's pursuit of closer ties with communist governments.
In backing the detente policies initiated by his Social Democratic predecessor Willy Brandt 15 years ago, Kohl stressed today that the goal of future German unity through peaceful means "can only be solved with the help of our neighbors in the East and the West."
Kohl said that the "German question has long been a source of turmoil and instability" in Europe and that Germans must understand the anxieties of their eastern neighbors.
For this reason, Kohl argued that it was important for the Bonn government to accept current borders and to reassure neighbors such as Poland that "we have no territorial claims on each other and will not have any in the future, either."
The exhibition hall where the speech took place was decorated with signs attacking the Polish government and proclaiming, "Silesia is not yet lost." The crowd roared with approval when Herbert Hupka, the head of the exiles' organization, contended that "Silesia is a part of Germany, and the Silesians are part of the German nation."
Groups of right-wing extremists, some displaying Nazi-style salutes, interrupted Kohl's speech several times with chants calling for the return of Silesia to German control. They also battled left-wing protesters, who hoisted banners declaring, "Silesia remains Polish" before they were pulled away by police.
Kohl, the first West German leader in 20 years to attend the Silesians' annual convention, endured vehement attacks from the Soviet Bloc press, particularly in Moscow, for consenting to speak at the rally.
Communist Party newspapers have aimed a barrage of criticism at Kohl for indulging the "revanchist dreams" of German exiles, who they say are ready to invade Eastern Europe and recover their former homelands by force.
While conscious of the staunch political support he enjoys among German exiles, Kohl clearly sought to use the opportunity of today's speech to underscore Bonn's adherence to reconciliation treaties signed with Poland and the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. He declared that his government was determined to deepen cooperation and understanding with all Eastern European states.
But he also sought to placate his audience by insisting that he would do all he could to increase the number of exit visas granted to Germans still living in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.