Point of Divergence – when history splits

Point of Divergence

Stealing the Future is set in 1993 – nearly three years after (in ‘our’ world) the GDR ceased to exist. But in the East Berlin Series, the GDR has continued to exist, and is searching for ways to remain economically, politically and socially viable as a country in its own right.

Inevitably a change such as this would have an impact on the rest of the world, and perhaps more importantly, demands other changes in order to be at all possible. I talk about this more in the post How plausible is Stealing the Future, (including a look at the economic and the geo-political situation).

What time’s the watershed?

But every counter-factual tale needs a watershed, the point at which ‘real’ history and the story of Stealing start to diverge. The point I chose was the 4th of November 1989: the largest independent demonstration the GDR ever saw. Somewhere between 500,000 and two million people marched that day, and speakers from both the opposition and the government were invited.

This was a significant demonstration – a turning point in the history of the GDR. Not only was it extremely large, but it was the first time that representatives of the political system answered to the people en masse, and not just via a small group of intermediaries (as for example the Group of 20 in Dresden). The government officials didn’t receive a warm reception, being on the receiving end of jeers and heckling from the demonstrators.

The rift

In order to cause the rift between our universe and that in which the characters of Stealing the Future live I have brought forward two events: the Für unser Land (For Our Country) Statement, and Helmut Kohl’s Ten Point Plan (both of these statements were actually made on the 28th November 1989). Additionally I’ve allowed for the continued existence of the Soviet Union, which would provide for some geo-political shelter for a post-1990 GDR. In turn, a USSR in 1993 would require Gorbachev to cling on to power, even after the 1991 Crisis of the Union.

The For Our Country Statement, put together by opposition figures and issued in a press conference presented two options for the GDR. One was a call for citizens to support the continued existence of their country, to develop a society based on solidarity, to live in freedom, peace and social justice. The other possibility the authors foresaw was a betrayal of the GDR population’s material and moral values, a creeping financial takeover by West Germany.

In just under two months the Statement gathered over a million signatures.

In ‘real life’ it is unlikely – but not impossible – that the Statement would have been read out at the Alexanderplatz demo on the 4th November. After all, calls for reunification only became noticeable once the borders were opened and Western agitators entered the GDR unhindered, bringing large amounts of money and propaganda material with them.

Nevertheless, a failure by Kohl and the West German government to correctly assess the situation could well have led to increased fears of the Western desire to take over the GDR. Stealing the Future assumes such a misjudgement took place, by bringing forward Kohl’s Ten Point Plan to the 4th (from the 28th of November 1989). As it was, the Ten Point Plan judged the domestic (West German) situation perfectly, although it was very badly received in the GDR, France and the UK. Mitterand was suspicious of German reunification, and Thatcher even more so. If Kohl had released the plan before the fall of the Wall, the negative reactions in those countries would have been much stronger – Kohl would have been seen to be forcing the pace, and not merely (as he liked to pretend) responding to the wishes of the German population.

I’ve fairly arbitrarily decided to compound Kohl’s mistake by imagining that he sent discreet emissaries to Berlin to negotiate with the Modrow government. The population of East Germany, in my imagination, find out about these emissaries, and correctly assuming that Kohl is preparing the ground for a take-over, call a general strike.

Such a general strike would strengthen the East Germans’ resolve and confidence that they could pull off their transformation trick, as well as encouraging Gorbachev to support his East German ally. If we add Gorbachev’s resistance to Kohl’s plans into this mix (as conjectured in How plausible is Stealing the Future), this may have been enough to stop Kohl and other West German politicians lusting after the GDR, thus giving the East Germans the time and space they need to carry out their political experiment.