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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 17:37 GMT

World: Europe

Kohl: 'Luck kept out Soviet tanks'

Click here to watch the HARDtalk interview in full
Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl tells the BBC how close Soviet tanks were to rolling into Berlin as the Wall came down.

In an exclusive interview with BBC News 24's Hardtalk, Helmut Kohl tells Tim Sebastian that 24 hours after the fall of the Wall he was in Berlin.

Communism - the end of an era
"Mikhail Gorbachev called my office in Bonn," Mr Kohl says, "and asked whether it was true what had been conveyed to him by the KGB and the Stasi that Soviet soldiers and Soviet installations in East Germany were in danger of being attacked by the public."

The East German security police, the Stasi, and the KGB feared a public uprising, Mr Kohl says, and they wanted President Gorbachev to give the order to move in the tanks.

'History could have taken a different turn'

[ image: All along the wall, East Germans scrambled over]
All along the wall, East Germans scrambled over
"If this had happened, that day and this decision would have taken a completely different turn," says Mr Kohl.

"I then sent him the message via my assistant, since I could not telephone him from the town hall, that this was all lies, that it wasn't true, that these were peaceful people.

"They wanted to remove the wall, they did not want to commit aggressive acts against the Soviet Union or any Soviet installations."

'Gorbachev believed me, not KGB'

It was lucky that Mr Gorbachev believed him, the former German chancellor says, and not the people in the KGB, and "in this way everything went off peacefully".

"Therefore, the actual decision was made that night, and history would have taken a very different turn if Soviet tanks had appeared on the streets," Helmut Kohl tells Tim Sebastian.

A second Prague Spring

[ image: Helmut Kohl: Relieved that Gorbachev believed him]
Helmut Kohl: Relieved that Gorbachev believed him
"You have to understand that if Gorbachev had given that order and Soviet soldiers had been mobilised, as we had experienced during the Prague Spring of 1968, or in Hungary, this would have had the consequence of Soviet soldiers turning up at Checkpoint Charlie, precisely on the demarcation line," says Mr Kohl.

"And then the world would have recognised that no-one can change this line unless this is accomplished by peaceful means, and no-one would have understood if during that night a military confrontation had developed because of what was happening.

"Therefore it really was a stroke of luck, and I am grateful to Gorbachev in particular for this, that he believed us, especially me, and not the KGB."

'Flourishing landscapes'

In the interview, Mr Kohl denies that he misled the German public when in he promised that the unification of Germany would come at no extra cost to the people in the West, and promised that the people of the East would face a bright economic future.

[ image: East German border guards could only watch as the wall was demolished]
East German border guards could only watch as the wall was demolished
He was not completely off the mark, Mr Kohl says. He simply believed what many believed at the time: that there would be enough money to finance unification.

"There was a discussion in the summer of 1990 in which the then newly elected government demanded of the old Federal Government that when unification was completed, there would be money left over ... Dm1,200bn would be left over when everything was settled.

"Others talked about a figure of Dm600bn, anyhow, that amounts to a large surplus."

But in 1993, Helmut Kohl's CDU-led government had to introduce new taxes to pay for the creation of the "flourishing landscapes" in the East, as he put it at the time.

They have indeed been created there, "not yet everywhere, but the upturn is clearly visible to anyone who travels through the former GDR," the former chancellor says, adding that "many people, who today cleverly blather on have quite forgotten what they were saying in those days".

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