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United Germany: Debating Processes and Prospects

United Germany: Debating Processes and Prospects

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United Germany: Debating Processes and Prospects

483 pages
6 heures
Jul 1, 2013


Since the attempt to unite two parts of a country divided for four decades yielded contradictory results, this volume provides a balance sheet of the successes and failures of German unification during the first quarter century after the fall of the Wall. Five themes, ranging from the transfer of political institutions to the economic crisis, from the social upheaval for women’s movements to the cultural efforts at interpretation and the changes in foreign policy have been chosen to illustrate the complexity of the process. The contributors represent a broad interdisciplinary mix of political scientists, historians, and literary scholars. Because personal experiences tend to color scholarly judgments, they are drawn from West Germany, East Germany, and the United States. This collection is the most up-to-date and comprehensive assessment of the political, social, and intellectual consequences of the efforts to regain German unity.

Jul 1, 2013

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United Germany - Berghahn Books


Part I

Political Processes

Chapter One

Two Decades of Unity

Continuity and Change in Political Institutions

Gero Neugebauer

The historical and political conditions that governed the transformation of the GDR into a democracy differ on essential points from those generally involved in the collapse of the socialist camp in Europe. Most of the former Warsaw Pact states embedded the transformation of their political and economic systems into a concept of reconstructing their nation. In contrast, the conditions in Germany were determined by the situation of a divided country on whose soil two states existed. The one, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), belonged to the Western Alliance under the leadership of the United States, and the other, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), to the Soviet-led alliance. The collapse of the GDR, beginning in 1989, led not to a new state but rather, after a brief orientation phase in October 1990, to unification with the other German state.¹ Therefore, the case of the GDR indeed constitutes a system transformation, but it did not result in a state with a new political and economic system. Rather, after the rapid transformation of the GDR to a democracy, the division of the country ended in the fall of 1990 with the unification of both states, through which the new East German states joined the Federal Republic on the basis of Article 23 of the Basic Law. With that, the GDR ceased to exist.

This unification cannot be seen as a simple reunification. For roughly forty-five years, two German states existed with different political, economic, social, legal, and cultural systems, and ultimately, societies, on a territory smaller than that of previous state, the German Reich. The one failed, while the other succeeded in the confrontation of systems. The institutions of the FRG along with its different subsystems determined the integration of East German society. This process was facilitated by the commonalities which had remained, such as the same language, common history before 1945, cultural and academic traditions, and familial ties. In this respect, on 3 October 1990 two patterns of socialization² were brought together. In the end, however, the result was a new Berlin Republic, i.e., the new Federal Republic of Germany.

The illusion of independent GDR development lasted only for a few weeks after the beginning of the peaceful revolution. When West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl decided on the strategy of unifying Germany and received the approval of President George Bush and General Secretary Gorbachev, hopes of an independent existence for the GDR in Europe ended. The course of the transformation led quickly to the radical change of structure and of political institutions.³ An attempt by East German politicians to negotiate the terms of unification on the basis of their own draft constitution failed, as did other later initiatives.⁴ A majority of politicians and the East German populace accepted unification on the basis of the provisions of the Federal Republic’s constitution. With that, the West German political system and its constitutional order determined the direction and content of development. The negotiations between both German governments, most importantly with the state treaty of 18 May 1990 and the unification treaty of 20 August 1990, as well as between them and the victorious powers of the Second World War (the Two-Plus-Four negotiations), created further preconditions for unification. The prerequisite for unity was the contractually agreed-upon economic and currency union.

Unification led to an enlargement of the Bundestag—instead of 497 seats as in 1987, there were now 692 delegates—and of the Bundesrat: to the previous eleven states five new ones were added. Theoretically, the latter expansion meant more difficulties for the federal government in certain legislative procedures, while the enlargement of the Bundestag offered a wider range of political careers. East Germans’ expectations that some of their own institutions could survive in an altered environment were not fulfilled. The Round Table, at which the representatives of the old GDR and the citizens’ movements and opposition parties had negotiated arrangements for the transformation of their system, was preserved merely as a symbol. Only two institutions outlived the GDR. One preserved the secret documents of the Ministry for State Security for later analysis; it exists today as the Federal Authority for the Documents of the Former Ministry for State Security (BStU).⁵ The second was the Trusteeship Agency (Treuhandanstalt). It had already been established in connection with the privatization of the GDR economy by a decision of the government on 1 March 1990; after 3 October 1990 it was subordinated to the Federal Ministry of Finance and ceased its operation four years later. The Trusteeship Agency had the task of reorganizing and privatizing GDR state assets according to the principles of the social market economy. Critics reproached the institution for continuing centralistic structures as well as for dismantling industry in the East German states and squandering formerly public property in the interest of individual, mainly West German, actors.

The Political Systems of the GDR and FRG

Since their founding in 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR opposed one another as political, economic, and social competitors—and from1955/56 on as military opponents through their membership in military alliances. Furthermore, the Federal Republic insisted that there was but one German nation and that it alone represented Germany. For a long time it therefore refused to recognize the GDR as an independent state. After the commencement of intergovernmental relations in 1974, it declared that special relations would prevail between both German states. The GDR leadership disagreed with this view, yet tolerated it in order to achieve its goal of gaining de facto diplomatic recognition. It could then claim that its population constituted an independent socialist nation.

The organizations of the states were based on different political concepts. The political system of the GDR corresponded in its essential features to the Soviet model, but with a noncompetitive multiparty system in which the socialist party held the key position. The state was structured in a centralistic manner and had territorial-administrative subdivisions with fewer decision-making powers. The system called itself a socialist democracy. In fact, it was an authoritarian regime at whose top the highest decision-making unit of the ruling socialist party, the Politbüro, concentrated political power. From 1946 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, this system nonetheless retained several parties and nominal parliamentary institutions. The party structure was a so-called bloc system and consisted of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as well as the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Democratic Farmers’ Party of Germany (DBD). Parliamentary institutions existed on the national (People’s Chamber) as well as regional (District Council) and local (County Council) levels. The SED dominated all levels of the system and all its institutions, determined the number of seats in the parliaments, and decided, with the help of a nomenclature, appointments to positions in the state apparatus, economic management, and the educational and cultural institutions. The other parties recognized, formally and practically, the leading role of the SED and acted under its supervision and guidance as organizations for particular societal groups (Christians, craftspeople, private entrepreneurs, etc.). Despite formal elections, there was neither a democratic contest among parties nor a programmatic competition, much less a political opposition or social movement outside of the established system of the National Front⁶ under the leadership of the SED. Possibilities for the population to influence politics were strictly regulated and highly formalized. Basic political rights were not guaranteed; criticism of politics was either instrumentalized for party-political purposes or practiced through West German media. The system avoided revolts and internal unrest, with one exception in 1953. Beyond the Stasi, its stability was based, among other things, on the fact that the discontented could leave the country illegally until the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and thereafter, the population was promised social benefits in order to keep them quiet.

The Federal Republic of Germany was a federal state with a parliamentary democratic system. Created after the end of the Second World War in part by the policies of the Western allies, it was also based in part on experiences of the first German democracy from 1919 until 1932 and on the tradition of German federalism. Unlike in the Weimar Republic, the role of parties was strengthened and they were granted quasi-constitutional status in the Basic Law. Administration, like parliament, functioned practically as party-state institutions and the parties dominated the allocation of positions in the government

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