The shocking fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe in the lateeighties was remarkable for both its rapidity and its scope. The specifics ofcommunism’s demise varied among nations, but similarities in both the causes andthe effects of these revolutions were quite similar. As well, all of the nationsinvolved shared the common goals of implementing democratic systems ofgovernment and moving to market economies. In each of these nations, thecommunist regimes in power were forced to transfer that power to radicallydifferent institutions than they were accustomed to. Democracy had beenspreading throughout the world for the preceding two decades, but with a veryimportant difference.
While previous political transitions had seen similarcircumstances, the actual events in question had generally occurredindividually. In Europe, on the other hand, the shift from communism was takingplace in a different context altogether. The peoples involved were not lookingto affect a narrow set of policy reforms; indeed, what was at stake was ahyper-radical shift from the long-held communist ideology to a western blueprintfor governmental and economic policy development. The problem inherent in thistype of monumental change is that, according to Ulrich K. Preuss, “Inalmost all the East and Central European countries, the collapse ofauthoritarian communist rule has released national, ethnic, religious andcultural conflicts which can not be solved by purely economic policies”(47). While tremendous changes are evident in both the governmental and economicarenas in Europe, these changes cannot be assumed to always be “mutuallyreinforcing” (Preuss 47).
Generally it has been theorized that the mostsuccessful manner of addressing these many difficulties is the drafting of aconstitution. But what is clear is the unsatisfactory ability of a constitutionto remedy the problems of nationalism and ethnic differences. Preuss notes thatwhen the constitutional state gained favor in North America, it was founded onthe principle of the unitary state; it was not designed to address the lack ofnational identity which is found throughout Europe – and which is counter to theconcept of the constitutional state (48). “Measured in terms ofsocioeconomic modernization,” writes Helga A. Welsh, “Central andEastern European countries had reached a level that was considered conducive tothe emergence of pluralistic policies” (19). It seemed that the sole reasonthe downfall of communism, as it were, took so long was the veto power of theSoviet Union.
According to theories of modernization, the higher the levels ofsocioeconomic achievement, the greater the pressure for open competition and,ultimately, democracy. As such, the nations in Eastern and Central Europe wereseen as “anomalies in socioeconomically highly-developed countries whereparticularly intellectual power resources have become widespread” (Welsh19). Due to their longtime adherence to communist policies, these nations facedgreat difficulty in making the transition to a pluralist system as well as amarket economy. According to Preuss, these problems were threefold: The genuineeconomic devastations wrought by the communist regimes, the transformation ofthe social and economic classes of the command economy into the social andeconomic lasses of a capitalist economy and, finally, the creation of aconstitutional structure for political entities that lack the undisputedintegrity of a nation state (48). With such problems as these to contend with inre- engineering their entire economic and political systems, the people of EastGermany seemed to be in a particularly enviable position.
Economically, theywere poised to unite with one of the richest countries, having one of thestrongest economies, in the entire world. In the competition for foreigninvestment, such an alliance gave the late German Democratic Republic aseemingly insurmountable lead over other nations. In regards to the politicalaspects of unification, it effectively left a Germany with no national or ethnicminorities, as well as having undisputed boundaries. As well, there was no needto create a constitution (although many of the pitfalls of constitution-building would have been easily-avoided due to the advantages Germany had),because the leaders of the GDR had joined the Federal Republic by accession and,accordingly, allowed its Basic Law to be extended over their territory. For allthe good that seemed to be imminent as a result of unification, many problemsalso arose regarding the political transformation that Germany was undergoing. Among these problems were the following: the tensions between the Basic Law’ssimultaneous commitments to supranational integration and to the German nationstate, the relationship between the nation and the constitution as two differentmodes of political integration and the issue of so- called “backwardjustice” (Preuss 48).
The Federal Republic of Germany’s Basic Law has beenthe longest-lived constitution in Germany’s history. Intended to be ashort-lived, temporary document, the Basic Law gained legitimacy as West Germanycontinued to march towards becoming a major economic power and effectivedemocratic society. There seemed to be, at first, a tension between the BasicLaw’s explicit support of re- unification and its promise to transfersovereignty to a supranational institution that would be created. The conflictbetween West Germany’s goals of national unity and international integrationremained the main issue in the country’s politics for many years. As Preussnotes, “It will be extremely difficult to escape the economic and, in thelong run also political, implications of this double-bind situation of Germany,one that remains a legacy of the postwar order” (51).
Since the unificationof Germany was accomplished through accession, it meant, strangely enough, thatneither West nor East Germany had a say in the other’s decision on whether toform a unified state or what conditions such a unification would be contingentupon, respectively. Put simply, the net effect of the extension of the Basic Lawto all of Germany did not guarantee the implementation of a new joint governingpolicy or a new constitution for the country. It seemed, as a result of someesoteric articles of the Basic Law, that the GDR would cease to exist legallyand the FRG would survive. It was impossible to draw the conclusion that bothwould die out and be replaced by a new political identity. Many of the FederalRepublic’s laws immediately applied in the GDR (Gloebner 153).
Article 146 ofthe Basic Law, put simply, allowed for the annulment of the Basic Law, to bereplaced with another governing system, without previously binding the people toany specific rules. Seemingly, it sanctions revolution, and, “as proved tobe the case in 1990, this is not a purely theoretical conclusion” (Preuss52). Some suggest that, by unifying through accession, Germany has made problemswhich could end up overshadowing the benefits of unification. The suggestion isthat the implementation of a constitution by a society without experience inutilizing it, without the necessary institutions and without the correspondingvalue system will bring about more harm than good (politically). The impositionof the Basic Law was the root for much of the mistrust between East and WestGermans following unification.
In regards to the East Germans, the Law waseffectively self- imposed, and “neither submission nor voluntaryself-submission is likely to engender the social and political coherence whichis a necessary condition for a stable democracy” (Preuss 54). In regards tothe economic aspects of unification, some major problems exist in the transitionto democracy and market economics. According to Preuss, the two main issuesincluded in the realm of “backward justice” are the privatization oflarge pieces of state property, and the punishment of the elites of the previousregimes and their comrades under the headings of “self- purification”and “collective amnesia. ” The privatization issue is among thethorniest involved in any country’s transition from communism. For one, a systemof procedures must be developed simply to transfer such large amounts ofproperty to private citizens.
Also, there must be mechanisms put in place toboth protect new owners from claims of previous owners and to satisfy formerowners without alienating possible future investors. The problem boils down tothe fact that private property laws do not always coincide with the”fair” concept of restitution. As Petra Bauer-Kaase writes, “EastGermans still have difficulties in adjusting to a political system whereindividuals have a great deal of responsibility for their own life” (307). The former East Germans look upon this issue with contempt, because it is theWesterners who have control over the rules, as well as the enforcement of thoserules.
This is merely one of a multitude of instances where this mistrustmanifests itself. There are also the issues of self-purification and collectiveamnesia. Due to the pervasive nature of the communist regime’s surveillanceprograms and so forth, there is very little room for anyone to claim pure hands. While West Germans can claim that they are innocent by virtue of geography, EastGermans are never able to escape the suspicions that they may have been part ofthe machine. Government jobs are denied to those who were affiliated with theStasi, and private businesses also may deny employment to these citizens. Whileunification has occurred theoretically, in reality the Germany today is one ofde facto separate-but-equal citizenship.
There is no denying that there havebeen many problems associated with the unification of East and West Germany. Thetransition from communist state to liberal democracy is a very difficult one,and there is no real way to predict how the German experience will turn out. AsPreuss writes, “The transition from an authoritarian political regime andits concomitant command economy to a liberal democracy and a capitalist economyis as unprecedented as the short-term integration of two extremely differentsocieties – one liberal-capitalist, one authoritarian-socialist – into onenation state” (57). In other words, the unification of Germany is one ofthe most complicated and unprecedented historical events since the unificationof Germany.
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Boulder: Westview, 1994. 285-311. Gloebner, Gert-Joachim. “Parties and Problems of Governance During Unification.
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Preuss, Ulrich K. “German Unification:Political and Constitutional Aspects. ” United Germany and the New Europe. Heinz D. Kurz, ed.
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