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6. Western Success and Eastern Failure
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Overview   |   1. The Deepening of Division   |   2. The Conflict between Democracy and Dictatorship   |   3. Strains in the Social Market Economy   |   4. Responses to Social Conflicts   |   5. Uncertainties of Modernist Culture   |   6. Western Success and Eastern Failure

The period between 1961 and 1989 followed a paradoxical course: the deepening of hostility led to a rapprochement that prepared for later unification. In international affairs, the building of the Wall, the membership of both states in the United Nations after 1973, and the international recognition of the GDR seemed to have sealed the division of the continent into two hostile blocs. Nonetheless, West Germany's Deutschland- und Ostpolitik managed to soften the barrier by increasing human contacts, and West German payments made the SED dependent upon Western credits. Though the GDR embarked on a deliberate policy of distancing itself from the West, both states eventually embraced a "community of responsibility" for peace. The recognition of European borders decreased fears of German revanchism, and the Helsinki Accords of 1975 also protected those human rights that allowed Eastern dissidents vital breathing space. The very acceptance of the Cold War order by the Federal Republic therefore restored the communication and cooperation between East and West that paved the way for its eventual demise (29).

Domestic affairs also developed in surprising directions, since the embattled Federal Republic reinforced its legitimacy while the seemingly solid GDR started to crumble. During the 1960s, the New Left mounted a vigorous critique of West German authoritarianism, calling for more participatory democracy as well as economic equality and social security. Yet the Republic in Bonn weathered the generational revolt and the onslaught of terrorism through a mixture of reforms and police action; eventually parliamentary democracy was even strengthened by civic protest. In contrast, the military repression of reform efforts in Czechoslovakia dashed hopes for Marxist self-renewal among East German Communists, thereby undercutting the utopian attraction of the ideology. The ensuing welfare dictatorship proved economically stagnant in the long run. The denial of basic freedoms, such as expression, assembly, and travel, aroused a growing number of dissidents, while the majority of the population lost faith in the material promises of the SED (30).

In the economic realm, the West also managed to cope better with the unexpected challenges of technological and structural modernization than the East. The afterglow of the economic boom period in the Federal Republic allowed the SPD to campaign under the proud slogan of the "German model" of labor peace and corporate co-determination in the 1972 election. But soon thereafter, the oil shocks, the shift of basic manufacturing to the Asian tiger states, and the move to the service sector devastated traditional industries and triggered rising structural unemployment. In the GDR, the creation of huge industrial enterprises, called Kombinate, proved unable to adapt to a changing international economic environment, and the extension of welfare benefits and the shift to consumer goods overtaxed the system. While regulated competition allowed the Federal Republic to make a painful transition from a high-industrial to a post-industrial economy, GDR planning failed in the transformation to high technology (31).

(29) Peter Graf Kielmansegg, Nach der Katastrophe. Geschichte des geteilten Deutschland (Berlin, 2000).
(30) Görtemaker, Geschichte der Bundesrepublik; and Jarausch, ed., Dictatorship as Experience: Towards a Socio-Cultural History of the GDR (New York, 1999).
(31) Werner Abelshauser, Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1945-1989 (Frankfurt am Main, 1983); Andre Steiner, "Zwischen Konsumversprechen und Innovationszwang. Zum wirtschaftlichen Niedergang der DDR," in Konrad H. Jarausch and Martin Sabrow, eds., Weg in den Untergang. Der innere Zerfall der DDR (Göttingen, 1999); Jeffrey Kopstein, The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945-1989 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1997); Charles S. Maier, Dissolution. The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany (Princeton, NJ, 1997).

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