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Documents - End of the GDR and Unification

During the turbulent year of 1990, the GDR dissolved more quickly than anyone had anticipated. In January, the communist newspaper Neues Deutschland was forced to admit that the East German economy was bankrupt – a situation attributable to its antiquated infrastructure, indebtedness to the West, and excessive social spending (Doc. 1). Upon learning that the hated secret police [Stasi] was being transformed rather than disbanded, enraged citizens stormed its headquarters, fractured its power, and heaped discredit upon the Modrow government (Doc. 2). At the same time, West German political parties intervened in the campaign leading up to the East German elections in March 1990, with Chancellor Kohl and the CDU promising the rapid realization of political freedom, a social market economy, and German unification (Doc. 3). In the face of such visions, neither the slow-go approach of the SPD under the leadership of Oskar Lafontaine nor the civic movement’s emphasis on reforming an independent GDR could prevail. Likewise, the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the SED, had little chance, as its appeal was largely limited to the old communist cadres. Therefore, the first free election in East German history ended in a surprisingly clear victory for the hastily created “Alliance for Germany,” which consisted of the CDU and two other conservative groups, the German Social Union and Democratic Awakening. It garnered about half of the popular vote. One-third of the vote went to other pro-Western parties, with the overall outcome being a resounding victory for rapid unification (Docs. 5 and 6).

After the head of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, yielded to popular pressure and diplomatic entreaties for unity in February 1990, questions arose about how to manage the international dimensions of the unification process (Doc. 4). With history as a backdrop, the prospect of reviving a united Germany triggered fears in neighboring countries, where worries spread about restoring a military, economic, and political power that Europe might eventually be unable to contain (Doc. 7). One stumbling block to international consent for unification was Chancellor Kohl’s reluctance to reaffirm earlier West German guarantees of the Polish border. At the root of his hesitance were domestic concerns about antagonizing refugee voters who were allied with the CDU. Questions regarding the future of a united Germany were ultimately decided in the course of negotiations between the two German states and the four victorious powers from the Second World War: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. In July 1990, at a deadlock in the discussions, Kohl and Gorbachev met for direct personal talks in the Caucasus, where they reached a compromise that allowed the negotiations to move forward: in exchange for considerable financial aid from the Germans, the Soviet Union agreed that a united Germany could retain its membership in NATO (Doc. 10). The Two-Plus-Four Treaty of September 12, 1990, finally ratified the external dimension of German unity: Germany would consist of the combined territories of the FRG and the GDR, its borders would be guaranteed and recognized internationally, and it was permitted ongoing membership in NATO (Doc. 14).

The internal form of the merger between the two German states proved even more contested. The new East German prime minister, Lothar de Maizière, announced that he wanted to see unification as soon as possible, but he also emphasized that its general conditions had to be “as good, reasonable, and future-oriented as necessary” (Doc. 8). To halt the migration of East German citizens to the West, the two German governments agreed to create a monetary, economic, and social union that would bring the coveted West German Deutschmark (DM) to the East (Doc. 9). West German intellectuals, including Günter Grass and Jürgen Habermas, and their East German counterparts, such as Heiner Müller, sharply criticized the popular desire for an improved standard of living, claiming it was a “sell-out of the GDR” (Doc. 11). Nonetheless, on August 23, 1990, the East German parliament decided by vote that the five East German states would join the Federal Republic on October 3, 1990, in accordance with Article 23 of the Basic Law (Doc. 12). The actual manner in which the East would merge with the West was determined by a lengthy Unification Treaty that regulated a whole host of legal issues from constitutional provisions to government finances, property rights, pension claims, and the recognition of academic diplomas, to name just a few (Doc. 13). During the unification ceremony, Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker reflected on the challenge of bringing Germany and Europe together again in a peaceful fashion (Doc. 15). Although similarities still remained in the political attitudes of all Germans, opinion surveys demonstrated just how far they had grown apart in the decades of division (Doc. 16).

List of Documents