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Documents - System Transfer and Transformation

The details of the GDR’s accession to the political, economic, and legal system of the Federal Republic were spelled out in the Unification Treaty, but the restructuring process had already been under way since the beginning of 1990. For many Western visitors, East Germany was a new land – during their travels, they discovered a region in which time seemed to have stood still (Doc. 4). Personal accounts describe the difficulties involved in making a fresh start, but they also show that people were indeed adapting to the new realities (Doc. 6). The renaming of cities and streets marked a symbolic break with the past (Doc. 5).

On October 3, 1990 (Unification Day), the Länder that had been abolished in 1952 were reestablished. From the outset, their small population numbers relative to the West German Länder, as well as their low economic output, raised questions about their future within the federal system of the German state (Doc. 1). In local governments, newly elected representatives confronted a host of tasks that needed to be accomplished (Doc. 9). Members of the newly established Länder parliaments had to pass an abundance of laws within a short period of time and draw up new constitutions (Doc. 10). At least in the first few years after unification, the political style of East German politicians differed from that of their West German counterparts (e.g., parliamentary group discipline was valued less highly), but by now this has evened out.

The new political parties that had been founded in the fall and winter of 1989/90, including the East German Social Democratic Party (SDP) and “Democratic Awakening” (DA), were either absorbed into the Western parties or disappeared from the political stage because they had failed to find favor with voters. While the Western parties welcomed the members of their sister parties in the East with open arms (Doc. 3), they regarded the successor party to the SED, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), as a relic of the Communist dictatorship and sought to isolate it. The PDS developed into an important regional party in the East, though it had virtually no electoral base or membership in the West (Doc. 8). On the surface, the development of parties since 1990 strongly suggests a transfer of the Western system onto the former GDR; it is important to note, however, that electorates, party membership, and voting habits continue to differ in East and West (Doc. 14). In the East, the acceptance of democratic principles is accompanied by a large dose of skepticism and party-fatigue. This is reflected in the new Länder in, among other things, electoral turnouts that are lower than in the West, and in occasional electoral successes for radical right-wing parties (Doc. 15).

The Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB), the monolithic union of the GDR, dissolved in September of 1990; it recommended that its members join the [West] German Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB). As was the case in the development of parties, expectations and practice also diverged in the realm of interest groups. In theory, the role of unions was boosted through a growth in union membership (Doc. 2). In practice, however, their role was considerably weakened by the difficult economic transformation in the East. In a process accelerated by a high-wage policy, which was impossible to implement, the unions not only lost members, but also their strong position as a partner in wage negotiations.

The reshaping of political structures in East Germany was accompanied by drastic personnel changes. Many former citizens of the GDR lost their jobs, either because they were politically compromised, or because their jobs were “phased out” for reasons of efficiency. In almost all areas, leadership positions were filled by West Germans (Doc. 13). The personnel issue was especially difficult in institutions like the National People’s Army (i.e., the East German military) and the Foreign Office, because their personnel was considered particularly loyal to the system (Doc. 11). The work of West German civil servants in the new Länder facilitated and accelerated the restructuring and establishment of administrations, but it also stirred up East-West resentments (Doc. 7). While the enormous changes that occurred after 1989 demanded a considerable degree of flexibility from East German citizens, they also offered opportunities from which the younger generation, in particular, benefited (Doc. 12). The example of Germany’s reunification shows the possibilities and limitations of political and economic transformation; it is easier to change institutions and structures than political attitudes and patterns of behavior. Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, the media's take on unification was predominantly positive; unification made the Federal Republic more colorful and more diverse (Doc. 16).

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