The Rapid Fall of Communism
The shocking fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe in
the late eighties was remarkable for both its rapidity and its scope.
The specifics of communism's demise varied among nations, but
similarities in both the causes and the effects of these revolutions
were quite similar. As well, all of the nations involved shared the
common goals of implementing democratic systems of government and
moving to market economies. In each of these nations, the communist
regimes in power were forced to transfer that power to radically
different institutions than they were accustomed to. Democracy had
been spreading throughout the world for the preceding two decades, but
with a very important difference. While previous political
transitions had seen similar circumstances, the actual events in
question had generally occurred individually. In Europe, on the other
hand, the shift from communism was taking place in a different context
altogether. The peoples involved were not looking to affect a narrow
set of policy reforms; indeed, what was at stake was a hyper-radical
shift from the long-held communist ideology to a western blueprint
for governmental and economic policy development. The problem
inherent in this type of monumental change is that, according to
Ulrich K. Preuss, "In almost all the East and Central European
countries, the collapse of authoritarian communist rule has released
national, ethnic, religious and cultural conflicts which cannot be
solved by purely economic policies" (47). While tremendous changes
are evident in both the governmental and economic arenas in Europe,
these changes cannot be assumed to always be "mutually reinforcing"
(Preuss 47). Generally it has been theorized that the most successful
manner of addressing these many difficulties is the drafting of a
constitution. But what is clear is the unsatisfactory ability of a
constitution to remedy the problems of nationalism and ethnic
differences. Preuss notes that when the constitutional state gained
favor in North America, it was founded on the principle of the unitary
state; it was not designed to address the lack of national identity
which is found throughout Europe - and which is counter to the
concept of the constitutional state (48). "Measured in terms of
socioeconomic modernization," writes Helga A. Welsh, "Central and
Eastern European countries had reached a level that was considered
conducive to the emergence of pluralistic policies" (19). It seemed
that the sole reason the downfall of communism, as it were, took so
long was the veto power of the Soviet Union. According to theories of
modernization, the higher the levels of socioeconomic achievement, the
greater the pressure for open competition and, ultimately, democracy.
As such, the nations in Eastern and Central Europe were seen as
"anomalies in socioeconomically highly-developed countries where
particularly intellectual power resources have become widespread"
(Welsh 19). Due to their longtime adherence to communist policies,
these nations faced great difficulty in making the transition to a
pluralist system as well as a market economy. According to Preuss,
these problems were threefold: The genuine economic devastations
wrought by the communist regimes, the transformation of the social and
economic classes of the command economy into the social and economic
classes of a capitalist economy and, finally, the creation of a
constitutional structure for political entities that lack the
undisputed integrity of a nation state (48).
With such problems as these to contend with in re-engineering
their entire economic and political systems, the people of East
Germany seemed to be in a particularly enviable position.
Economically, they were poised to unite with one of the richest
countries, having one of the strongest economies, in the entire world.
In the competition for foreign investment, such an alliance gave the
late German Democratic Republic a seemingly insurmountable lead over
other nations. In regards to the political aspects of unification,
it effectively left a Germany with no national or ethnic minorities,
as well as having undisputed boundaries. As well, there was no need
to 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 all the good that seemed to
be imminent as a result of unification, many problems also arose
regarding the political transformation that Germany was undergoing.
Among these problems were the following: the tensions between the
Basic Law's simultaneous commitments to supranational integration and
to the German nation state, the relationship between the nation and
the constitution as two different modes of political integration and
the issue of so-called "backward justice" (Preuss 48). The Federal
Republic of Germany's Basic Law has been the longest-lived
constitution in Germany's history. Intended to be a short-lived,
temporary document, the Basic Law gained legitimacy as West Germany
continued to march towards becoming a major economic power and
effective democratic society. There seemed to be, at first, a tension
between the Basic Law's explicit support of re-unification and its
promise to transfer sovereignty to a supranational institution that
would be created. The conflict between West Germany's goals of
national unity and international integration remained the main issue
in the country's politics for many years.
As Preuss notes, "It will be extremely difficult to escape the
economic and, in the long run also political, implications of this
double-bind situation of Germany, one that remains a legacy of the
postwar order" (51). Since the unification of Germany was
accomplished through accession, it meant, strangely enough, that
neither West nor East Germany had a say in the other's decision on
whether to form a unified state or what conditions such a unification
would be contingent upon, respectively. Put simply, the net effect of
the extension of the Basic Law to all of Germany did not guarantee the
implementation of a new joint governing policy or a new constitution
for the country. It seemed, as a result of some esoteric articles of
the Basic Law, that the GDR would cease to exist legally and the FRG
would survive. It was impossible to draw the conclusion that both
would die out and be replaced by a new political identity. Many of
the Federal Republic's laws immediately applied in the GDR (Gloebner
153). Article 146 of the Basic Law, put simply, allowed for the
annulment of the Basic Law, to be replaced with another governing
system, without previously binding the people to any specific rules.
Seemingly, it sanctions revolution, and, "as proved to be the case in
1990, this is not a purely theoretical conclusion" (Preuss 52). Some
suggest that, by unifying through accession, Germany has made problems
which could end up overshadowing the benefits of unification. The
suggestion is that the implementation of a constitution by a society
without experience in utilizing it, without the necessary institutions
and without the corresponding value system will bring about more harm
than good (politically). The imposition of the Basic Law was the root
for much of the mistrust between East and West Germans following
unification. In regards to the East Germans, the Law was effectively
self-imposed, and "neither submission nor voluntary self-submission is
likely to engender the social and political coherence which is a
necessary condition for a stable democracy" (Preuss 54). In regards to
the economic aspects of unification, some major problems exist in the
transition to democracy and market economics. According to Preuss,
the two main issues included in the realm of "backward justice" are
the privatization of large pieces of state property, and the
punishment of the elites of the previous regimes and their comrades
under the headings of "self-purification" and "collective amnesia."
The privatization issue is among the thorniest involved in any
country's transition from communism. For one, a system of procedures
must be developed simply to transfer such large amounts of property to
private citizens. Also, there must be mechanisms put in place to both
protect new owners from claims of previous owners and to satisfy
former owners without alienating possible future investors. The
problem boils down to the fact that private property laws do not
always coincide with the "fair" concept of restitution. As Petra
Bauer-Kaase writes, "East Germans still have difficulties in adjusting
to a political system where individuals have a great deal of
responsibility for their own life" (307). The former East Germans
look upon this issue with contempt, because it is the Westerners who
have control over the rules, as well as the enforcement of those
rules. This is merely one of a multitude of instances where this
mistrust manifests itself.
There are also the issues of self-purification and collective
amnesia. Due to the pervasive nature of the communist regime's
surveillance programs 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, East Germans are never able to
escape the suspicions that they may have been part of the machine.
Government jobs are denied to those who were affiliated with the
Stasi, and private businesses also may deny employment to these
citizens. While unification has occurred theoretically, in reality
the Germany today is one of de facto separate-but-equal citizenship.
There is no denying that there have been many problems
associated with the unification of East and West Germany. The
transition 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. As Preuss writes, "The transition from an
authoritarian political regime and its concomitant command economy to
a liberal democracy and a capitalist economy is as unprecedented as
the short-term integration of two extremely different societies - one
liberal-capitalist, one authoritarian-socialist - into one nation
state" (57). In other words, the unification of Germany is one of
the most complicated and unprecedented historical events since the
unification of Germany.
Bauer-Kaase, Petra. "Germany in Transition: The Challenge of Coping
with Unification." German Unification: Processes and Outcomes. M.
Donald Hancock and Helga A. Welsh, eds.
Boulder: Westview, 1994. 285-311. Gloebner, Gert-Joachim. "Parties
and Problems of Governance During Unification." German Unification:
Processes and Outcomes. M. Donald Hancock and Helga A. Welsh, eds.
Boulder: Westview, 1994. 139-61. Preuss, Ulrich K.
"German Unification: Political and Constitutional Aspects." United
Germany and the New Europe. Heinz D. Kurz, ed. Brookfield: Elgar,
1993. 47-58. Welsh, Helga A. "The Collapse of Communism in Eastern
Europe and the GDR: Evolution, Revolution, and Diffusion." German
Unification: Processes and Outcomes. M. Donald Hancock and Helga A.
Welsh, eds. Boulder: Westview, 1994. 17-34.