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The Downfall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe

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The Downfall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe

The shocking fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe

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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 can not 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 lasses of a capitalist economy and,

finally, the creation of a constitutional structure for

political entities that lack the undisputed integrity of a nation

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

Bauer-Kaase, Petra. “Germany in Transition: The Challenge of

German Unification: Processes and Outcomes. M. Donald Hancock

Boulder: Westview, 1994. 285-311. Gloebner, Gert-Joachim.

Governance During Unification.” German Unification: Processes

Hancock and Helga A. Welsh, eds. Boulder: Westview, 1994. 139-

“German Unification: Political and Constitutional Aspects.”

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.

Works Cited

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.

Cite this The Downfall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe

The Downfall of Communism in Eastern and Central Europe. (2018, Aug 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-downfall-of-communism-in-eastern-and-central-europe-essay/

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