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State

Capital

Germany (East)

Berlin

Deutsche Demokratische Republik

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Central Europe

Germany

Democracy

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History

At the end of the second world war the eastern parts of Germany were occupied by the Russians following a four power agreement made at Yalta. Part (Koenigsberg) was annexed to Russia; part to Poland; and the remainder was an Occupation zone. Berlin remained as an island controlled by the four powers within the Russian zone.

In 1948 the Russians, under Stalin, tried to blockade Berlin and refused to cooperate in the governing of Germany as a whole, as had been agreed at the Potsdam Conference (1945).

In 1949 the three western powers set up a federal German state in the three occupation zones they controlled. They had founded a new currency, the Deutschemark in 1948. This was when the Russians set up a state in their own zone. A new ruling party was formed by forced amalgamation of the pre-Hitler Social Democrats and Communists to form the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei - SED). Thus east Germany became a People's Republic as found in the other Russian dominated states. There was an attempted popular uprising against the Russian dominated state in 1953, but with no lasting effect - other than the strengthening of the Security police.

It was a member of both COMECON and the Warsaw Pact. East Germany had the strongest economy in the eastern bloc. (But its industry was shown, on unification, to be inefficient in comparison with western industries and unable to compete).

East Germans were used by the Soviet Union to set up and run secret police forces in many other countries, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola. Their skills in torture came from the experience of the Nazi Gestapo (Secret State Police) and from training by the Soviet KGB.

The end of the state came at the 40th anniversary when Mikhail Gorbachov urged the Communist government under Erich Honecker to bring in similar reforms to those in the Soviet Union. When Honecker refused, people demonstrated in the streets, and from July 1989 many escaped to the west through Hungary and Austria (Hungary, by then no longer Communist, refused to close the border). Honecker resigned and his successor Egon Krenz was forced to open the inner German frontier (the Berlin Wall). He too resigned after a few weeks. Democratic elections followed and the end of Communist rule. The new government, a coalition dominated by the rightwing parties, negotiated a rapid unification.

The state ceased to exist on 2 October 1990 when it merged with West Germany. However, the peoples of the new state experienced sudden unemployment and a collapse of their social security institutions, despite large investments from the western German states. Their future is still likely to be better than in the other former COMECON states.

Languages

German

Minority Slavs:

Wendish

Sorb

Turkish

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Politics

No longer applicable.

When the state existed the government was formed by a ruling party, the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED = Socialist Unity Party). This was constructed by the Soviet occupation by a forced amalgamation of the pre-Hitler Socialists and Communists. However it was not a political party in the democratic sense but an instrument of government and owed its power to the Soviet Union rather than popular support. Nevertheless it used the language of popular revolution and pretended that everyone really supported it. Acquiescence and lack of overt opposition was enforced by a secret police which employed as many as 10% of the people. Cameras in public places, phone tapping and letter opening as well as a network of informers were necessary. A large scale insurrection occurred in 1953 but was suppressed by Russian troops.

The elections leading to independence gave the rightwing parties a majority with the Communists (renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism) about 10% of the vote. The elections after unification gave the west German ruling party an overwhelming majority after election promises (no unemployment) which have since not been carried out. Thus the inhabitants gained a useful education in electoral politics. No doubt next time they will be more wary about believing promises. There are signs of the rise of extreme but small rightwing parties modeled on the Nazis and fueled by a hatred of foreigners. This seemed ominous in the 1990s as then it seemed likely that there would be many refugees from further east where the economies were collapsing. In fact this didn't happen.

As the East German state had some continuing features of Nazism (Secret Police, prison camps, dictatorship, propaganda) it is not surprising that the people are rather apathetic about voting after having unrealistic beliefs of the results of democracy.

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Economics

The East German economy was run on lines laid down by the Soviet Union with centralized planning and no market prices.

Innovation was poor and there were no controls on pollution or energy saving.

On unification almost the whole economy had to be closed down and rebuilt by west German businesses.

Its strength proved to be an educated work force, but these too needed retraining in modern methods. Also people had got used to the endemic problem of the former Communist states:

"We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us". That is, everyone was provided with a job but much of the work was not economically effective and the rates of pay were very low. The adoption of the west German Deutschmark at a too high rate (one Ostmark to one Deutschemark was a political decision not justifed by the economic reality) in May 1990 proved very damaging to the economy of the east. The new wage rates could not be justified by productivity and mass unemployment occurred as most existing businesses had to be closed.

Within the Soviet Bloc, East German industry seemed successful but its products could be sold only to people who had no choice. Almost all of them were long out of date copies of western models. For example, its Robotron computer company in Dresden supplied much of the COMECON area - the IBM of the east? It proved unviable and was largely broken up. The former director of the economy revealed in September 1991 that in fact East Germany had been virtually bankrupt just before the collapse of the government and that the communists had feared social collapse. The typical East German car the Trabant (only available after years on a waiting list) was at best of 1950s design, and was underpowered and very polluting.

The sudden assimilation with the Federal Republic has resulted in a shock for the people. By September 1991 free market trade was still only just beginning with street markets run mostly by Vietnamese (personal observation). Only some of the businesses had been privatized. By 1994 a more normal economy had been established. There remains a higher rate of unemployment compared to the former west Germany.

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Green/Ecology

East Germany had some of the worst pollution in Europe. Its energy came from Lignite (poorly carbonized coal) which had a large sulfur content. This produced serious acid rain which has killed large areas of forest in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

It also had Soviet designed nuclear power plants (Greifswald), which had to be closed down on unification because they were even less safe than western designs.

Chemical factories did not use modern safety methods.

The newly unified German government had to initiate a program of cleaning up east German industry, assisted by the fact that most of it closed down.

The new policy is to replace the lignite (brown coal) with black coal from the west and to convert to natural gas.

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Human Rights

They were bad, while the state existed: East Germans were expert political police throughout the communist world. It is estimated that one sixth of the population were spying on the rest of the population. In 1945 many of them had been the former Nazi secret police, so that they were the means of transmitting the culture of torture to such countries as Iraq and South Yemen.

Last revised 15/03/09

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