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.

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.


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