East Germany: Incorporation, Tainted Truth, and the Double Division

Jan‐Werner Müller

in The Politics of Memory and Democratization

Published in print April 2001 | ISBN: 9780199240906
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598869 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Democratization

 East Germany: Incorporation, Tainted Truth, and the Double Division

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The East German case of transitional justice is unique in more ways than one: whereas in other Central and Eastern European countries dictatorships disappeared, in East Germany the country disappeared along with the dictatorship; where in other countries economic transition was precarious and often provoked the return of communist parties to power, in united Germany institutional stability and social safety were guaranteed by the fact that East Germany was absorbed into what was then one of Europe’s strongest economies and, arguably, most stable democracies. Thus, the ascendancy of a socialist successor party to national power was effectively impossible; moreover, where other countries felt their way towards an appropriate way of dealing with a difficult past, the West Germans had already been through a more or less successful experience with overcoming the past. After spring 1990, when the German Democratic Republic (DDR) revolutionaries negotiated a ‘transition by transaction’ with the old regime, the evolution towards democracy by ‘incorporation’ into West Germany was never at risk, and consequently old elites could be tried and purged; because of this ‘inner security’ and large financial resources, united Germany could also afford a vast and expensive bureaucracy to investigate the past thoroughly. At the same time, the complete incorporation of East Germany has produced unique problems, and policies to deal with the past were arguably contaminated by what many observers have seen as a sort of ‘colonialism in one country’. Achieving ‘inner unity’ between former East and West Germany was superimposed on the objectives of achieving justice and establishing secure foundations for democracy; thus, while many commentators have deemed the policy of openly dealing with the past a success, they have also claimed that the problem of the double division between East and West and within East Germany has probably been exacerbated by this very policy.

Keywords: de-communization; democratization; East Germany; German unification; Germany; institutional stability; purges; transitional justice; transitional policies; trials; truth; West Germany

Chapter.  11196 words. 

Subjects: Politics

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