Communism Downfall


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 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 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.

Bibliography

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.