Dictionary of East European History since 1945

By Joseph Held | Go to book overview

independent German state. It also issued a call for new elections for an East German People's Congress (see People's Congress of East Germany). In May 1949, the elections were held with a single list of candidates. According to official East German reports, 66 percent of the voters supported the list. The new congress created a 330- member People's Council which, in turn, named itself the People's Chamber, the lower house of parliament. Its first act was the approval of the constitution. A few days later, the five Lander (regions) sent their representatives to form the Lander Kammer (Chamber of Regions), which was intended to become a legislative body. On October 11, the two chambers met and elected Wilhelm Pieck (,see Pieck, Wilhelm) as the first president of East Germany. The East German Christian Democratic Union and the Liberal Democratic party "accepted" the domination of the People's Chamber by the communists. A new constitution was enacted in 1974. It gave more power to the People's Chamber, at least on paper. The first discussions of drafts of proposed laws were submitted to it, providing some sort of oversight for legislation.

The People's Chamber was called to meetings infrequently during the 1950s and 1960s, and, in the 1970s, the meetings were even less frequently held. On the other hand, the parliamentary committees became more active, although the outcome of their work remained negligible. This was, of course, not accidental, since none of the deputies worked full time on legislation. In fact, the major task of the parliamentary deputies was to explain the policies of the government to the population.

The People's Chamber also maintained a facade of being a multi-party, democratic institution, but the noncommunist parties were simply transmission belts to various segments of the population not reached directly by the propaganda organs of the Socialist Unity party. All noncommunist parties were infiltrated by communist agents or cryptocommunists who ensured that the organizations adhered to the Marxist-Leninist line of the communist leadership.

On paper, seats in the People's Chamber were apportioned according to the agreements among the parties. In 1949, the number of deputies was 466. By 1963, the number had grown to 500. Elections for the chamber were held every four years until 1971. After that year, elections were held in five-year intervals to match the congresses of the Socialist Unity party. The elections were, however, meaningless affairs, and the official single list was never contested. The official elections results usually showed 99 percent of the votes cast for the list. When the communist regime collapsed, however, the People's Chamber performed an important role. In 1989, it voted for the reforms demanded by the population and, therefore, cut the legs out from under the communist hard-liners. After this vote, the chamber declared its own dissolution.


Bibliography

Keesing Research Report. Germany and Eastern Europe Since 1945: From the Potsdam Agreement to Chancellor Brandt's Ostpolitik ( New York, 1973); Rothschild Joseph, Return to Diversity: Eastern Europe since 1989 ( Oxford, 1992).

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