United and Divided: Germany since 1990

By Mike Dennis; Eva Kolinsky | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
Meanings of Migration in East Germany
and the West German Model

Eva Kolinsky

One of the most unexpected challenges in the wake of unification concerned the meaning of migration. The establishment of democratic governance reinvented the political system and replaced its elite but also entailed an institutionalisation of the rule of law in society and a guarantee of rights and legal protection to all, regardless of residency status, nationality, religion, gender, race or background. Migration and the rights of migrants in the receiving country constitute a significant indicator of its democratic credentials (Panayi, 1996). Drawing on this link between democratic governance and migration, this chapter examines the place of migrants and their treatment with special reference to east Germany. For the period before 1945, the focus on migration can exemplify democracy deficits in German history and help define the legacies that faced both attempts at reinventing Germany, the FRG and GDR (Berghoff, 1996). For post-war developments until 1990, the focus on migration and the place of migrants can illuminate the hiatus that separated the two German states before they were unified. The main body of the chapter discusses the treatment of GDR contract workers, the changed meaning of migration in east Germany after unification and the contribution of Foreigners’ Commissioners and east German officials to administering migration and facilitating settlement. Looking at attitudes towards ‘others’ among young people, the chapter argues that east Germans perpetuate the institutional exclusion of non-Germans from the GDR era in their negative views about the presence of ‘others’ and its impact on their private world.


Migration – German Legacies and New Beginnings

In Germany, as in other countries, migration followed economic fortunes (Bade, 1987). At times of hardship, Germans settled elsewhere or sought seasonal labour in neighbouring regions to supplement their income. At times of material well-being, migration occurred in the opposite direction. For most of its history since the late nineteenth century, Germany had been a pull-country

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