The Imperfect Union: Constitutional Structures of German Unification

By Peter E. Quint | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction

IN THE MIDSUMMER OF 1989 the German Democratic Republic—known as the GDR or East Germany—was an autocratic state led by an entrenched Communist Party, a loyal member of the Warsaw Pact and, in many ways, a haughty counterpart of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which it confronted with a mixture of hostility and grudging accommodation across the divide created by the Cold War. Over the following year and a half, a dramatic process of change transformed the political system of East Germany and culminated in the GDR's “accession” to the Federal Republic itsel. At the same time, the division of Europe, which the division of Germany came to symbolize, had largely ceased to exist. Yet the end of Germany's division evoked its own new and very bitter problems.

Indeed, viewed as a social and economic process, German unification was by no means completed when the GDR acceded to the Federal Republic on October 3, 1990. The two economic systems remained distinctly—even startlingly—different, and the sharp psychic divisions of four decades, which some Germans referred to as the “wall in the head,” seemed likely to divide the two regions for years to come. Radically different social structures, as well as quite dissimilar personal histories, continued to divide the citizens of United Germany, and mutual suspicion and distrust perpetuated a high degree of social segregation of the two groups, even in areas like Berlin where they lived in close proximity.

The unification of October 3, therefore, represented primarily an achievement in the realm of politics and law—the culmination of a series of agreements and legislative provisions developed within a highly articulated constitutional framework that was drafted more than forty years ago with such an occurrence in mind. In the rapid events of 1989–90, the legal and constitutional development seemed to be one aspect of the process of unification that—unlike more unruly economic and social phenomena—was subject to a measure of deliberation and rational control.

The constitutional structure that emerged reflected both anxiety and optimism; its drafters sought to diminish baneful legacies of the past while opening opportunities for future social, political, and economic development. Yet like most great constituent acts, it also reflected the weight of political interests and the dominance of some interests over others. Indeed, as the process of unification developed, the main actors in the process adopted an overall strategy for unification that could be seen as growing out of the West German constitutional tradition itself. First, a method of unification was chosen

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