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What did GDR stand for?

 

In the 21 years since the reunification of Germany, none of the problems that made the 20th century the most violent in human history has been resolved
PETER SCHWARZ, SECRETARY OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE FOURTH INTERNATIONAL (ICFI) | Issue Dated: December 4, 2011, New Delhi
Tags : ussr | usa | second worl war | soviet union | geopolitical hegemony | TSI | 20 years since soviet union |
 

The 21st anniversary of the reunification of Germany is not only a historical landmark, it also stands out in another respect. The two decades that have passed since 1990 represent half the life of the German Democratic Republic.


The GDR was founded on October 7, 1949. One month before the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 it celebrated its 40th anniversary. Soon, it had disappeared from the political map. The Berlin Wall stood only eight years longer than the period that has elapsed since its collapse. In view of the time that has passed since the demise, one could have expected that the anniversary of German reunification offered the chance to undertake a sober and objective assessment of what the GDR really was. However, nothing of the sort took place.


The numerous anniversary speeches were characterised by the same ideological fervour that dominated in the period of the Cold War. Instead of receiving an answer to the question, “What was the GDR?”, the public was served up hollow slogans and swear words.


The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) called upon Helmut Kohl, who is wheelchair-bound and hardly speaks, to remind an audience of party functionaries that the GDR was characterised by the “rule of injustice.” Whoever claimed anything else had “learnt nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, while expressing her appreciation for the “lifetime achievements of former GDR citizens,” insisted that this was completely different from the “state structure of the GDR.”


US President Barack Obama, in a message of greetings, described the “courage and convictions of the Germans who brought about the collapse of the Berlin Wall” as a contribution “to a joint vision of a united and free Europe.”


If the political establishments in both Germany and the US are reluctant to seriously address the nature of the GDR, it is because this state had its origins in great historical crimes – the Second World War and the Holocaust.


Responsibility for these crimes rested not just with Hitler and his cronies, but with a broad layer of the economic and political elite in Germany: industrial magnates like Thyssen, Krupp and Quandt, who bankrolled Hitler and increased their fortunes by means of forced labour; generals and officers who organised the war in the East; academics and jurists who worked out and implemented the race laws; and more.


The role played by the capitalist elite in initiating war and genocide was so evident that the prevailing anti-capitalist sentiments even found their reflection in the postwar Ahlen programme of the CDU. This state of affairs was not only a source of concern for the governments in Washington and London, but also for the Stalinist rulers in Moscow. Stalin, whose power rested on a privileged bureaucratic caste and who had persecuted and murdered the leaders of the October Revolution, feared that a socialist movement in Europe would jeopardise his own rule.


Consequently, the US, the Soviet Union and Great Britain reached an agreement at the conferences held at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam to divide up Germany and Europe into different spheres of influence. Stalin was assigned a buffer zone in Eastern Europe and in return he pledged to help in suppressing any anti-capitalist movement in Western Europe. This was to prove of decisive significance in countries like France and Italy, where the Moscow-oriented Communist Parties were in the leadership of armed resistance movements.


The fate of Germany – divided into four different occupation zones – was finally decided four years after the war. In May 1949, the Federal Republic was founded within the three zones controlled by the west. The GDR was founded five months later in response.


Although the CDU, led at the time by Konrad Adenauer, used the division of Germany for its own propaganda purposes, the party had deliberately decided in favour of the division in order to align itself economically and militarily with the Western powers.


As the Cold War intensified, the prosecution of former Nazi war criminals in the Federal Republic came to an abrupt halt. Convicted industrial magnates were released from prison, Nazi secret service and army officers were reemployed, and former members of Hitler’s Nazi Party elevated to the highest posts. Not a single Nazi jurist was held to account for his crimes. This made the GDR, which was more consistent in prosecuting Nazis, attractive for many workers, artists and intellectuals.


However, it was compelled to implement a number of social concessions. State-owned property became the basis for an extensive education, health and social system guaranteeing workers a high degree of social security.


Since the reunification and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, these contradictions have erupted to the surface ever more openly. Today the Federal Republic increasingly resembles the Germany of the 1920s and 1930s, while capitalism all over the world is in profound crisis.


Instead of the “flourishing landscapes” promised by Helmut Kohl, poverty and unemployment are spreading in both eastern and western Germany. Some 6.7 million Germans are dependent on Hartz IV welfare payments, while another 5 million are employed in low-paid jobs. The pension and health systems are being whittled away bit by bit.


Nationalism and racism are once again finding support in ruling circles. Christian Wulff spoke out in favour of a “relaxed patriotism” and warned immigrants who refuse to accept “our way of life” that they must “reckon with decisive resistance.” He also defended the profound social gulf that has opened up during the past 21 years, declaring, “Too much equality suffocates individual initiative and can only be achieved at the cost of losing freedom.”


On the world stage, German imperialism is returning to its former arrogance. If there is one central lesson to be drawn from the 21 years since the reunification, it is that none of the problems that made the 20th century the most violent in history has been resolved.  

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Posted By: Ramachandran Nair | Oman | November 26th 2011 | 16:11
The fact is that majority of the problems were remained unresolved after the reunification of Germany, even though there has not been serious violent reactions in the country because of this in the past two decades. This itself shows the maturity of such decision. The reunion is basically a change in the perceptions of people who believes in a merger that helps making a stronger nation in all means. When comparing the situation in Europe with rest of the world, it was calm except the economic slowdown that forced unemployment in most part of the world. In the current scenario one cannot believe that Germany is returning to its earlier nature in terms of attitude and conceit. Perhaps the German involvement in rest of the world issues, jointly with others in the Europe and Americas was forced less priorities to its own decade old internal strife. While the Germans have spent heavily on world affairs in the recent past, its own concerns to deals that are set to tackle issues left unattended after the reunification, which are basically similar to ignoring the public voice and their demands to maintain traditions of long past.




Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017