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May 1989: Hungary opens its border with Austria – hundreds of Germans on holiday in Hungary take the opportunity to flee to the West.
Mass exodus of East Germans begins, with frustrated escapees taking refuge in West German embassies in Prague & Warsaw.
Opposition groups begin to organise – new East German Social Democratic Party founded in July, calls for an end to the single party state in August, New Forum formed in September, Democratic Beginning in October.
October 1989: Gorbachev visits East Berlin – scuffles between police & protesters.
9 October 1989: 70,000 protesters demonstrate in Leipzig.
19 October: Honecker removed for ‘health reasons’ and replaced by Egon Krenz.
Planned staged opening of border crossings mishandled – 9-10 November 1989: thousands of Berliners flocked to the Wall & border guards let them through.
Protests in Leipzig, 9 October 1989 East Germans scale the Berlin Wall, 9-10 November 1989
The GDR heavily dependent on loans from West Germany: by 1981 it owed 10,000 million dollars.
Growth fell from 5.5% in 1984 to 2.1% in 1989.
The East German economy one of the strongest in the Soviet Bloc, but still unable to provide the standard of living enjoyed in the West.
Choice poor, quality low and prices high.
Pollution from the East German industry also having a destructive effect on the environment.
Growing dissatisfaction throughout the 1980s.
While other Communist states (eg. Poland & Hungary) embraced Gorbachev’s reforms, the Honecker regime resisted any liberalisation.
May 1989: Local election results expose the fraudulent nature of the system & the extent of popular dissatisfaction.
Estimated that at least 20% of people voted against the SED’s Party List.
Opening of Hungarian border a catalyst for eruption of existing discontent.
Existing opposition groups organise & come out in the open in the summer of 1989.
Indecision at the top of the SED & the lack of support from abroad (USSR) prevent a crack down.
Reform in the USSR
1985: Mikhail Gorbachev become General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party.
Perestroika (‘restructuring’): relaxed production quotas and introduced some free enterprise.
Glasnost (‘openness’): greater freedom of the press & transparency in government agencies.
1988: Withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan & 50% reduction of military presence in Eastern Europe.
July 1989: End to the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’.
Reform in Eastern Europe
1980: Solidarity formed in Lenin shipyard in Gdansk.
1988: Nation-wide strikes force regime into negotiations with the opposition.
March 1989: Sweeping constitutional reforms agreed.
June 1989: Communists rejected in first free election since 1939.
1980s: Reformers within the Communist Party introduce limited economic liberalisation.
1988: Elderly Janos Kadar removed from office & reformers seize the upper hand in the Politburo.
January 1989: Extensive political reforms agreed, including opening borders with the West.
The international situation favourable towards reunification.
Economic & political collapse meant that a separate East German state was no longer viable.
Helmut Kohl pushed for a plan by which the 5 East German L änder would be absorbed into the Federal Republic.
March 1990: Elections in the GDR – the CDU dominated Alliance for Germany won the most seats & formed a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats & Liberals.
July 1990: Currency reform saw the Deutschmark being adopted in the East.
‘ Two plus Four’ negotiations between the former wartime allies & the German states led to the USA, USSR, Britain & France renouncing their rights over Germany at midnight on 1-2 October 1990.
2 December 1990: First all-German elections since 1933 took place – the CDU won 43.8% of the vote, the SPD 33.5% & the FDP 11%.
Source: Mary Fulbrook (ed.), Germany since 1800
Germany since 1990
Political unification was completed relatively quickly & smoothly, but had lasting economic, social & cultural consequences.
Since reunification Germany has faced the same problems as other western societies: unemployment, an aging population, immigration etc.
But they have also had to deal with the consequences of their recent history.
1992: Former East German border guards tried for manslaughter, former East German leaders charged with various crimes & the Stasi’s files were opened to the public.
Problems of forging a new ‘German’ identity – what is it to be German? How do the 2 Cold War states fit into this?
Attacks on foreign workers & asylum seekers, together with the success of extreme right-wing parties in local elections in the 1990s caused some excitement in the international media, but no evidence that these reflect a widespread resurgence of nationalism – rather a result of the slow pace of economic change in the East.
Germany since 1990
These problems a result of or exacerbated by economic difficulties.
East Germans were ill equipped to survive in the competitive atmosphere of West German capitalism – poorly trained, lacking an entrepreneurial middle class & insulated from unemployment etc. for 60 years they struggled to cope with changing circumstances.
Germans from the former GDR wanted to be treated as equals, but were constantly reminded of the economic gap between East & West.
Few in the West had realised the true state of the East German economy & some resented having to pay higher taxes to help reconstruction.
2005: unemployment at over 12% (the highest rate since the 1930s), with nearly 20% of the East German population out of work.
Difficult to draw conclusions about the collapse of Communism and reunification due to their close proximity in time.
Why did the GDR collapse?
Pace of change in Eastern Europe
Gorbachev’s abandonment of the Honecker regime
Brought frustration of the regime into the open
Pressure from the West
Structural weaknesses in the GDR
End results of reunification remain to be seen, but it is clear that the process did not go as smoothly as some had anticipated.