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Playing Politics with History

Playing Politics with History: The Bundestag Inquiries into East Germany

Andrew H. Beattie
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Playing Politics with History
    Book Description:

    After Germany's reunification in 1989-90, the country faced not only the history and consequences of the nation's division during the Cold War but also the continuing burdensome legacy of the Nazi past and the Holocaust. This book explains why concerns that the Nazi past would be marginalized by the more recent Communist past proved to be misplaced. It examines the delicate East-West dynamics and the notion that the West sought to impose "victor's justice" (or history) on the East. More specifically, it examines, for the first time, the history and significance of two parliamentary commissions of inquiry created in the 1990s to investigate the divided past after 1945 and its effects on the reunified country. Not unlike "truth commissions" elsewhere, these inquiries provided an important forum for renegotiating contemporary Germany's relationship with multiple German pasts, including the Nazi period and the Holocaust. The ensuing debates and disagreements over the recent past, examined by the author, open up a window into the wider development of German memory, identity, and politics after the end of the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-017-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    At the final public hearing of the German Bundestag’s first commission of inquiry into the East German past, held in the Reichstag building in Berlin in May 1994, East German author and dissident Jürgen Fuchs gave a bitter assessment of unified Germany’s handling of East German history:

    When I heard the many clever thoughts here yesterday, which have been addressed in academic seminars for a long time already and definitely will continue to be with new diploma theses, doctoral dissertations, professorial dissertations and ground-breaking publications in reputable publishing houses and journals, progressive and critical, questioning and answering, provocative and explanatory,...

  6. Chapter 1 Establishing the Commission of Inquiry
    (pp. 24-59)

    In hindsight, the creation of a parliamentary body to investigate the history and consequences of the East German dictatorship appears a logical and natural step along a coherent and well-planned path toward a thorough reckoning with the communist regime. Yet as A. James McAdams argues, political elites do not simply pick and choose from a menu of transitional-justice instruments, but face a range of competing needs, priorities, and constraints in real time and space.¹ Indeed, it is important to emphasize the contingency of the Bundestag inquiry’s creation, which was by no means inevitable or preordained. Other aspects of postunification transitional...

  7. Chapter 2 The Inquiries at Work
    (pp. 60-91)

    The commission was saddled with considerable expectations and an enormous burden of responsibility. Its potential areas of activity and in particular its audiences and constituencies were legion. To begin with the largest audience: the commission was aware that world opinion was closely observing Germany subsequent to unification, particularly in relation to how it handled the Nazi and GDR pasts.¹ As a body of the national parliament, however, its main constituency was the German public as a whole, whose inner unity it hoped to promote. Yet its official raison d’être was to inform the Bundestag of pertinent matters requiring legislative action....

  8. Chapter 3 The SED’s Dictatorship from the Beginning
    (pp. 92-124)

    For all the talk of doing justice to the victims, hearing ordinary East Germans’ stories, and fostering inner unity, ultimately the focus of the commissions of inquiry was on the political history of the German Democratic Republic. Here two fundamental issues were at stake: the legitimacy of and responsibility for the GDR. These issues were more important than questions of truth, justice, trust, and reconciliation that dominate most accounts of the inquiries. The overwhelming majority on the commission—including Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, Social Democrats, and members of Alliance 90/The Greens—sought to establish the GDR’s political illegitimacy, arguing that...

  9. Chapter 4 Implementing and Resisting Socialism in the GDR
    (pp. 125-160)

    The political parties did not just play politics with questions about the legitimacy of the GDR and responsibility for the dictatorship, but also with socialist ideology. The regime’s ideological foundations occupied a central place in the commissions’ deliberations, a dimension of their work—indeed of Germany’s postcommunist transitional justice in general—that has not been properly appreciated.¹ Through the inquiries, Christian Democrats and Free Democrats sought not just to condemn the GDR as the illegitimate dictatorship of the SED, but also to discredit socialism generally. They argued that the GDR constituted the fulfillment of Marxist ideology, and that the disastrous...

  10. Chapter 5 Vergangenheitsbewältigung: Good and Bad
    (pp. 161-193)

    Memories of the experiences of dealing with the Nazi past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) played an important role in discussions of the East German past. As chapter 1 demonstrated, a central motivation for a thorough reckoning with communism and in particular for the Bundestag’s commission of inquiry lay in a widespread sense that the two postwar Germanys had each, in their different ways, failed to come to terms with the Nazi legacy. Indeed, one of the main justifications for the inquiry consisted precisely in the prevention of a repetition of past omissions, or future accusations thereof. A negative assessment of the handling of...

  11. Chapter 6 The Double Totalitarian Past
    (pp. 194-227)

    The three previous chapters examined the ideological content and implications of the Bundestag inquiries’ work, aspects that have been rather neglected in the extant literature. This chapter explores the areas in which their ideological activity culminated, and in which their deliberations assumed their greatest and probably most enduring public importance. While the debates about issues such as the SED’s foundation, Marxism-Leninism, emigration from the GDR, or antifacscism were bitterly contested and had undeniable contemporary significance, the latter paled in contrast with the inquiries’ deliberations over the GDR’s comparability with the Third Reich, its putatively totalitarian character, and contemporary Germany’s relationship...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 228-244)

    This book has examined the handling of Germany’s multiple pasts by the Bundestag’s commissions of inquiry. The commissions’ main focus and significance lay not in helping the victims of the East German regime, or developing other policies for the past, or pursuing either reconciliation between perpetrators and their victims or understanding between easterners and westerners (chapter 2). Instead, they constituted sites for the contestation of political legitimacy with reference to history. The party-political nature of disagreements, rather than East-West differences, was salient. The major differences over fundamental matters such as the GDR’s dictatorial nature, the legitimacy of its foundation, the...

  13. Appendix A. The Terms of Reference of the Commission of Inquiry, “Working through the History and Consequences of the SED Dictatorship in Germany”
    (pp. 246-249)
  14. Appendix B. The Terms of Reference of the Commission of Inquiry, “Overcoming the Consequences of the SED Dictatorship in the Process of Germany Unity”
    (pp. 250-254)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-279)
  16. Index
    (pp. 280-292)