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Society, Politics & Law

The Great Fall: Germany's current political landscape

Updated Thursday, 6th November 2014

Have important roles in German politics been taken over by East Germans since the fall of the Berlin wall?

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the German flag Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Mark Waters | Who would have thought it possible on the 9th of November 1989 that 25 years later, the two highest offices in the re-united Germany are occupied by people from the East: Angela Merkel as Chancellor and Joachim Gauck as President. Both from the East and both with a background in the community of the protestant church of the GDR before 1989 – a community with a critical stance towards the GDR government and policies.

But… Does this mean the Easterners have taken over the German political landscape? No! A takeover would be too strong a term - yet there have been changes since reunification, which were strongly influenced by the Easterners’ political thinking and history.

Today, the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, the German equivalent of Labour), the CDU (Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, the German equivalent of the Tories), and the FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei, the German equivalent of the LibDems) have successfully integrated their East-German equivalents. Interestingly, although many claim the GDR was a one-party state, these East German counterparts had been part of the political establishment in the socialist East but belonged to the one voting block which made up the East-German parliament.

Then there is the joint party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen… a complex name for a complex union. Die Grünen (The Green Party), founded in 1980 in the West, became the political branch of the environmental protection and peace movements in the 1970s in the West; and Bündnis 90, formed in 1990 in the East - the union of the East German left wing civil rights movements which were at the heart of the peaceful revolution in 1989.  

Finally, the youngest political union: Die Linke (The Left) founded in 2007 – the amalgamation of left wing groupings from both sides of the ‘iron curtain’. The Eastern part, the PDS, evolved from the former ruling party of the GDR, the SED. The Western counterpart in this union was the Electoral Alternative for Labour and Social Justice (WASG), a left-wing breakaway from the SPD.

Die Linke has become a major political force in the East German Länder, where the party is represented in all five state parliaments (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Thüringen) and has also been in coalition governments. However, their influence and political power is not limited to the East – they are also represented in five other parliaments (Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Hessen, and Saarland. Currently, there are negotiations under way in Thüringen about a new coalition government which might see the first member of Die Linke to be in charge of a government.

So maybe not a takeover by East Germans when it comes to politics but certainly a different political landscape in Germany since 1990.

Read more articles from Open University academics about their knowledge and experiences of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Find out more on German language and culture





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