Settling Accounts with History: Germany’s Difficulties in Dealing with Political Crime Committed in the German Democratic Republic1
By Professor GISELA SHAW
The collapse in 1989/90 of the Eastern Bloc confronted all former member states with the need to deal with political crime committed under the previous Communist regimes. This article investigates two issues: (1) What options were open to them in principle? (2) Why have developments in (East) Germany taken such a different course from those in any of the other states concerned?
In 1989/90 the Communist Bloc broke apart. Within a dramatically changed ideological, political, economic, social, cultural and not least legal environment individual member states regained their autonomy and were set free to decide on their own futures. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) represented a special case in that, on the contrary, it lost its status as a separate state (however dependent on the Soviet Union) and acceeded to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). For better or for worse, this meant that the citizens of the former GDR had no autonomy in deciding on the reshaping of their society and its institutions, but had become (the smaller) section of the population of an enlarged Federal Republic of Germany.
All former Eastern Bloc countries have had to face the issue of how to handle political crime committed under the previous Communist regimes. For a number of reasons, this task has been given greater prominence and has caused more headache in Germany than in any of the other states concerned. Why should that be so? In what follows I shall spell out the key options that, in theory, are open to a country needing to settle accounts with its recent history. After placing each option into a historical context I shall then assess the particular difficulties encountered by Germany.
1 This paper is a revised and updated version of a paper written in German and published in German Life and Letters 1/50; copyright: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, UK. — All English translations of German quotations are the author’s.