Germany The Birth of the German Democratic Republic
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
As with the birth of the FRG, the formation of a separate nation-state in the Soviet zone also took only a few years. In late 1947, the SED convened the "German People's Congress for Unity and a Just Peace" in Berlin. To demonstrate the SED's claim of responsibility for the political future of all Germans, representatives from the Western zones were invited. The congress demanded the negotiation of a peace treaty for the whole of Germany and the establishment of a German central government. An SED-controlled organization was founded to win support for the realization of these demands in all occupation zones.
The Second People's Congress, held in March 1948, proposed a referendum on German unity, rejected the Marshall Plan, and recognized the Oder-Neisse border, which separated the Soviet zone from territory that was administered by Poland but that had once been part of Germany. Thereafter, few Western politicians had any doubts about the goals of the SED-sponsored congress. The congress elected a People's Council and created a constitutional committee to draft a constitution for a "German Democratic Republic," which was to apply to all of postwar Germany. The constitutional committee submitted the new constitution to the People's Council, and it was approved on March 19, 1949.
The Third People's Congress, its membership chosen by the SED, met in May 1949, just after the ending of the Berlin blockade. Apparently reacting to current events in the Western zones, where the Basic Law establishing the West German government in Bonn had just been approved, the congress approved the draft constitution of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany).
A new People's Council, elected during the Third People's Congress, was convened for the first time on October 7, 1949, and the constitution of the GDR went into effect the same day. The Soviet military administration was dissolved, and its administrative functions were transferred to East German authorities. The People's Council was renamed and began its work as the Volkskammer (People's Chamber), the parliament of the GDR. A second parliamentary chamber, the Länderkammer (Provincial Chamber), consisting of thirty-four deputies, was constituted by the five Land diets on October 11, 1949. Wilhelm Pieck became the first president of the GDR on the same day, and the newly formed cabinet, under the leadership of Otto Grotewohl, was installed on October 12, 1949.
According to the first constitution of the GDR, its citizens enjoyed certain basic rights, even the right to strike. In reality, however, there was little freedom. According to the constitution, both the Council of State (Staatsrat) and the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat) were elected by and responsible to the Volkskammer. All parties and mass organizations represented in this body were united in the National Front, under the ideological leadership of the SED. The Volkskammer was a mere forum for speeches and mock debates. In reality, all policy matters were decided by the Politburo of the SED, on which most important functionaries of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers had a seat.
The party structure of the SED had been reorganized in the image of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union even before the foundation of the GDR, and the system of nomenklatura (see Glossary), with its strict system of ideological education and selection of candidates for all functions in party and state, was introduced. Within a few months, East Germany became a model for all other satellites of the Soviet Union.
West Germany and the Community of Nations
At the end of World War II, Germany was a defeated nation occupied by foreign powers. It had lost its national sovereignty, and the world saw it as a pariah, guilty of crimes without parallel in history. In addition to rebuilding their shattered country in a physical sense, most leading German politicians saw their main goals in the coming decades as restoring their country's reputation, regaining its sovereignty, and becoming once again a member in good standing in the community of nations.
The figure who dominated West Germany's politics in its first two decades was Konrad Adenauer, a politician totally committed to restoring his country to an honored place among nations. He saw little likelihood that the Soviet occupation of East Germany would soon end; hence, he sought to build a strong West Germany firmly attached to the Western community of parliamentary democracies. As president of the Parliamentary Council, Adenauer had played a leading role in the process of finalizing and passing the Basic Law in 1949.
Even before he participated in fashioning the country's constitution, Adenauer had had a long and eventful political career. Born in 1876 in Cologne, he studied law and economics and became active in local politics. As a member of the Catholic-based Center Party, he became the mayor of his home town in 1917. The National Socialists deposed him in 1933, and, after the attempt on Hitler's life on July 20, 1944, he was arrested and imprisoned for four months. After the war, the United States reinstalled him as mayor of Cologne. The British military authorities, however, fired him from this position because of alleged incompetence. In March 1946, Adenauer became chairman of the CDU in the British occupation zone and, after having shown extraordinary leadership in the deliberations on the Basic Law, became the first chancellor of the newly formed state (see table 3, Appendix).
One of Adenauer's main goals was regaining his country's sovereignty. Although the Basic Law gave full legislative, executive, and judicial powers to the new FRG and its Länder , certain powers were reserved for the occupying authorities. The Occupation Statute, drawn up in April 1949 by the foreign ministers of the Four Powers, gave the occupation authorities the right to supervise the new state's foreign policy, trade, and civil aviation, as well as the right, under special circumstances, to assume complete control over their own occupation zones.
By means of another statute, the Ruhr Statute, likewise concluded in April 1949, the administration of the resources and industrial potential of the Ruhr area was also kept under foreign control. In the past, the area had been a key element in the building of Germany's military machine. France, in particular, sought safeguards against future threats to its national security by arranging the creation of the International Authority for the Ruhr, which, under the direction of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, controlled the distribution of the area's resources.
Although the Ruhr Statute was designed to prevent Germany from ever again becoming a threat to its neighbors, it later served as the first instrument of economic cooperation for the region. In conformity with the Petersberg Agreement of November 1949 with the Western Allies, the FRG became a member of the International Authority for the Ruhr and was granted the right to establish consular relations with foreign countries. Furthermore, the dismantling of German industrial plants in the Ruhr area was largely stopped, and Germany was allowed to again build merchant ships. The winning of these important concessions was Adenauer's first major success as chancellor.
In the spring of 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman recommended the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) to revive European economic cooperation and prevent future conflict between France and Germany. According to Schuman's plan, countries willing to place their coal and steel industries under an independent authority could join.
Once again, Adenauer seized the opportunity to further integrate West Germany into Western Europe. Against the SPD's strong opposition, the FRG entered into negotiations with France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy on the formation of the ECSC. Negotiations were successfully concluded in June 1952. The ECSC superseded the International Authority for the Ruhr and laid the foundations of the future European Community (EC--see Glossary; see European Union, ch. 8). Adenauer's conciliatory but resolute foreign policy also secured the admission in 1951 of the FRG into the Council of Europe, a body established in May 1949 to promote European ideals and principles.
Another important step for the FRG on its path toward reentry into the community of nations was Adenauer's unwavering position on restitution to the victims of Nazi crimes. Of particular significance was the normalization of relations with Israel and with the Jewish people in general. Although the terrible atrocities that had occurred during the war could not be undone, material restitution could at least improve the lot of the survivors. In 1952 a reparations agreement with Israel was arranged that called for the payment of DM3 billion to the Jewish state over the next twelve years. Additional agreements with Jewish organizations provided for restitution to Jewish victims throughout the world. Through such actions, the FRG sought to meet its obligations as the legal successor to the German Reich, a position it had accepted since the FRG's founding.
Data as of August 1995
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