The formation and collapse of the German Democratic Republic is a significant chapter in the history of Western Europe and the world at large.
Germany was the principal aggressor in World Wars I and II, and its unification and reintegration formed part of the major activities in the wars. The integration of West and East Germany signified the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, Germany was split into different zones so as to weaken its powers that came by virtue of unity (Childs, 90).
The developments during the Cold War era were marked by several events and different actors. The activities and policies of Honecker and Gorbachev have been argued to have had a significant contribution to the fall of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Some people argue that the policies of Honecker had much significance to the collapse of the GDR. On the other hand, other people cite the policies of Gorbachev as the chief contributors (Thomas, 382).
Thus, this essay will focus on the fall of the GDR during the Cold War period. It will discuss the contribution of Honecker, as well as those of Mikhail Gorbachev in the collapse of the GDR. The paper will establish the main forces between the policies of the two leaders and identify the force with significant contribution to the GDR collapse (Opp, Voss and Gern, 29).
The essay will concentrate on the main factors that led to the collapse of the GDR. The main questions that will be explored in the essay include: was the downfall of the GDR a foreseen gesture or did it come as a surprise? The other question is: which events led to the collapse of the GDR? The last question is: whose policies and activities are resulted in the collapse of the GDR?
The Berlin wall was built as a preventative measure to the conflicts that were prevailing in Europe at that time. It subdivided Germany into two countries: East German and West German. Each of these countries pursued policies basing on different philosophies.
East Germany pursued the socialist philosophy. The East Germany was influenced and supported by the Soviet Union in establishing a socialist government. On the other hand, Western powers supported West Germany in establishing a democratic government. This happened immediately after the end of the Second World War. These two Germany states denoted the opposing ideologies that marked the beginning of the Cold War. These opposing ideologies were capitalism and communism.
West Germany was able to attain development achievements that were attributed to capitalism as a political ideology. People of East Germany regarded their counterparts from West Germany as considerably free and developed (Kitchen and Kitchen, 352).
The Berlin wall was constructed in 1961 to bar people of Eastern German from escaping to West Germany. The regime of Honecker continued to commit itself to socialism, which was the soviet style of administration. The part under the Honecker’s administration continued with the execution of tough measures against those perceived to be “rebels”. East Germany continued to face tough economic times characterized by the economic structures that were growing weaker day by day.
The central government became incapacitated and could not discharge its duties efficiently. This was eminent in the year 1977 when the country faced what is referred to as the “Coffee Crisis”. This, together with a couple of many other political problems, culminated into a revolt or opposition to the government by the citizenry (Baker, 24).
In the late 1980s, there were growing problems in the economy coupled by flaws and a weakening Soviet system. These factors were hindrances to the government of the Soviet Union in respect to spreading its tentacles to the neighbouring countries. In the year 1986, the then leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev devised two crucial reform movements. One of them was referred to as “Glasnost” meaning openness.
The other one was known as “Perestroika”. The first multiparty election was held in the year 1989. Gorbachev urged East European countries that were practicing communism to embrace the reform movements he had established. The Eastern European countries were called upon by Gorbachev to raise the standards of their economies through interactions. The call for change by Gorbachev was opposed by hard-lined communists in Eastern Europe (Fleron, Hoffmann and Laird, 649). The developments in Eastern Europe had large impacts on the economy of East Germany. These events culminated into a financial crisis in the country.
This forced the government of East Germany to squeeze finances out of the population. This was done through the imposition of rationing and other austerity measures to the citizens. The citizens were angered by these measurers that were considered to be exploitative. They launched demonstrations across the country calling for reforms. The citizens called for the election of a democratic government that would guarantee them the freedom.
These demands were ignored by Honecker who was the leader of the government of East Germany. The government of East Germany continued to be insensitive to the citizens’ demands. Moreover, the government increased its hostility towards the populace. The pressure continued to pile up on the government. The government was forced to heed to the mounting pressure on 9th of November, 1989. The refugees were allowed to exit East Germany via the crossing points that were on the Berlin wall. This resulted in the collapse of the wall (Plock, 87).
Prior to the 1980s, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was informed by the fear it had over Germany. The country feared that an independent Germany would dominate it. This is what informed the policies of leaders who came to power in the Soviet Union before Mikhail Gorbachev. The leaders stuck to the traditional concept that was held by Moscow. Gorbachev proposed changes that were aimed at untangling the country from the traditional concept of governance that was held by all his predecessors. The proposals for change made by Gorbachev resulted to the change of the political climate within the East Bloc. The reform-minded communists were receptive to the changes and reforms that were proposed by Gorbachev in the change policies which he had crafted (Kitson, 8-10). The proposed changes were also critical as they aided in unnerving the rigid communists who strongly believed in Moscow’s philosophy.
The adoption of “Sinatra Doctrine” was among the supportive activities to the change policies of Gorbachev. Sinatra is an attitude of no interference to the internal affairs of the satellite states of Russia. The new reforms by Gorbachev reduced the interference of Russia in East Germany. The citizens of East Germany began to get a room to pressure the government for reforms. Therefore, the signs for political changes were in the offing.
If Gorbachev had chosen to go as per the former leaders of the Soviet Union, a room for political changes in East Germany would not have been easily created. Russia would have continued to strengthen its policies and monitoring of the satellite states (Hyde-Price, 145). Gorbachev allowed satellite states to pursue their own paths of socialism. In fact, he pushed for this against the will of the hard-liner socialists. He ended up declaring that the satellite states were free to disintegrate and pursue their own matters.
This was a significant blow to the staunchest communists such as Egon Honecker who was the then leader of East Germany. It became clear to such leaders that change was imminent in the Soviet Union bloc. The declaration accelerated the infiltration of news from West to East Germany. The East Germans got information about the wellbeing of the people in West Germany.
Therefore, most of them were motivated to mount pressure by making spirited attempts to cross over the Berlin wall to join their counterparts in West Germany. The events taking place in Russia were tracked by television stations in West Germany. These events were leaked to the East Germans through the guards who were manning the Berlin wall. A bigger percentage of the population in West Germany managed to track the developments taking place in the Soviet Union (Gert-Joachim, 35). Therefore, most people see the actions and policies of Gorbachev as the main motivating factors towards the demise of East Germany. However, the true motives, intensions and implications of the policies of Gorbachev are still subject to debate. A number of scholars have tried to link the policies of Gorbachev to the actions that the Soviet undertook to disintegrate from the political ideology that marked the Cold War. They try to justify that the policy was not related to the participation of Russia in the politics of Western Europe and the world at large.
The collapse of East Germany could have come as a result of the indirect effects of the policies that were proposed by Gorbachev. Others argue that the policies of Gorbachev just came at the right time for the political situation in East Germany. Germany had an awful rigid eco-political atmosphere that required an invigorating factor to spark efforts or demand for change. However, it was not expected that the actions of Gorbachev could spark such a strong mass movement leading to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The collapse of the Berlin wall marked the end of a split Germany.
This led to the unification of the two states to form a united Germany (Engel, 71-76).
The collapse of the GDR is often termed as an unanticipated event in the history of Western Europe. It generated a lot of questions, one of them being the reason as to why the republic was formed in the first place. This question is what could lead to the understanding of the basis on which the republic existed and forces behind its collapse. It is presumed by some historians that the collapse of the GDR was an extraordinarily massive event that could not be likened to actions of a single person. For one to establish the main reasons for the collapse of East Germany with certainty, he or she must be critical in assessing the events that happened before the collapse.
Of course, the issue of Gorbachev’s participation or role in the event cannot be ignored. The collapse of East Germany marked the collapse of the communistic rule in East Germany. It was also a leading force behind the collapse of communism in the entire Europe.
It was a pointer to the ending of communism (Nuechterlein, 215-220). One must also assess the genesis of the internal wrangles in the GRD that were boosted by other external factors leading to the massive action and the collapse of the GDR. The problems in the GDR emanated from economic forces and governance, which were putting a lot of burden on the citizens of the republic. External developments like the political developments in the USSR only impacted on the forces or wrangles that prevailed within East Germany (White, Batt and Lewis, 29).
However, how could the events taking place in the USSR fail to be of significance to Eastern Germany? This is the question that many people ask by arguing that political developments in the Soviet Union would have a direct effect on the existence of the GDR. This is because the USSR was the main architect in the establishment of the GDR. Therefore, any political developments in the Soviet Union would impact on the GDR. It is unrealistic for any person to try to dismiss the fact that the ascendance of Gorbachev to power signified a change of political events in East Germany.
The most significant contribution of Gorbachev to the collapse of East Germany came from the policies he invented. The policies were associated with revolutionary forces. Glasnost and Perestroika policies released these forces to the political climate of Eastern Europe. These philosophies negated most of the principles of communism that had been held up by USSR and her satellites states. The internal order that had been established through the practice of communism in East Germany was shaken due to the pressures that resulted from the policies of Gorbachev. Glasnost encouraged people to think over issues, and this resulted to the desire for change. These aspects acted as triggering factors for a political discourse in the GDR (Gedmin, 56-60). The citizens of the GDR had gotten used to obeying the Soviet in an unequivocal manner.
Therefore, with the change brought about by the Gorbachev policies, the citizens began demanding similar changes in East Germany. They wanted reforms that would lead them to freedom. The Soviet Union conducted its first ever election on 26th of March the year 1989. It was evident that the satellite states were going to follow similar steps. The political reforms of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union resulted to the doubt by the East Germany citizens.
They doubted the level of commitment of the Soviet Union to guaranteeing the existence of the GDR. Thus, the USSR became a source of hope for the people of East Germany where Mikhail Gorbachev becoming their icon of change (Glaessner, 136). The presence of Gorbachev led to the decline of support for Honecker who was the leader of East Germany. The decline of support for the East Germany leader weakened his regime.
Protest had been earlier witnessed in the Eastern European. However, the collapse of the GDR can be strongly linked to the position and policies of Gorbachev that transformed the whole of Eastern Europe. The policies of Gorbachev brought about the reform spirit. However, this was devoid of many other external events that were taking place in Eastern Europe. The external events included opposition movements, which failed in fostering the real spirit of change among the citizenry (Glaessner, 140).
In the same breadth, some people argue that the spirit of change in Gorbachev policies was extrapolated as it was not the main intention of Gorbachev. It is argued that Gorbachev aimed at healing communism, as opposed to eliminating communism as was interpreted by many people. There were many problems that were facing the communistic regime of the Soviet Union.
Therefore, Gorbachev was seeking to devise solutions through the formulation of policies that would help in improving the communistic administration. These changes led to the opening up of the communist societies. However, reformers did not get satisfaction thereby pushing for a further course that resulted in the collapse of the GDR.
At this level, it was not easy to continue thriving in communism, and if so, it meant that the only option could have been the use of coercion. Gorbachev could not resort to this as it could have watered down all the reforms that had been achieved through his change policies (Lisiak, 57). The economic policies of the Soviet Union also led to the collapse of East Germany. The Soviet Union had a weak economy at that point in time.
The weak economy could not support the maintenance of its satellite states and the Cold War. There were serious cutbacks in the substantial expenditures such as military and defence, which were critical in maintaining the political power. The expenditure in the leading departments had become unsustainable.
This left Gorbachev with no other option, but the need to reduce the financial burden. This is what informed the change policies. This was followed by the collapse of communism and the activation of the “Sinatra Doctrine”. This called for the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from controlling Eastern Europe.
This is how the GRD lost its military might. Political support became deficient, and the government would no longer hold up control of citizens. From these developments, Gorbachev found himself in a tight situation that pushed him to do what he did. He did not develop policies with the aim of creating a strong base of reforms that would free the GDR.
Indeed, the GDR had been enjoying the support of the Soviet Union, and this had killed the possibility of opposition (Manghani, 138 –141). There was strong support from the government. However, Gorbachev made a decision of moving away from supporting East Germany.
This paved way to the flourishing of economic and legitimacy problems. Therefore, opposition rose beyond the level at which it could be contained by the government of East Germany. The Soviet leaders further made pronouncements of totally pulling out their support. This facilitated the collapse of the satellite states. Therefore, the massive opposition received a boost from the actions of Gorbachev (Gorbachev, 250).
As the influence of Gorbachev on the collapse of the GDR is analysed, it is necessary to look into the relative importance of the external factors. These factors are deemed to have integrated with the influence of Gorbachev to compound problems to East Germany.
Such factors include the improvement of the relations between the two sections of German with the Western powers. The west played a part in the collapse of East Germany. There were allegations of spread of propaganda by allies from Western Europe. Also, the development of Western Europe was an enticing factor to the movement in the East Germany. The West provided credit to the East, and this ended up worsening the economic situation in the East. The West helped in improving relations between the GDR and GFR. There was a reduction in the hostility that characterized the relations among the two republics. This paved way for the two parts of Germany to reunite.
However, the West did not apply a lot of pressure on the East as some political analysts argue (Ruth, 1-10). The issue of reunification of Germany was well documented in the political priorities of West Germany. Therefore, it was just a matter of time before the East could be fully compelled to join the West. The culminating events in Europe also pointed to the fact that the Cold War was approaching an end. This would not have happened with a division still existing between Germany. The essence of having a unified Europe was becoming a key priority among European powers. The only thing that was holding a divided Europe was the divided ideologies between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Therefore, the moves of Gorbachev only propelled what had been identified by the people of Europe as the factor for change. It is the people of the GRD who translated the views to action by indulging in some activities. The changes in Poland and Hungary relayed a warning to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union became aware that such a change could not be easily tamed through force (Cross, 3). The citizens of East Germany had found a path to get into West Germany and learn of the developments on the other side.
They went through Hungary to Austria. From Austria, they got transportation services to West Germany and other Western Europe Countries. These people were escaping from the oppressive socialist regime in East Germany. Many other people managed to escape the country via Czechoslovakia.
The remaining population was unusually active in conducting demonstrations against the regime. The government of East Germany had to act quickly to curtail the situation. Otherwise, it risked losing its control and popularity over the population. The government of East Germany had to resort to a desperate action: opening up the travelling to West Germany.
The announcement of the authorization of travel to West Germany resulted to a vast population escaping to West Germany (Cross, 5). Thousands of East Germans flocked the wall as they sought to cross to West Germany. The guards who were manning the Berlin wall could not contain or control the masses.
The population from the West met the population from the East as they exchanged pleasantries. It was evident that the Germans were happy to be reunited once again. This development was the greatest culminating event that resulted to the abolition of the Berlin wall. The population was reunified leading to the reunification of the two countries. This event sealed the fate of the dual existence of Germany (Ruth, 1-10).
When the GBR was totally immersed into changes that were taking place in Eastern Europe, communism had lost significance. It was no longer attractive to even the people who were behind it in the first place. Gorbachev policies were supported by West Germany. If West Germany would not have collaborated with East Germany, then the effect of the policies could not have gone to that extend. Therefore, it can be said that Gorbachev alone did not cause the collapse of the Soviet Union. His policies set a track for the collapse. It was the backing of the policies by external forces that made them significant to the collapse of GDR. Thus, Gorbachev was not exclusively responsible for the collapse of GDR.
He is a collective participant in the development of this event (Manghani, 138-140).
The failures of the government of East Germany under Honecker paved way for radical developments of the revolution. If Honecker had responded appropriately to the crisis by stiffening his governance, then maybe the events would not have turned out the way it did. Honecker needed to respond positively to the demands of the population. However, his leadership was stubborn. He chose to stick to the socialistic tendencies that were attributed to dictatorship.
This fuelled the population in their quest for reforms. The actions of SED were provoking to the population as they led to reduction of the tolerance levels among citizens. On May seventh, the year 1989, the election results were nullified by the SED. This increased anger amongst the population thereby facilitating the pace at which they were resenting to the actions of the government. This resulted to the increase in the number and magnitude of demonstrations.
This led to the weakening and collapse of the Government. Therefore, when compared to the contributions of Gorbachev, the SED had a direct impact to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The policies of Gorbachev had an indirect effect on the course of activities in East Europe. Therefore, SED was the most direct contributor to the reuniting of the two sides of Germany (Pond, 35-66).
From the discussion and analysis in this paper, one factor cannot be proclaimed exclusively as the major cause of the collapse of the GDR. The collapse of the GDR can be linked to many events that occurred before this occasion. Both Mikhail Gorbachev and Honecker necessitated the collapse of the GDR. Honecker had direct contributions to the collapse of the East Germany. As a leader of the SED party, he made a number of decisions that triggered the opposition and demonstration against the government. Honecker was non responsive to the demands of the citizenry. He also strengthened the socialist policies in the country and against the will of the citizens. Furthermore, Honecker refused to embrace the changes that were proposed by Gorbachev.
These actions filled the citizens with anger and agitation to push for changes. His actions resulted in a series of demonstrations that eventually culminated in the removal of the Berlin wall. On the other hand, the reform policies of Gorbachev are argued to have been a force in the reunification of Germany. The two main change policies that were proposed by Gorbachev had a sizeable impact on the disintegration of communism in East Europe. They sparked many other developments including the revolt against Honecker. Gorbachev and his policies had immense impacts to the collapse of the GDR.
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