Twenty years ago the GDR parliament voted to join the Federal Republic | German Reunification | DW | 23.08.2010
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German Reunification

Twenty years ago the GDR parliament voted to join the Federal Republic

The night of Aug. 22 1990 is one of the most historic in German post-war history. After four decades of division, the decision was made by the East German parliament to united with West Germany on Oct. 3, 1990.

GDR prime minister Lothar de Maiziere making a 'V for victory' symbol

The last prime minister of the GDR, Lothar de Maiziere

After a night-long discussion, that ended in the early hours of Aug. 23, 1990, the decision was made for the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to be absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

At a special session of the East German parliament, the Volkskammer, the representatives voted to merge with the West.

Instead of a brand new constitution to cover the new unified state, it was decided to just incorporate the GDR under the existing constitution. The former East was incorporated into the West under Article 23 of the Federal Republic's Basic Law.

Heavy debates

The GDR Chamber of the People

The newly elected parliament effectively voted to disband itself in 1990

On 18 Mar., the people of the GDR had held the first democratic elections for the Volkskammer. The main aim of this new parliament was to prepare for accession to the Federal Republic.

By the summer of 1990, the GDR and FRG had created a single economic zone, with the deutschmark being used as the sole currency. The GDR had also adopted large aspects of the economic and legal systems of the West.

By August, not a single meeting of the Volkskammer passed without the subject of 'immediate accession' being discussed.

For the then-prime minister of the GDR, Lothar de Maiziere, the time had come to seize the initiative. "After a regular session in the afternoon of Aug. 22," he recalled, "[we decided] to carry on with a special session with the sole agenda item of setting a timeline for German reunification."

Although it had been thought best to implement a speedy accession, not all parliamentarians were in agreement with the prime minister. Wolfgang Ullman, a representative from the Alliance 90 party urged de Maiziere to stop proceedings. Ullman said he would report him to the Prosecutor General of the GDR for high treason.

Wolfgang Ullman (r.) in the parliament chamber

Wolfgang Ullman (r.) did not agree with de Maiziere's approach

However, a little later, the premier of the East German state of Saxony-Anhalt, Reinhard Hoeppner, opened the special session.

Searching for the right date

Full discussions began immediately, with Lothar de Maiziere making the formal request to join with the Federal Republic but giving no specific date. He proposed some time before October, as it would be the 41st anniversary of the GDR on Oct. 14, and he felt this date was symbolic.

"I thought that we could have the first free unified national elections on the Oct. 14," de Maiziere said. "Taking power back from the sovereign body and giving it to the new parliament."

However it soon became clear that de Maiziere's date would not find a majority. Except for the successor party to the East German ruling SED, the PDS (Party for Democratic Socialism), no one wanted to experience the 41st anniversary of the GDR a week early.

Wolfgang Thierse

Wolfgang Thierse was a member of the GDR parliament in 1990

After a long debate, another solution was offered by Wolfgang Thierse, a representative of the SPD in the chamber. He suggested a 'two-plus-four' approach.

Terms and conditions

Since May, the 'two-plus-four' talks had been held between the two German foreign ministers and their four counterparts from the victorious Allied nations. The discussions centred on the Allies withdrawing their troops and rights from Germany.

The talks were due to come to a close on Sept. 12, in Moscow. Wolfgang Thierse suggested a date following this meeting on Sept. 13 to be the official accession day.

However it was thought that this timeline too would not reach approval. "It was clear that by Sept. 12, the 'two plus four' contract would not be ratified," Lothar de Maiziere said.

The final reunification date of Oct. 3, 1990, came to be decided because it coincided with an international foreign ministers' conference in New York on Oct. 1,. The foreign ministers from the Allied countries said they wished to withdraw their troops from the parts of Germany they were occupying on Oct. 3.

The two German foreign ministers side-by-side

The two German foreign ministers: GDR's Markus Meckel (l.) and FRG's Hans-Dietrich Genscher

"This is how the date of Oct. 3 came about," recalled de Maiziere.

A special day

For Lothar de Maiziere, the date of Oct. 3 is a truly special one. By then, the 50-year-old had spent half his life in the GDR and was touched by the socialist state.

"Regardless of whether rejects or disowns the system, there is still a sense of loyalty to it," he said.

Therefore for de Maiziere and for many others from the GDR, "this new beginning is not easy."

However he added that for all politicians elected to the Chamber of the People, it was clear that "our main purpose was to abolish ourselves."

Author: Matthias von Hellfeld (cb)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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