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The Melting Centre

Eckhard Jesse
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, German party politics is changing profoundly, but in an opposite direction to what had been predicted: the East is coming to the West and changing it. The rise of the Left Party and the crisis of the two traditional “people’s parties” are creating an intriguing electoral arithmetic that raises fundamental questions for the core values of German democratic politics.   Wohin steuert Deutschland? Bundestagswahl 2009. Ein Blick hinter die Kulissen [Whither Germany? The 2009 Federal Elections. A Look behind the Scenes], by Matthias Machnig and Joachim Raschke, Hoffmann und Campe, 260 pp, €20.60, ISBN: 978-3455501131.   The events of autumn 1989 were revolutionary in character. The freedom then achieved was followed by national unification in 1990. Both these events were revolutionary and together represented the first successful peaceful revolution in German history. Twenty years later, the united Germany is a largely stable and successful entity despite the fact that the party political landscape has changed and the two traditional broadly based “People’s Parties” – the CDU/CSU and the SPD (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party respectively) – are in crisis.   Twentieth century German history can be read as a succession of breaches: in 1918 Imperial Germany – the Kaiserreich – collapsed and the first German democracy – the Weimar Republic – was born; in 1933 the National Socialists came to power in more of a “transfer of power” than a “seizure of power”; and in 1945 Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich” disappeared from the political scene after twelve years of bloody dictatorship. In autumn 1989 the East German communist regime ruled over by the Socialist Unity Party (SED) was overthrown. The upheaval in the German Democratic Republic was as surprising when it came as it proved abrupt, and occurred in the wake of growing resistance in several “fraternal states” against the authority of the Soviet Union from the early 1980s, led by events in Poland, followed by a gradual change of course in the Soviet Union itself in the second half of the decade under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. While the Soviet change of course was driven by the looming threat of economic disaster, as well as calculations concerning military security policy, it ultimately led to a loosening of political controls. Increasing internal liberalisation resulted in a decline in discipline in the satellite states of Eastern Europe.   “Socialism…



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