GHDI logo

Property and Justice (February 19, 2004)

page 2 of 4    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Another comparison comes to mind here. We East Germans were your Hereros. That someone should assert such a thing has to be tolerated. That nobody expresses vociferous outrage is devastating for us. In truth, we had nothing to ask for in the matter of land reform. We warned against reversing it. And the Western side was quite receptive to such warnings. It was acknowledged that our side was better informed about us than the Western side. With all due respect to Western expertise, we had the on-the-ground knowledge. Where the negotiations on the unification treaty assumed the quality of a battle, it was not a battle between East and West, but one between the Federal Government and the Länder – over the issue of the costs of unification. To say that the Federal Government did not want to reverse the expropriations carried out between 1945 and 1949 because it wanted to use the proceeds from “national property” to finance unification – as Michael Naumann has asserted – is nonsense. There were no reliable estimates on the value of these assets, because the GDR side could only furnish fantastic numbers for intrinsic value, not profit numbers based on opening balance sheets calculated in Deutschmarks. Such figures were first available in the middle of 1992. But there was the devastating appraisal of October 31, 1989, made by GDR planning chief Schürer and others, of the disastrous state of the GDR and its mountain of debt.

It is indisputable that the freely elected Volkskammer took the unanimous position that it was impossible to reverse the expropriations carried out between 1945 and 1949. Not that we regarded those expropriations as justified. We always said that one cannot make up for old injustice with new injustice. The announcement of general restitution would have been received as a new injustice. But, it is said, a large portion of the expropriated land had become national property! That land wouldn’t have been taken away from anyone. It was, however, being worked by the LPGs*, and the rural population viewed it as “their land.” Although the LPGs had come about through massive repression, they had gained acceptance in the meantime.

We did not wish to upset the conditions in the countryside, and had we announced something along the lines of general restitution, it would have resulted in unforeseeable consequences. I do not rule out terrorist excesses. I exaggerate? The revolution remained peaceful, but in 1990 the GDR was a volcano. After a number of death threats, the most important GDR politicians were receiving personal protection. In the summer of 1990 there were problems selling pork, because the Soviet Union no longer took any of it. That was enough to spark heated demonstrations by farmers, during the course of which the agriculture minister’s car was wrecked. This provides an inkling of what the repeal of land reform would have unleashed.

We had noted with relief that the Stasi and the SED functionaries had withdrawn in resignation and disappointment. Had they found an issue over which to make common cause with those afraid of losing their rights, it could have turned out otherwise. The decisive slogan was already on everyone’s tongue: “Sell-out of the GDR.” If anyone had said: “But restitution is also advantageous for you!,” he would have merely poured oil on the fire – and he would have been wrong. After all, East German agriculture is competitive today, and what industry was missing above all could not be conjured up by the original owners either: markets for their products. We do not know who shot Detlev Carsten Rohwedder. The target, at any rate, was the chief of the Treuhand.

The property question was one of the main topics during the campaign leading up to the Volkskammer elections on March 18, 1990. In 1990, there were two fears that GDR citizens associated with the longed-for unification: the fear of expropriation and the fear of devaluation. The PDS had eagerly stoked both fears. The office of the Minister President received approximately the same number of letters on both issues: about 8,000 each. The fear of joblessness was added to this later.

* Acronym for Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft, a term for large, collectivized farms in the former GDR – eds.

first page < previous   |   next > last page