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The Reestablishment of the Länder (April 19, 1990)

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The commission for the “Preparation and Implementation of Administrative Reform” appointed by the Modrow government* last year has proposed referenda for all these regions. But hidden in the details of the restructuring are not only objective-administrative difficulties, but also highly sensitive emotions and regional passions. The letters that Minister Moreth, the minister in the Modrow government responsible for local government bodies, has received on the subject show this just as much as the desire for separate political-administrative structures that has been voiced in some parts of the GDR. For example, in Vorpommern, which was added to Mecklenburg following the separation of the eastern territories after the war, a strong yearning for autonomy has arisen – just as it has in the part of Silesia on the German side of the Oder and Neiße [rivers] that belongs today to the Saxon district of Dresden.

Other conflicts have been ignited over the question of the capitals of the future Länder. In Mecklenburg, the traditional capital of Schwerin has competition in Rostock, which grew into the most important city on the Baltic Sea during GDR times; and in Saxony-Anhalt, whose capital was Halle, claims are being staked by Magdeburg, which has long been the center of the old Prussian province of Saxony. Such quarrels have already given rise to ideas like that of a “Free and Hanseatic City of Rostock” – which at least is a measure of the will to independence behind the decision to return to the Länder.

Does this will to independence play too dominant a role in the pull toward the Länder? It is, after all, obvious that the five Länder that would emerge would not only enrich German federalism with an increase in diversity but also burden it with many problems. If one takes the population numbers as the key, the GDR Länder would increase the number of small Länder in a unified Germany, and these small Länder are already having trouble backing their politically guaranteed independence economically and financially. Only Saxony, with around 5 million residents, would rank in the middle, right after Hesse. All the others – Saxony-Anhalt with 3 million, Brandenburg with 2.7, Thuringia with 2.5, and, finally, Mecklenburg with 2.1 – would fall between Rhineland-Palatinate with its 3.7 million residents and the taillights of the list, the city-state of West Berlin with 1.8 million, Hamburg with 1.6, the Saarland with around a million, and Bremen with 650,000 residents. The number of “poor houses” – as these Länder are irreverently referred to in view of their weak economic and financial strength – would grow, and the need for financial equalization payments would cause tensions within the federal system to increase.

For that reason, too, there have been thoughts of combining the reconstitution of the Länder with a restructuring [of them]. At the heart of these considerations is the division of the state of Saxony-Anhalt; as it is, Saxony-Anhalt is the most artificial creation among all the GDR Länder, and it only existed in the form in which it would be reconstituted for a brief historical moment between 1945 and 1952. The government commission has proposed allocating the existing district of Magdeburg to the state of Brandenburg; the district of Halle would then join Saxony. As the commission report states, this would “give rise in the central part of the GDR to two efficient Länder that are comparable to the medium-size Länder in the Federal Republic and that would also be able to play a significant role in Germany as whole.”

* The government under former SED district head of Dresden, Hans Modrow, was in place from November 1989 until April 1990 – eds.

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