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Party Mergers (July 6, 1990)

The author discusses the differences between the parties in the Eastern and Western parts of the country and describes the problems presented by their impending merger. The challenges include disparities in membership size and financial resources, as well as ideological differences.

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Fresh Blood for Old Parties

The “different reality” was already driven home to the Greens at the “Perspectives Congress” [Perspektivkongreß] in the middle of November [1989]. “I find all of you quite nice, quite funny, quite colorful,” said Katrin Eigenfeld of Halle, cofounder of the New Forum. “But I can’t even begin to understand your language.” At the Dortmund party congress, the “Realo”-Green* politician Ruth Hammerbacher spoke of a “different reality” in a future united Germany – and that reality, many of the delegates suspected, will surely also change the party.

Not only the Greens. The “different reality” will catch up with all of the West German parties as they now eagerly push ahead with the merger with their “sisters” in the GDR. Whether it be the SPD, the CDU, or the FDP: they all face internal changes.

“We can hold our own church congresses soon” – these words were said on the eve of the SPD party congress in Halle by a West German politician who has been advising the SPD’s sister party in East Berlin for six months. To be sure, the following day, the delegates broke with the unpopular image of the “pastors’ party” and elected Wolfgang Thierse as chairman. He had trained as a typesetter and was not one of the two pastors recommended by the party’s executive board. Thierse makes public appearances in an unbuttoned collar and without a tie.

Yet this still doesn’t come close to solving the East-SPD’s main problem: it is not a workers’ party. How could it be, with a paltry membership of 30,000, not even enough for the party to field candidates everywhere in the communal elections [in May 1990]? In the Volkskammer elections, admonishes board member [Karl-August] Kamilli, 58% of workers voted for the Alliance for Germany,** that is, chiefly for the CDU. The aged Käthe Woltemathe of Rostock wrote to her party: “The SPD doesn’t care about the people anymore.”

This is a reminder to stay grounded. But given the current membership structure of the SPD in the GDR, a merger will achieve the opposite and reinforce the influence of intellectuals in the party and the Protestant element. That may only change slowly with the establishment and expansion of the new trade unions, which will also likely bring new members to the GDR-SPD.

Up to now, the SPD, having lost about 6,000 party members in a bloodletting, had only a narrow foundation upon which to begin. That explains the delegates’ jubilation after the Halle party congress changed the Leipzig resolution (February 1990) and opened up membership to former members of other parties.*** The explanation given for this decision makes only general mention of former block party members. However, in light of the works council elections, this decision seems to have been made mainly in view of former members of the SED (now PDS) who have clout in the workplace. In Halle, Angelika Barbe of the party executive committee warned in no uncertain terms against a PDS monopoly on the subject of abortion. The delegates thereupon approved the petition “Right to Self-Determination in Pregnancy.”

* Particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Green Party in (West) Germany was divided into two factions: the Realos (realists) and the Fundis (fundamentalists) – eds.
** Electoral alliance between the CDU, the DSU [Deutsche Sozial Union or German Social Union] and DA [Demokratischer Aufbruch or Democratic Awakening] for the first democratic elections in East Germany in March 1990. The Alliance favored quick unification with West Germany; it won the most votes – eds.
*** At the SPD Party Congress in Leipzig (February 22-25, 1990) it was agreed that former members of the SED and the so-called block parties (CDU, DBD, LDPD und NPDP) who had left their respective parties after October 7, 1989 (that is, after the beginning of massive demonstrations against the SED regime) would only be granted membership within the party after the observance of “blocking periods.” This principle was overturned at the Extraordinary Party Congress in Halle on June 9, 1990 – eds.

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