Dictatorship as Experience: Towards a Socio-Cultural History of the GDR

Berghahn Books
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A decade after the collapse of communism, this volume presents a historical reflection on the perplexing nature of the East German dictatorship. In contrast to most political rhetoric, it seeks to establish a middle ground between totalitarianism theory, stressing the repressive features of the SED-regime, and apologetics of the socialist experiment, emphasizing the normality of daily lives. The book transcends the polarization of public debate by stressing the tensions and contradictions within the East German system that combined both aspects by using dictatorial means to achieve its emancipatory aims. By analyzing a range of political, social, cultural, and chronological topics, the contributors sketch a differentiated picture of the GDR which emphasizes both its repressive and its welfare features. The sixteen original essays, especially written for this volume by historians from both east and west Germany, represent the cutting edge of current research and suggest new theoretical perspectives. They explore political, social, and cultural mechanisms of control as well as analyze their limits and discuss the mixture of dynamism and stagnation that was typical of the GDR.
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About the author

Konrad H. Jarausch is Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a Director of the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Studien in Potsdam, Germany.

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Additional Information

Berghahn Books
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Published on
Oct 30, 1999
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History / Europe / General
History / Europe / Germany
History / Modern / 20th Century
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Fascism & Totalitarianism
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The bringing down of the Berlin Wall is one of the most vivid images and historic events of the late twentieth century. The reunification of Germany has transformed the face of Europe. In one stunning year, two separate states with clashing ideologies, hostile armies, competing economies, and incompatible social systems merged into one. The speed and extent of the reunification was so great that many people are still trying to understand the events. Initial elation has given way to the realities and problems posed in reuniting two such different systems. The Rush to German Unity presents a clear historical reconstruction of the confusing events. It focuses on the dramatic experiences of the East German people but also explores the decisions of the West German elite. Konrad H. Jarausch draws on the rich sources produced by the collapse of the GDR and on the public debate in the FRG. Beginning with vivid media images, the text probes the background of a problem, traces its treatment and resolution and then reflects on its implications. Combining an insider's insights with an outsider's detachment, the interpretation balances the celebratory and the catastrophic views. The unification process was democratic, peaceful and negotiated. But the merger was also bureaucratic, capitalistic and one-sided. Popular pressures and political manipulation combined to create a rush to unity that threatened to escape control. The revolution moved from a civic rising to a national movement and ended up as reconstruction from the outside. An ideal source for general readers and students, The Rush to German Unity explores whether solving the old German problem has merely created new difficulties.
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