The Peaceful Revolution and its Aftermaths. Collective Memory and the Victims of Communism in Eastern Germany
Department of Sociology Friedrich Schiller University of Jena Jena, Germany
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East and West Germans share equal civil rights. However, the peaceful revolution of 1989 did not lead to a state of thrive and contentment. Discontent with the new system is the cause that certain aspects of the old system are remembered positively - here the keyword is ostalgia. Shortcomings of communist hegemony are thereby blocked out. This is also true for political crimes and injustices that were committed under communist rule.
Estimates indicate that 260,000 people were imprisoned for political reasons during this period of German history. In 2007 the Jena Center of Empirical Social and Cultural Research (JEZE) collected a survey of more than 300 interviews of applicants on rehabilitation. An important part of the results is that younger and older generations of applicants are especially disadvantaged in their social and health situation in comparison to the Thuringian population that was not victimized in the past.
Yet how does the public perceive the victims of the communist past today and how do the victims perceive themselves? Here no easy answer can be given. Of course ostalgia is not an appropriate public mood to promote a deeper awareness of the victims' special social situation. Awareness of the resistance in the former GDR among Western Germans was and is also restricted and did not find adequate consideration in Germany's legislation. Much disappointment of the former opponents is captured in Bärbel Bohley's phrase: "We wanted justice but we got the rule of law (Rechtsstaat) instead". Although they achieved the downfall of East Germany's communist regime, they were neither in the situation to bring the perpetrators to justice nor to put their own interests considerably into practice. Here the contribution to the conference continues. The current legal situation will be addressed. The pursue of the victims' interests will be discussed. The relevance of collective memory as interface between memory policies and 'common memories', as collections of individual memories in the face of a multiple divided German culture of memory is taken into account.