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The Centre on Social Movement Studies

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Civil Society and the Paralyzed State: Mobilizing for democracy in East Germany

Daniel P. Ritter

Type: Working Paper
Year: 2012

Among cases of transition to democracy from below, the East German one constitutes a particularly challenging puzzle. Whereas social movements taking advantage of an oppositional space within a repressive context have preceded many transitions, the East German case shows little evidence of such large-scale prior opposition. Even when compared to other Eastern European transitions, East Germany is unique in that no major opposition group existed prior to the revolution. Still, civil society groups did play important roles in East Germany in the 1980s. Despite being unable to challenge the regime, they began to create the political space necessary for a protest culture to emerge. In fact, the development of civil society groups assumed an almost evolutionary character as religious groups gave way for peace and environmental movements that eventually transformed in turn into democratization initiatives. This report seeks to highlight some of the most important civil society tendencies present in the GDR and to situate them in the domestic and international contexts that made a mass-based push for democratization possible in the fall of 1989. Furthermore, the report argues that the relative lack of coherent civil society organizations makes the East German transition to democracy a pure example of democratization from below, as opposition elites had little impact on the progression of the revolution.
EUI SPS - Cosmos Working Paper 2012/06

2012WP06COSMOS

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