The democratisation of the GDR after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has had different effects on opponents and supporters of the GDR’s political regime. Former opponents – protesters for the Peaceful Revolution in 1989 and 1990 – are significantly happier with the new democratic system and the free-market economy after the fall of the Berlin Wall than they were before. Former supporters of the old system, however, report lower life satisfaction after the fall of the Wall. This is shown by a recent study by ZEW Mannheim.

The new study from the ZEW Research Department "Labour Markets and Social Insurance" entitled "Are the Supporters of Socialism the Losers of Capitalism? Conformism in East Germany and Transition Success" on the democratisation of the GDR after the fall of the Berlin Wall and its effects.

The new circumstances after the fall of the Berlin Wall have opposing effects on the two population groups. “The life satisfaction of opponents of the GDR system improved by more than half a point on a scale from zero to ten. This figure is similar to the increase in life satisfaction of unemployed people after finding a new job,” says Dr. Martin Lange, researcher at ZEW’s “Labour Markets and Social Insurance” Department. Supporters of the state socialist regime – members of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and those employed in state-supervised sectors – lost close to one point on a scale of one to ten. This figure is similar to the impact of losing a job.

Furthermore, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former opponents have found more stable employment in the free-market economy of democratic Germany, and their income has increased by almost eight per cent compared to the non-political majority of the former GDR population. In contrast, such an income increase cannot be observed among former supporters of the state socialist system. Moreover, they are more often registered as unemployed. This demonstrates that former supporters of the GDR regime were not able to maintain their previous economic privileges in reunified Germany.

The ZEW study shows that the different developments observed in opponents and supporters after the fall of the Berlin Wall are not caused by different adjustment strategies on the labour market, such as advanced training, taking up self-employment or moving to West Germany. “The differences seem to be caused by the change of the system itself, as the GDR regime’s discriminatory practices against political opponents were abolished,” Lange explains.

Moreover, the ZEW study demonstrates that opponents and supporters of the socialist GDR regime have different political preferences even decades after the end of the GDR. Former supporters are still more likely to vote for the left-wing party ‘Die Linke’, the successor to the SED – which indicates a continuing political ideology among people of this group. This is not the case with former opponents. They tend to vote for the CDU. Preferences are less pronounced for other political parties.




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