On the Necessity for and the Limits of Political Apologies in Post-1989 Eastern Germany


  • Maria Palme Europa-University Flensburg


Since the 1990s, the making of an apology has become an instrument for promoting international and national reconciliation, replacing the exaction of vengeance upon the officials of former non-democratic regimes. This article explains when and under what circumstances an explicit apology for political wrongs has contributed to overcoming divisions in post-socialist German society. It specifically focuses on politicians and political parties that have direct links and continuity with the former oppressive regime in East Germany. What role and what impact have political apologies had on the victims to whom they are addressed and on public discourse generally? Are they part of a broader acknowledgment of past injustices under the German Democratic Republic (GDR) dictatorship? Adopting a discourse analysis approach, this paper outlines the historical and political conditions, the intentions and the outcomes of speeches of political apology in eastern Germany. It focuses on the narratives of GDR officials, Stasi informants, and members of Die Linke (The Left), a successor party to the GDR’s ruling communist Socialist Unity Party (SED), and on the responses to those narratives from the new elites, former dissidents in the GDR, and groups representing the victims of communism. The article concludes that political apologies expressed by state officials who were formerly linked with the oppressor state stimulate a dialectical process with regard to past injustices, even if they fail to achieve the desired reconciliation.

Keywords: political apology; reconciliation; collective memory; Germany; communism

DOI: 10.14712/23363231.2019.11


© 2019 The Authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.