One of the joys of writing fiction, I find, is the absolute power an author has over the characters and events in the story. Nevertheless, that power is limited by the needs of the reader—unconvincing, illogical and irrational plots may be fun to dream up and write, but will leave most readers unsatisfied.
For that reason, when writing The East Berlin Series I found I needed to place the events into various kinds of frameworks and contexts—there was a real need to make the story both plausible and believable.
Clearly history presented me with one set of limits. The East Berlin Series is counter-factual – branching away from ‘real’ history at the beginning of November 1989 – but I felt there was a practical limit as to what a society (no matter how energetic and idealistic) could achieve in just under three years.
The other constraint I burdened myself and my characters with was a legal one. German jurisprudence is littered with laws passed in previous incarnations of the German state: whether under the Kaiser, in the days of the Weimar Republic, or even the many elements of Nazi legislation remaining on the statute books (including, among others, the definition of murder, chimney sweepers’ right of entry to an abode and animal welfare regulations). It therefore felt natural that Martin was to act not in a revolutionary legal vacuum, but in the context of the laws and regulations of the pre-1989 GDR. Naturally the most excessive elements of these laws would have been provisionally excised, and an obligation placed on both judiciary and executive to consider the needs of the constitution of 1990. By adopting this constitution I was able to give Martin’s GDR a necessary organisational and political structure (for example using the reinstated federal states – abolished in 1952 – each with their own parliament, with a national parliament, the Volkskammer, presiding over federal decisions).
The 1990 Constitution of the GDR
Work on the 1990 constitution (available in German) started the very first time the Central Round Table met, in Berlin on the 7th December 1989. Taking just over four months to complete, it was formulated in consultation with domestic and international experts. Although speedily negotiated and written, it is an earnest and well thought-out document. Making use of the academic and practical experts who offered their advice and support for free, listening to the mood and the wishes of the people outside, and fatefully, taking account also of the influence exerted by the representatives of the political parties (who were, in turn, under severe pressure from their sister parties in West Germany). This second-hand intervention from the West led first to compromises in the rights which were to be constitutionally protected (most notably the abridgement of the right to strike and the right to work, on which there had initially been a consensus in the committee) and then leading to the adoption of a clause allowing accession to West Germany, subject to referendum.
But these compromises weren’t enough for the West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, and his party-colleague the GDR Première Lothar de Maizière. The latter, after rejecting advice from constitutional experts drafted a mini-constitution (taking up a single sheet of A4 paper) which then remained in force until unification with West Germany in October 1990.
Despite these compromises the 1990 constitution was, at the time, billed as the most progressive ever written: for the first time in German history the constitutive legal framework for society came from the ideas and the energy of the people it was intended to govern. This time it was to be different: in 1918 the task of providing a legal framework for the German republic had been passed to a National Assembly of representatives – which was a way to bypass the existing direct democratic control of the Soldiers’ and Worker’s Councils. Thirty years later, the constitutions for the two German states that came into being in 1949 were written under the supervision of party bigwigs acting in the interests of their respective occupation forces.
Yet by 1993 (in the world of Stealing the Future) the 1990 Constitution already appears outdated: the continuing role of the Round Tables and Works Councils is not mentioned in the constitution even though they have already become a necessary check on the centralised power of the Volkskammer and the political apparatus, nor have the referenda been given the legal basis commensurate with their widespread use as determinants of the will of the people in significant social questions.
Despite the progressive nature of the 1990 constitution, it seems that in future books about Martin and his GDR there will be a need for constitutional changes. The people are simply far in advance of their laws.
- The 1990 draft Constitution published by the Central Round Table (Verfassungsentwurf 1990 – in German)
- The Unthinkable and the Inevitable: German Reunification 25 Years Later by N Richardson Little