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Hans J. Giessmann

East Germany’s regime transition started as a “refolution” – a nonviolent reformist upheaval – but transcended rapidly into a negotiated national unification, eventually leading to a regime “replacement”. The state that the opposition originally sought to reform in 1989 ceased to exist shortly after. External and internal factors influenced the changes initially. The demise of other communist regimes and Moscow’s shifted focus on domestic affairs were remarkable external drivers. Internally, the threatening economic collapse, the erosion of the party power, and a small but resolute opposition in East Germany were important. The swift establishment of “Round Tables” at all levels was key to the peaceful hand-over of power from the leading party to a broad alliance of diverse political actors, including some reformist communists. In that, the round table experience must be considered a magical moment of active bottom-up democracy, and a rare moment in Germany’s long history of autocratic regimes.

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Hans J. Giessmann and Roger Mac Ginty