March 19

This Day in History

Cold War

Mar 19, 1949:

East Germany approves new constitution

In a precursor to the establishment of a separate, Soviet-dominated East Germany, the People's Council of the Soviet Zone of Occupation approves a new constitution. This action, together with the U.S. policy of pursuing an independent pathway in regards to West Germany, contributed to the permanent division of Germany.

The postwar status of Germany had become a bone of contention between the United States and the Soviet Union even before World War II ended. The Soviet Union wanted assurances that Germany would be permanently disarmed and demanded huge reparations from the postwar German government. The United States, however, was hesitant to commit to these demands. By 1945, many U.S. officials began to see the Soviet Union as a potential adversary in the postwar world and viewed a reunified-and pro-West-Germany as valuable to the defense of Europe. When the war ended in May 1945, Russian forces occupied a large portion of Germany, including Berlin. Negotiations between the United States, Russia, Britain, and France resulted in the establishment of occupation zones for each nation. Berlin was also divided in zones of occupation. While both the United States and Russia publicly called for a reunified Germany, both nations were coming to the conclusion that a permanently divided Germany might be advantageous.

For the United States, West Germany, with its powerful economy and potential military strength, would make for a crucial ally in the developing Cold War. The Soviets came to much the same conclusion in regards to East Germany. When, in 1949, the United States proposed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a military and political alliance between America and several European states) and began to discuss the possible inclusion of a remilitarized West Germany in NATO, the Soviets reacted quickly. The new constitution for East Germany, approved by the People's Council of the Soviet Zone of Occupation (a puppet legislative body dominated by the Soviets), made clear that the Russians were going to establish a separate and independent East Germany. In October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was declared. Months earlier, in May, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) had been formally proclaimed. Germany remained a divided nation until the collapse of the communist government in East Germany and reunification in 1990.

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