Seminar Paper, 2004, 13 Pages
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The collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s was one of the most important occurrence in the 20th century. In only a few months – starting with the institutional compromises in Poland and Hungary and the non-violent revolutions in the GDR and ČSSR - the Soviet-led East European statesystem and later the Soviet Union as well, dispersed in a way and with such rapidy, nobody in the “West” and “East” believed to be possible. Real self-determination of the satellite states or indepenence of the former Soviet Republics and changes in the political and economic system were the consequences. At the highest historic level, the world´s geopolitical order changed dramatically, because the devision into two fields of interest was brought to an end and with it the Cold War. From a European perspective, after the downfall of the “Iron Curtain” the opportunity was opened to fulfill the idea of a European Community, also in a much wider sense, and for Germany the over 40 year lasting existence of two states was repealed with the reunification.
In the following passage of the main part I will try to explain why in Poland an institutional compromise was achieved, whereas in East Germany a non-violent revolution broke out. With references to Poland, we can speak of an institutional compromise because the “impetus for change came from the elite, which undertook negotiations with the opposition over the shape of the new institutions”, while in East Germany a revolution took place because “the impetus for change came directly from the mobilization of a broad-based opposition engaged in non-accepted means of mass collective action; the result was systematic change in both the political and the socioeconimoc system”.
The comparative method in this paper will be the macro-causal type of analysis, the Method of Difference based on John Stuart Mill. This method seeks to explain differing outcomes (institutional compromise – non-violent revolution) of countries which are as similar as possible, through identifying and explaining crucial variable(s). Of course, this approach is only ideal-typical: that one independent variable, which is a crucial factor in one country but does not occur in the second country, explains the dependent variable, the phenomenon of the different outcomes. Even if the starting positions or structures are in both cases very similar, in my opinion several causes frequently lead to different outcomes, above all macrosociological occurences .
In by and large the neighbourstates Poland and East Germany were more similiar than different. Therefore, the most impotant fact is that both were a part of the Soviet led East European statesystem and by this means – according to Steven Saxonberg’s neo-marxian approach - representatives of an independend socioeconomic system, characterized by a new mode of production, neither capitalist nor socialist.  The means of production were not under the control of a bourgeoisie or the workers, but rather posessed by the bureaucratic apparatus of the ruling party, the SED in East Germany and PZPR in Poland. Moreover the party had the monopol of truth in all political, social and ideological questions. Furthermore both states were – until the election of Gorbachev - to a large extent dominated and restricted by the influence of the Soviet Union in domestic and foreign policy.
The theoretical backround of this paper will be on the one hand the political opportunity structure approach and and on the other hand a framing analysis. I chose these approches because in my opinion it is necessary for an adequate explaining of macrosociological events - like the democratic transformation in Poland and the non-violent revolution in the GDR - to use a perspective, which is related to “structure“ and “agency”-oriented facts. If these two approaches are fruitful, the following analysis will show.
The concept of political opportinity structure was introduced by Peter Eisinger in 1973, as he took up the notion of Tocqueville that revolts emerge when a closed system of opportunities has began to open, and not when people are most oppressed by the system. The starting point of this approch is the opening of a broader set of the political-institutional structures as the context, which offer possibilities and “shape the prospects for collective action and the forms movements take”. If we focus on the scientific outcomes, we might face a certain amount of inscrutability, because scholars make use of differing adaptations of identifying political opportunities with different focuses and dimensions. This led to the point - as William A. Gamson and Dacid S. Meyer acknowledged - that this approach gets into danger “of becoming a sponge that soaks up virtually every aspect of the social movement environment - political institutions and culture, crises of various sorts, poltitical alliances, and policy shifts”. However, the basic dimension of the changes is always the “formal legal and insitutional structure of a given polity”  in a national context. Examples for this would be a divided elite, a failed reform or the erosion of authority over the state bureaucracy. In my opinion this basic dimension of the approach is not very fruitful with regard to my chosen cases. As the example of East Germany illustrates, a mass-mobilization emerged without an opening of “windows of opportunities”; the SED was not devided, the inner party continued to possess authority among the lower rank members of bureaucracy. In Poland on the contrary the opportunity to participate opened up for the opposition because the institutional change was initiated by the ruling party, but the main reason which made this possible has to be seen in the political opportunity structure of the “international political environment(s)”, that means the changes in the Soviet Union. For this reason I will only refer to the change in the Soviet Union, here called the “Gorbetchev factor", in the main part, which had a crucial influence on the events in Poland and East Germany but caused different reactions among each ruling party.
The framing processes are based on the complex social psychological dynamics like collective interpretation, attribution and social construction, through which meanings are constructed that finally legitimate and motivate actions. Snow and Benford offered the most generally influential approach to the analysis of social movements as they have developed the concept of framing by elaborating Goffman’s idea of frame and applying it to the cultural contribution of movements. The term ‚frame’ denotes a “schemata of interpretation” that enables individuals “to locate, perceive, identify, and label occurrences within their life space and the world at large”. An important aspect within the framing theory on social movements is the point that frames are closely related to political opportunitiy structures. Changes in structures engourage mobilization “not only through objective effects that they have on power relations, but by setting in motion framing processes that further undermine the legitimacy of the system“. For this reason, I attempt to approach the framing analysis with respect to the notion of perception: the perception of the political opportunity structure, based on Gorbachev’s reform policy, which turned the already eroding legitimacy of the system into illegitimacy.
4.1. Political Opportunity Structure: The Gorbachev Factor in Connection to Framing Analysis
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