The Zeitgeist

The Zeitgeist

Episode 26: Deep History and Politics in Eastern Germany Today

June 08, 2020

How does the past shape today’s politics? For states in eastern Germany, memories of life in the German Democratic Republic are not that distant of a past. One example is the state of Saxony in the southeast of the country, which was a part of East Germany until unification in 1990. It is home to large cities like Dresden and Leipzig, and has 4 million inhabitants—a mid-sized German state.
Saxony is known nowadays for a few things: it has been ruled uninterruptedly for thirty years by the center-right CDU party; and it is the state with the highest level of public support for the far-right AfD party—the so-called “Alternative for Germany,” which won 27.5 percent of the votes in last year’s state election. It was also the place where the extreme anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement got its start, and where in 2018 during a demonstration, a group of right-wing extremists attacked and chased foreigners in the city of Chemnitz.
But Saxony is more than that. It was the cradle of the peaceful revolution in 1989, where courageous citizens in Leipzig with their peaceful protests set an example that spread throughout the country and brought down the sclerotic and oppressive East German state. In the nineteenth century, it was a stronghold of the labor movement, out of which the Social Democratic Party grew. More distantly, it was the home of Martin Luther, who just over 500 years ago began the Protestant Reformation in Saxony.
Saxony has been ahead of its time and brought forth movements that had an impact well beyond its borders throughout history. What explains that history, and what effect does it have today? How exceptional is Saxony compared to other eastern German Länder, as well as other post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe?
On this episode of The Zeitgeist, AICGS’ Jeff Rathke and Dr. Eric Langenbacher are joined by Dr. Simone Lässig, Director of the German Historical Institute Washington, to discuss the intersection of politics and history in Saxony today.

Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS
Dr. Simone Lässig, Director, German Historical Institute Washington
Dr. Eric Langenbacher, Senior Fellow and Director, Society, Culture & Politics Program