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People's Chamber
Legislature of German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Type unicameral parliament
(until 1958 lower house)
Established 1949
Disbanded 1990
Preceded by Reichstag
Succeeded by Bundestag
Seats 400
Meeting place
Palast der Republik

The People's Chamber (German: Volkskammer) was the unicameral legislature of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). From its founding in 1949 until the first free elections on 18 March 1990, all members of the Volkskammer were elected on a slate controlled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), called the National Front. Despite the appearance of a multi-party system, all these Bloc parties were effectively controlled by the dominant SED. In addition, seats were also allocated to various mass organizations affiliated with the SED, such as the Free German Youth.

Initially, it existed alongside the Chamber of States, or Länderkammer, but in 1952 the states of East Germany were dissolved, and the chamber was abolished in 1958.

In theory, the Volkskammer was the highest organ of state power in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Both GDR constitutions purportly vested it with great lawmaking powers. It also formally appointed the Council of State (after 1960), the Council of Ministers, and the National Defence Council. In practice, like most other legislatures in Communist countries, the People's Chamber did little more than rubber-stamp decisions already made by the SED. All parties were expected to respect the principles of democratic centralism and the leading role of the SED. As a result, all but two measures put before it before the Peaceful Revolution passed unanimously. A vote on liberalising abortion laws saw 14 CDU representatives vote nay and eight abstain, and the vote to confirm Egon Krenz as head of state saw 26 nays and 26 abstentions.

During People's Chamber elections, voters were presented with a single list from the National Front, with seats allocated based on a set quota rather than actual vote totals.[1] By ensuring that its candidates dominated the list, the SED effectively predetermined the composition of the legislature.

The "democratic centralist" principle extended to the ballot box as well. A voter simply took the ballot paper, which contained only one name, and dropped it into the ballot box. A voter could vote against the candidate by crossing out his or her name, but had to do so in a separate voting booth without any secrecy. The consequences for such an act of defiance were severe—loss of one's job or expulsion from school, and close surveillance by the Stasi.[2]

A typical slate was as follows:

Party/Group Acronym Members
Socialist Unity Party of Germany SED 127
Free German Trade Union Federation FDGB 68
Christian Democratic Union CDU 52
Liberal Democratic Party of Germany LDPD 52
Democratic Farmers' Party of Germany DBD 52
National Democratic Party of Germany NDPD 52
Free German Youth FDJ 40
Democratic Women's League of Germany DFD 35
Cultural Association of the DDR KB 22

In 1976, the Volkskammer moved into a specially-constructed building on Marx-Engels-Platz (now Schloßplatz again), the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic).

After the 1990 elections, the disposition of the parties was as follows:

Party/Group Acronym Members
Alliance for Germany CDU, DA, DSU 192
Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD 88
Party of Democratic Socialism PDS, former SED 66
Association of Free DemocratsDFP, FDP, LDP 21
Alliance 90 B90 12
East German Green Party and Independent Women's Association Grüne, UFV 8
National Democratic Party of Germany NDPD 2
Democratic Women's League of Germany DFD 1
United Left VL 1

Chairmen of the People's Chamber

List of Presidents of the People's Chamber

Name Entered office Left office Party
Johannes Dieckmann 7 October 1949 22 February 1969 LDPD
Gerald Götting 12 May 1969 29 October 1976 CDU
Horst Sindermann 29 October 1976 13 November 1989 SED
Günther Maleuda 13 November 1989 5 April 1990 DBD
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl 5 April 1990 2 October 1990 CDU

Sabine Bergmann-Pohl was also interim head of state, due to the State Council having been abolished.

See also


External links

  • on nuclear disarmament, 1981.
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