There were two separate commissions established by the German Parliament,the first leading into the second, but scholars generally refer to them togetheras one, and they are seen as part of the same review process.In March 1992, the German Parliament created a commission to investigateand document the practices of the German Democratic Republic (East German)government from 1949 to 1989, the Commission of Inquiry for the Assessmentof History and Consequences of the SED Dictatorship in Germany. The SED,or Socialist Unity Party, was the ruling party of East Germany and tightlycontrolled the country for over forty years.
The commission structure andoperation followed the established guidelines for parliamentary commissionsof inquiry in Germany, with political parties represented equivalent to theirrepresentation in Parliament as a whole. The successor party to the SED,the Democratic Socialist Party, was represented on the commission with onemember. Eleven of the twenty-seven members of the commission were expertsfrom outside of Parliament, primarily historians. Former East German humanrights activist Rainer Eppelman served as the commission’s chair.The repression under the East German system was different from theextensive violence seen in other regions under study here.
Although therecertainly was physical repression against dissidents, many of those whoexpressed opposition to the system suffered less violent consequences: theywere barred from universities, prohibited from working in their chosen profession,or continually harassed by authorities, for example. The commission’smandate thus reached beyond a focus on gross human rights violationsto a broader inquiry into government policy and practice. It was directed to”conduct political-historical analysis and make political-ethical assessments” ofthe structure and practices of the SED party; the human rights violations andenvironmental degradation that resulted; violations of international humanrights conventions and norms, including political, mental, and psychosocialrepression; the role of ideology in education, literature, and daily life; the roleof the opposition movement; Church–state relations; the independence of thejudiciary; and relations between West and East Germany.The commission was largely research based, commissioning over onehundred papers on a wide range of topics, mostly written by academic historianswho made use of files opened since the fall of East Germany.
The commissionheld numerous public hearings where these papers were presented. It alsoheard “harrowing accounts” from victims, though not in great numbers. Thecommission held no subpoena power, and most former government officialswho were invited to give testimony declined, in part fearing their testimonycould be used against them in court.