Transforming Memories: Workers’ Recollection of the Socialist Regimes in East Germany and Hungary
Title: Transforming Memories: Workers’ Recollection of the Socialist Regimes in East Germany and Hungary
Author: BARTHA, Eszter
Publisher: European University Institute
Series/Report no.: EUI MWP; 2008/16
This paper analyzes and compares workers’ memories of the late socialist regimes in East Germany and Hungary. It presents the results of an oral history project conducted in two factories, Rába MVG in Győr (Hungary) and Carl Zeiss in Jena (Germany) between 2002 and 2003. Both factories were large enterprises of the socialist period and both were considered to be “model” factories. The two enterprises survived systemic change but with considerably reduced personnel. Forty life-history interviews were made in both factories with an equal number of people who were still employed there, and with those who had lost their jobs during re-structuring. The selection of the interviewees had two main criteria: 1) an equal number of men and women; 2) the age of at least 40 so that the interviewees had work experience under the socialist regime. To find interviewees, I used the snowball method and newspaper advertisements. The partly similar, partly different experiences of transformation influenced the construction of the memories of socialism in the two countries. Although it cannot be said that the socialist system left only negative memories behind in East Germany – in fact, most of the interviewees argued that the school system, health care system and child care institutions were better, and the state gave more support to working mothers than after 1989 – no-one wanted to return to Honecker’s GDR. Most of the interviewees said that they were happy that the Wende had come. The memories of the Kádár regime in Hungary showed a more varied picture. Some narrators claimed that they lived better under the old system and they expressed a desire for the return of the Kádár regime. Although most people accepted systemic change to be necessary, they thought that privatization benefited the old elite. The change of regime in Hungary was therefore linked with a new exclusion and dispossession of the people.
Subject: Postsocialist change; East Germany; Hungary; workers; life-history interviews; naratives of decline; memory of socialism; new exclusion
Type of Access: openAccess