Law and mutual assistance in families: A comparison of socialist legacies in Hungary and eastern Germany

Veröffentlichungen: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftArtikelPeer Reviewed


In this article it is argued that post-socialist reforms actually led to more similarity in the legal sphere between Hungary and eastern Germany than during the socialist phase.

Despite some similarities regarding their respective official representations of gender equality during the socialist period, Hungary and the former GDR in fact had quite distinct policies. As the Hungarian policies and ideologies resemble those in the former West Germany, and because East Germany has taken on the legal system of West Germany as a result of unification, both countries are now becoming more similar in legal terms in some areas than before. However, the socialist differences have not vanished, but still account for different situations of legal pluralism today. People still employ socialist practices, and norms guiding the cases demonstrate a process in which former state law turns into new customary law.

The article concentrates on fields related to a gendered understanding of property and motherhood. Selected examples of family assistance and conflict in Hungary and eastern Germany in the aftermath of legal reforms reveal different patterns of interpretation and integration of the socialist past. The first part of this article deals with the changing significance and interpretation of landed property and its inheritance in structuring family relations. In both localities landed property is basically interpreted as male property. With post-socialist property reforms, this normative orientation translates seemingly easily into a shift of power to the oldest male in the family in rural Hungary. In contrast, in the German cases, new conflicts are often based on gendered claims to property, and in many cases are interpreted within the framework of East-West German differences. The second part seeks to complicate that picture by reference to the connection of this field of legal reform with the field of family policies and the consequences of different socialist legacies. Family policies in Hungary, it is argued, prepared the ground for the long-term and in fact undesired retreat of mothers into the household. In contrast, socialist policies led to shorter maternity leave in the GDR and more female labour market participation. As a result, women are more focused on wage labour and are strongly supported by their parents to go out to work. In a situation in which large parts of the eastern German population are confronted with gender images and legal arrangements that resemble those of socialist Hungary, many opt for the ‘East German’ socialist gender mode

Seiten (von - bis)177-207
FachzeitschriftJournal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law (JLP)
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 2006
Extern publiziertJa

ÖFOS 2012

  • 504009 Ethnologie
  • 504017 Kulturanthropologie
  • 504008 Ethnographie
  • 504010 Europäische Ethnologie


  • Post-Sozialismus
  • Ostdeutschland
  • Ungarn
  • Familie
  • Gender


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