WHEN THE rush toward German unification began to accelerate earlier this year, a tremor of uneasiness ran through many of West Germany's conservatives. They were bringing into their electorate the provinces that, before Hitler, had been strongholds of the left. But it turns out that those conservatives need not have worried. Whatever happens next in its politics, the united Germany starts off with the center-right Christian Democrats as strong in the east as they have traditionally been in the west. That's clear in last weekend's elections for the first governments of the five provinces that are the former East Germany.

The opposition Social Democrats did less well in these elections than they have generally done in West Germany. The obvious reason is the past months' record of Social Democratic ambivalence about immediate unification and a series of go-slow warnings that deeply offended eastern voters. It was Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor and a Christian Democrat, who set West Germany on the fast-as-possible schedule. While he's widely regarded among his Western constituents as a rather pedestrian figure, in the east he's a hero.

The East Germans' hunger for unity is the first great message of these election returns. They have even elected a number of prominent West German politicians to their new provincial parliaments. One of them, Kurt Biedenkopf, will apparently be the governor of Saxony, where the demonstrations last fall started the process that led to the collapse of the East German government.

The second great message is an equally strong hunger for stability. The former East Germans know that they are heading into a bad winter, with unemployment already high and confusion deepening as the corrupt old economy collapses faster than a new one can be organized. Pessimists had feared a radical reaction or the fragmentation of power among multitudes of eccentric little parties that is characteristic of an inexperienced electorate under pressure. That's another threat that never developed.

In a world in which things generally go less well than everyone hopes, German unification is going better so far than anyone could have expected. Great credit goes to the East German people themselves. After more than half a century of living under despotism, first of the right and then of the left, they are now finding their way back to the ballot box with a sure sense of direction that will be reassuring to Germans themselves, their neighbors and their allies.