East Germany Table of Contents
From the mid-1970s, East Germany remained poised between East and West. The 1974 amendment to the Constitution deleted all references to the "German nation" and "German unity" and designated East Germany "a socialist nation-state of workers and peasants" and "an inseparable constituent part of the socialist community of states." However, the SED leadership had little success in inculcating East Germans with a sense of ideological identification with the Soviet Union. Honecker, conceding to public opinion, devised the formula "citizenship, GDR; nationality, German." In so doing, the SED first secretary acknowledged the persisting psychological and emotional attachment of East German citizens to German traditions and culture and, by implication, to their German neighbors in West Germany.
Although Abgrenzung constituted the foundation of Honecker's policy, détente strengthened ties between the two Germanies. Between 5 and 7 million West Germans and West Berliners visited East Germany each year. Telephone and postal communications between the two countries were significantly improved. Personal ties between East German and West German families and friends were being restored, and East German citizens had more direct contact with West German politics and material affluence, particularly through radio and television. West Germany was East Germany's supplier of high-quality consumer goods, including luxury items, and the latter's citizens frequented both the Intershops, which sold goods for Western currency, and the Exquisit and Delikat shops, which sold imported goods for East German currency. As part of the general détente between East and West, East Germany participated in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and in July 1975 signed the Helsinki Final Act, which was to guarantee the regime's recognition of human rights. The Final Act's provision for freedom of movement elicited approximately 120,000 East German applications for permission to emigrate, but the applications were rejected.
Both Germanies have continued a search for national identity. From the beginning, the newly formed East German republic tried to establish its own separate identity. Because of Marx's abhorrence of Prussia, the SED repudiated continuity between Prussia and East Germany. In an attempt to obliterate East Germany's Prussian heritage, the SED destroyed the Junker manor houses and the Berlin municipal castle and removed the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great from East Berlin. Instead the SED focused on the progressive heritage of German history, including Thomas Müntzer's role in the Great Peasant War and the role played by the heroes of the class struggle during Prussia's industrialization. Nevertheless, as early as 1956 East Germany's Prussian heritage asserted itself in the NVA. As a result of the Ninth Party Congress in May 1976, East Germany has since 1976-77 considered its own history as the essence of German history, in which West Germany is only an episode. It has laid claim to reformers such as Karl, Freiherr vom Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Gerhard von Scharnhorst. The statue of Frederick the Great has meanwhile been restored to prominence in East Berlin. Honecker's references to the former Prussian king in his speeches reflected East Germany's official policy of revisionism toward Prussia, which also included Bismarck and the resistance group Red Band. East Germany has also laid claim to the formerly maligned Martin Luther and to the organizers of the Spartacus League, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
In spite of détente, the Honecker regime remained committed to Soviet-style socialism and continued a strict policy toward dissidents. A critical Marxist intelligentsia within the SED nevertheless renewed the plea for democratic reform. Among them was the poet-singer Wolf Biermann, who with Robert Havemann had led a circle of artists and writers advocating democratization; he was expelled from East Germany in November 1976 for dissident activities. Following Biermann's expulsion, the SED leadership disciplined more than 100 dissident intellectuals. Despite the government's actions, East German writers began to publish political statements in the West German press and periodical literature. The most prominent example was Rudolf Bahro's Die Alternative, which was published in West Germany in August 1977. The publication led to the author's arrest, imprisonment, and deportation to West Germany. In late 1977, a manifesto of the "League of Democratic Communists of Germany" appeared in the West German magazine Der Spiegel. The league, consisting ostensibly of anonymous middle- to high-ranking SED functionaries, demanded democratic reform in preparation for reunification.
Even after an exodus of artists in protest against Biermann's expulsion, the SED continued its repressive policy against dissidents. The state subjected literature, one of the few vehicles of opposition and nonconformism in East Germany, to ideological attacks and censorship. This policy led to an exodus of prominent writers, which lasted until 1981. The Lutheran Church also became openly critical of SED policies. Although in 1980-81 the SED intensified its censorship of church publications in response to the Polish Solidarity movement, it maintained, for the most part, a flexible attitude toward the church. The consecration of a church building in May 1981 in Eisenhüttenstadt, which according to the SED leadership was not permitted to build a church owing to its status as a "socialist city," demonstrated this flexibility (see Religion and Religious Organizations , ch. 2).
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents