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East Germany

Chapter 2. The Society and Its Environment

THE GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC (East Germany) lies in the heart of the northern plains of Europe and covers an area of approximately 108,568 square kilometers, including East Berlin (which is not recognized as part of East Germany by the United States, France, and Britain). It is bounded on the north by the Baltic Sea, on the east by Poland, on the southeast by Czechoslovakia, and on the west and southwest by the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The terrain is gentle. Lowlands and rolling hills characterize about two-thirds of the country; the southern third comprises uplands and mountains. The most fertile agricultural belt and the most densely settled area of the country is the Börderland, where the central lowlands merge into the uplands.

The population, which has declined steadily since World War II, was

about 16.7 million in 1986. Low birthrates and the dynamics of the population combined with historical trends to produce an unbalanced age and sex structure; in the mid-1980s, a high proportion of the population was over sixty years of age. Most people lived in medium-sized towns of 5,000 to 50,000 residents. There were, however, some large cities, most of which were located in the southern section of the country. The largest city was East Berlin with a population of 1.2 million. East Germany considered East Berlin its capital, although in the view of the Western Allies the entire city is still under the control of the former Allied powers, the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.

East Germany is relatively homogeneous culturally and linguistically. It does have, however, a small Slavic population known as Sorbs, who in 1984 numbered approximately 34,000 and resided primarily around the cities of Cottbus, Bautzen, and Hoyerswerda. A small Jewish community of a few hundred, all that remain of the prewar Jewish population, also continue to live in East Germany.

In the 1970s, despite the country's cultural ties with West Germany, the East German government adopted a two-nation policy. Abandoning the goal of reunification, East Germany concentrated on building a national consciousness that was distinct from that of the West Germans. This effort, however, was not very successful, and East Germans continued to consider themselves part of a larger German community that included the populations of both German states.

The country calls itself a "socialist state of workers and peasants." Theoretically all power resides in the hands of the working class, but in reality the state exercises control of all resources and means of production. The communist party leadership forms the elite of society and is separated from the majority of the population by the privileges and power it enjoys. Members of the intelligentsia form an intermediate stratum. This segment of the population includes members from the prewar middle class as well as a group of newly trained and educated managers, planners, technicians, artists and others trained in the humanities, and scientists. In general the members of the intelligentsia are apolitical. The vast majority of the population is categorized as workers, a grouping that includes manual laborers and whitecollar workers. Social programs implemented by the government are intended to restructure society and provide equal benefits for the working-class man and woman. Health, housing, and welfare programs are part of the scheme of restructuring society. The government has had mixed results in these areas. Since the 1970s, the government has catered to workers' demands for more and better consumer goods. Whether or not the government would be able to meet these demands in the future was uncertain because of the slowdown in economic growth.

The family is the basic unit of society and is recognized as such by communist officials, who consider it the smallest collective unit. Parents are charged with educating their children in the socialist way of life. Family structure and relationships have been affected by the increased participation of women in the work force.

In the mid-1980s, there were three major mass organizations-- the Free German Trade Union Federation, the Free German Youth, and the Democratic Women's League of Germany. These organizations sought to produce a unity of interests among all segments of the population and to mobilize support for government policies.

The educational system, which is a source of pride for the East German government and people, is the primary agent of socialization. In the mid-1980s, all children began the ten-grade general polytechnical school at the age of six. The curriculum emphasized science and mathematics and contained a "practical experience" component designed to bridge the gap between learning and work. Upon completion of the ten-year program, most students began vocational training as apprentices in local factories.

As of 1987, about 47 percent of the East German population was Protestant. Another 7 percent was Roman Catholic, and under 1 percent adhered to other religious beliefs. The Lutheran Church, the main Protestant denomination, was organized into eight territorial churches that were, in turn, federated into two primary organizations. Both of these groups had separated from their West German counterparts in 1968. They cooperated with each other under a loose federal structure set up in 1969, but as of the mid-1980s there was talk of integrating the Lutheran churches into a single entity. The church characterized its relationship with the regime as one of critical solidarity, a phrase that implied a mixture of compromise and criticism. The regime considered the church an anomaly and generally discouraged the population from participating in religious activities. For its part, in the mid-1980s the church became a focus of dissent because it provided institutional and ideological foundations for the growth of an unofficial peace movement.

In the early 1980s, an organized opposition emerged that revolved around the issues of peace and the demilitarization of East German society. Opposition also crystallized around small groups of the creative intelligentsia, who began openly to criticize the regime in their artistic and philosophical works. Most of the young intellectuals were committed Marxists who sought to reform the system. Since the mid-1970s, the regime has attempted to stifle dissent by exiling these critics to the West. Dissent was also evident in the number of East Germans who attempted to leave the country both legally and illegally.

Data as of July 1987

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