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East Germany

Official Policy

The evolution of official policy on the German, or national, question (as the policy toward reunification came to be known) can be roughly divided into three periods. During the first period, from 1949 to 1961, East Germany was strongly committed to reunification and sought rapprochement with West Germany on the basis of perceived "national commonalities." However, Walter Ulbricht, first secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands--SED), also sought to keep East Germany internationally isolated as a means to force East Germans to turn inward and begin a program of internal socialist development. Unification (a subtle change in terminology to reflect growing divergences) was still the ultimate goal, but, according to prevailing policy, the adoption of different socioeconomic systems had resulted in the creation of two German states, and reconciliation would be more difficult to achieve. The second period of East German policy ran roughly from the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to the replacement of Ulbricht by Erich Honecker as party chief in 1971. The signing of the Berlin Agreement in 1971 and of the Basic Treaty in 1972 marked the beginning of a third shift in policy (see Honecker and East-West Rapprochement , ch. 1). The broad outlines of this policy were expressed in the term Abgrenzung (demarcation--see Glossary). East German leaders contended that the two diametrically opposed socioeconomic systems had led to changes in culture, language, and worldview and that it was no longer possible to speak of one German nation. Unification as a policy goal was abandoned altogether.

The evolution of policy toward West Germany can be summarized as changing from togetherness and cooperation in the 1950s, to coexistence in the 1960s, and to separation in the 1970s and 1980s. (Ironically this shift paralleled a reverse trend in West German relations vis-à-vis East Germany and more generally in superpower relations.) East German thinking on the "German question" likewise changed from affirmation of one indivisible nation, to the idea of two states within one nation, and finally to the declaration of two separate nations.

The 1949 constitution of East Germany referred to Germany as "an indivisible democratic republic" and noted that there was "only one German citizenship." Throughout the 1950s, East Germany and the Soviet Union kept open the door of reunification and even made political overtures for closer cooperation with the West. In 1952 the Soviets were prepared to support a united but neutral Germany in order to deter West Germany from rearming and entering the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). East Germany and the Soviet Union continued efforts to draw West Germany into some sort of "national compromise" even after the latter joined NATO in 1955. East German proposals were never seriously considered; Western policy dictated the international isolation and nonrecognition of East Germany.

During the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the East German regime began to focus on internal socialist development as a prerequisite for unification. The success of the socialist system became the test "of every real German patriot." Socialist development meant the collectivization of agriculture, the nationalization of industry, and the implementation of a highly centralized planning system modeled after the Soviet system. The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 to stop the outflow of talented and skilled labor, and the New Economic System was launched in 1963. The country consequently began to enjoy a period of relative prosperity.

The new self-confidence of the regime was reflected in the changing official attitudes toward and pronouncements on the German question. Confederation was still advanced as an option in the early 1960s, but later in the decade officials began to speak of the existence of two separate states within one German nation. East German citizenship was established in 1967. The state secretariat for all German affairs became the state secretariat for West German affairs. Finally, a new constitution was promulgated in 1968, institutionalizing the change in policy. East Germany became "a socialist state of the German nation" (Article 1), "faithful to the interests of the German people and the international obligations of all Germans" (Article 6). It sought equality in recognition and international status and supported "the step-by-step rapprochement of the two Germans states until the time of their unification on the basis of democracy and socialism" (Article 8).

Détente between the superpowers and the initiation of West Germany's policy of Ostpolitik (see Glossary) sought to bridge the growing gap between Germans through the promotion of contacts at the people-to-people level. East German officials reacted with caution and suspicion. The sense of confidence inspired by the economic successes in the 1960s had not quieted the basic insecurity of the regime. Consequently, despite Soviet commitment to détente with the West (which included closer cooperation between the two Germanies), Ulbricht resisted entering into any cooperation agreements with West Germany. He was removed from power and replaced in 1971 by Honecker as party chief. Shortly thereafter East Germany and West Germany signed the 1972 Basic Treaty, paving the way for the normalization of relations. The agreement was a compromise to the sensitivities of both governments . West Germany succeeded in promoting contacts between Germans in the two states without officially recognizing East Germany. (Relations between the two were still characterized as inner-German from the West German perspective.) In September 1973, East Germany gained de facto international status and was admitted to the United Nations, along with West Germany.

To compensate for the drawing together of the two states, however, East German officials implemented a domestic policy of Abgrenzung. On a practical level, this took the form of internal vigilance against influences from and exposure to the West. On a more abstract level, it meant increased efforts toward the development of a distinct state or national identity. In the mid-1970s, the official East German view was that one German nation no longer existed. The Abgrenzung policy--and the two-nation concept derived from it--culminated in 1974 in several important amendments to the 1968 Constitution (see Constitution of 1968 , ch. 4). All references to the "German nation" were eliminated, references to unification were deleted, and the country's commitment to socialist internationalism and its "irrevocable" ties to the Soviet Union were forcefully and directly asserted. In the mid-1980s, this policy of Abgrenzung continued to characterize relations with the West. In addition officials have attempted to reinforce the twonation concept among the population by the manipulation of cultural and ethnic symbols.

Data as of July 1987

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