East Germany Table of Contents
The Honecker regime recognized the importance of national feelings and the strength of ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties among the German people. Likewise, the regime was aware that legislative and policy changes do not necessarily lead to changes in public attitudes, behavior, and values. Part of the program of mobilizing popular support and constructing a socialist society, therefore, aimed at developing a new "national consciousness." The regime targeted primarily three areas for change. First, it attempted to alter the basis for shared historical experiences through the selective interpretation of German history. Second, it encouraged the development of linguistic differences in the standard language. Third, it attempted to mold a new "socialist personality"--and hence shape a new value system--through intensive socialization.
According to the official view, East Germany embodies all that is positive and progressive in the German past, while West Germany is a continuation of a reactionary past. The Weimar Republic is seen as the logical predecessor of the East German state, and historical figures from Germany's socialist past (Marx, Friedrich Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, and Karl Liebknecht) are honored as the principal national heroes (see Weimar Republic , ch. 1). In addition selected military, literary, and musical figures are accorded a prominent place in East German history because of their "progressive" ideas. These include famous Prussian generals and military theoreticians such as Gerhard von Scharnhorst, Gebhard von Blücher, Carl von Clausewitz, and August Gneisenau, as well as reformers such as Karl, Freiherr vom Stein, and Karl August von Hardenberg. (The Order of Scharnhorst is the highest East German military decoration.) Also included are cultural figures such as Goethe, Schiller, and Johann Sebastian Bach.
In 1976 at the Ninth Party Congress of the SED, leaders urged historians to help develop an East German national identity and socialist consciousness by broadening the definition of the "progressive past" and by making greater use of national history. As a result, a critical reexamination of certain periods of history once considered reactionary has taken place. Prussian history, for example, had been condemned for its militaristic tradition, but in recent years it has been the object of closer study. Historical figures either ignored or considered unacceptable have been rehabilitated. In the 1970s and 1980s, Luther and Otto von Bismarck, whom the regime had previously criticized, have been re-evaluated. Luther has been incorporated into the "socialist heritage" of East Germany. Since 1980 the regime has regarded Luther as a progressive who challenged the power of the Roman Catholic Church with theology, the only weapon available to him. Since the mid-1980s, Bismarck has also received more favorable treatment, both because he advocated good relations with Russia and because he is seen as having ended the fragmentation of Germany and paved the way for the blossoming of German economic development. Richard Wagner, once disparaged in official circles because of his popularity among the Nazi leadership, has been rediscovered. Albert Einstein, earlier ignored by the leadership, was honored in 1979 on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Finally, the study of history has been encouraged among the population through the organization of local historical societies, the opening of museums, the building of statues, and the preservation and restoration of historical landmarks and monuments. The emphasis on certain elements in the German past is meant to convey to East Germans the feeling that they share not only common historical roots but also a common destiny.
Officials have also encouraged the development of a standard language that can be distinguished from the standard German spoken in West Germany. They have pointed to the already existing divergences in the language to substantiate their claim that two separate nations have developed. Indeed, a number of changes are apparent in the German language as a result of the long separation of East Germany and West Germany. They are not as far reaching or as deeply implanted, however, as most Western scholars originally thought. Changes have resulted primarily from the introduction of political and technical jargon into the language and the heavy reliance on abbreviations and acronyms. Certain terms have assumed special political and emotional significance, and others have become politicized because of their use as slogans. Economic and technical terms, many of which presume an extensive knowledge of science and economics, are used frequently in official publications and documents. (Officials point to these changes as proof of social progress.) Acronyms are used widely to describe economic enterprises and political organizations, and their use, in turn, has necessitated the periodic publication of directories to guide people through the maze of terms. The impact of these changes on everyday speech is difficult to determine, but there is little to suggest that official jargon has influenced general public usage. Language is slow to change. Communications between East Germans and West Germans have continued despite the separation of the two states and in the 1980s have grown as a result of the easing of travel restrictions. The Western broadcasting media are also widely listened to and viewed by the East German public.
The shaping of a socialist personality is the single most important objective of socialization in the country. The educational system, mass organizations, communist party, media, and production committees and worker groups of the enterprises all aim to develop within the individual the qualities associated with a socialist personality. According to leaders, that personality blends creativity, intelligence, and industry with a sense of responsibility, collective spirit, and commitment to the goals of socialism. There are many aspects to the socialist personality, the most fundamental of which are the socialist consciousness and socialist morality. Consciousness in this case implies a knowledge of Marxism-Leninism as interpreted by the regime and involvement in the political life of the state. The individual who displays a socialist consciousness is one who studies official ideology and party doctrine, understands the basis of productive relations, and actively takes part in the construction of a socialist society by working to fulfill production quotas and joining in political activities. Morality, in this instance, implies a personal sense of obligation and responsibility toward one's fellow workers, a collective spirit, integrity, and trustworthiness. An individual's willingness to use his or her full range of talents for the good of society and a commitment to realize the fullest potential are also aspects of the socialist personality.
With the exception of its ideological component, the concept of a socialist personality embraces many of the character traits and values traditionally admired by Germans. Thus authorities have been able to tap traditional respect for authority, discipline, hard work, and efficiency as part of the development of a socialist personality. The more the socialist values have been compatible with traditional values, the more the regime has been successful in enforcing its value system and standards of behavior.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents