GDR 1949-1969
Domestic Policy
Unification 1989/90

GDR 1969-1989 : Domestic Policy

When the West German government under Willy Brandt launched the Ostpolitik, offering treaties as well as desparately needed credit in hard western currency, the GDR was practically broke. Therefore it had little choice but to accept the offer.
Negotiations regarding credits would take the following procedure : FRG negotiators would hand over a list of wishes, most of them of humanitarian nature, such as permitting family reunions (i.e. the emigration of East German relatives of West Germans), the dismantling of East German facilities to block the emission of West German TV broadcasts, the dismantling of wire traps at the German-German border etc. The GDR side would chose a couple of points which hurt the least, and get their credit. A few years later, a new round of negotiations, new GDR concessions.
As a consequence, West Germans could regularly visit their East German relatives. They could not bring any printed material (newspapers, books) into the country, but western consumer products. Almost all East Germans could watch western TV, and most of them did. So, the East German propaganda found it rather difficult to depict the FRG as the imperialist enemy; most East Germans saw the country as the Golden West, longing for the luxury depicted on western TV, and be it in advertisements and soap operas. Events organized by FDJ and the Society for Sports and Technology, originally intended to strengthen class identity and readiness top resist 'imperialist aggression", turned more and more into social binch drinking and entertainment.

Decades of socialism have discouraged creativity; East German engineers at an early stage developed a car model much better than the Trabi (model 1961 was still produced in 1989); their proposal was not adopted, as the affordable prices could not be collected.
The country was run by bureaucrats who tried to find quick-fixes rather than solutions. As a critical stand towards the GDR was punished (loss of the job, disadvantages for the kids in school, even imprisonment), the vast majority became lethargic, politically disinterested.
There was a considerable segment of the population which benefitted from communism - people who enjoyed preferential treatment in education, owed their job to the party, rose to a position they never would have achieved in a democratic society etc. The Staatssicherheitsdienst (Stasi, GDR secret service) was one of the largest enterprises in the country; many were under observation, especially potential critics (writers, artists, priests etc.). Some intellectuals too critical, such as songwriter Wolf Biermann, were deprived of their citizenship, in his case while on a tour in the west.
Sports was an important propaganda tool to distract the people from grey reality. East German athletes, swimmers, handball team, rowers etc. were extremely successful, far beyond what could have been expected from a population of 17 million. It has been stated that the East German Olympic teams contributed most to what existed as East German national sentiment.

The East German leadership had isolated itself from society. The leaders formed a narrow circle, aging together and failing to rejuvenate themselves by admitting younger politicians into their midst. The SED managed to prevent other political groups to mature into political movements; such groups remained on grassroots level, such as Pacifist organisations (Schwerter zu Pflugscharen - form swords into plowshares) and ecological groups. They were closely observed by the Stasi.

1989 - 40 Jahre DDR, from DDR im WWW, German language detailed timeline
Norbert Schnitzler's DDR Page, in German
Die DDR im geschichtlichen Überblick (GDR in a historical review; detailed timeline); from DDR im WWW, in German; 1985-1990
REFERENCE Article : Germany, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1970 pp.374-378, 1971 pp.354-361, 1972 pp.328-332, 1973 pp.326-329, 1974 pp. 332-335 [G]
Article : German Democratic Republic, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1975 pp.323-325, 1976 pp.364-365, 1977 pp.366-367, 1978 pp.407-408, 1979 pp.401-402, 1980 pp.400-401, 1981 pp.402-404, 1982 pp.399-401, 1983 pp.395-397, 1984 pp.398-399, 1985 pp.549-550, 683, 1986 pp.543-544, 680, 1987 pp.514-515, 649, 1988 pp.470-471, 601, 1989 pp.470-472, 602, 1990 pp.487-488, 617 [G]
Deutschland in den 70er/80er Jahren, Informationen zur politischen Bildung 270, 2001 [G]
Article : Germany, East, in : The World in Figures 1st ed. 1976 pp.224-225, 2nd ed. 1978 pp.224-225, 4th ed. 1984 pp.224-225 [G]
Article : German Democratic Republic (East), in : Statesman's Yearbook 1970-1971 pp. 986-990, 1975-1976 pp. 980-984, 1976-1977 pp.988-993, 1978-1979 pp. 494-499, 1979-1980 pp.498-503, 1980-1981 pp. 498-503, 1981-1982 pp.503-508, 1984-1985 pp. 509-515, 1985-1986 pp.511-516, 1986-1987 pp.515-520, 1987-1988 pp.521-526, 1988-1989 pp. 523-529, 1989-1990 pp.527-533 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Americana Annual 1971 pp.314-319, 1972 pp.306-311, 1973 pp.315-320, 1974 pp.264-269, 1976 pp.267-271, 1988 pp.251-257, 1989 pp.250-254, 1990 pp.246-250 [G]
Article : GDR, in : Yearbook on International Communist Affairs 1980 pp.29-40 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on May 5th 2007

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