German Democratic Republic: Politics, Economics and Society – Mike Dennis

GDR

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

The Head of German in the school where I last taught was somewhat of an expert in East Germany and he devised teaching schemes for schoolchildren there. From him I gained an interest in the GDP.

I was very surprised that homosexuality isn’t mentioned in this book despite its account of the general liberalisation in attitudes towards sexual behaviour. East Germany inherited the law Paragraph 175. Communist gay activist Rudolf Klimmer, modeling himself on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, campaigned to have the law repealed, but was unsuccessful. However, the law was reverted to the version found in the 1925 criminal code, which was considerably milder than the version adopted in 1935 under Nazi rule. In the five years following the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, the GDR government instituted a program of “moral reform” to build a solid foundation for the new socialist republic, in which masculinity and the traditional family were championed while homosexuality, seen to contravene “healthy mores of the working people”, continued to be prosecuted under Paragraph 175. Same sex activity was “alternatively viewed as a remnant of bourgeois decadence, a sign of moral weakness, and a threat to the social and political health of the nation.”

In East Germany, Paragraph 175 ceased to be enforced in 1957 but remained on the books until 1968. According to historian Heidi Minning, attempts by lesbians and gays in East Germany to establish a visible community were “thwarted at every turn by the G.D.R. government and SED party.” She wrote: Police force was used on numerous occasions to break up or prevent public gay and lesbian events. Centralized censorship prevented the presentation of homosexuality in print and electronic media, as well as the import of such materials.

Ironically, the Protestant church provided more support than the state, allowing meeting spaces and printing facilities.

Towards the end of the 1980s however, just before the collapse of the iron curtain, the East German government opened a state-owned gay disco in Berlin. On 11 August 1987 the East German Supreme Court affirmed that “homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, represents a variant of sexual behaviour. Homosexual people do therefore not stand outside socialist society, and the civil rights are warranted to them exactly as to all other citizens.”

The author is Professor of Modern German History at the University of Wolverhampton.

Quotations:

With about one-third of all marriages ending in divorce, GDR has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. And women are far likely than men to institute an action for divorce. The increasing number of mothers and some young couples’ preference for free association (Lebensg testify to the questioning of marriage as a ‘part of the good life’. Another sign changing pattern of the relationship is the increase in the proportion of live unmarried mothers from 17.3 per cent in 1978 to 32 per cent in 1983.

Despite the rejection of the institution of marriage by some Marxists, the GDR has always recognized the value of both marriage and the family The GDR family continues to perform the basic functions of reproduction, the socialization of children, and economic and emotional support for its members. Marriage is proclaimed by the 1966 Family Code as a union for life based on mutual love, respect and faithfulness, understanding and trust, and unselfish help for one another. The founders of the GDR sought, however, to modify the traditional relationship between the sexes. For example, the 1950 Law on the Protection of Mother and Child replaced the previous right of the husband alone to make decisions on all marital matters by the joint decision-making right of both partners. In addition, women’s employment was regarded as the key to their equality and a ‘higher’ form of family life. After much delay, a new family model emerged in 1966 with the promulgation of the Family Code.

The code defines the family as the smallest cell in society and proclaims that only socialism, which is allegedly free from the exploitation and material insecurity of bourgeois society, can provide the necessary conditions for family relations of a new and lasting kind. Children receive a good deal of attention in the code. The most important task and duty of parents, to be undertaken jointly, is the upbringing of the children in, it is hoped, a stable and happy environment. The socialization of children and young people is not envisaged as the prerogative of parents but as a cooperative effort between parents, school and state organizations such as the Thalmann Pioneers and the Free German Youth.

The SED target of two to three children per family is not easily reconciled with the burdens arising from the full-time employment of a high proportion of women and with the liberal abortion legislation.

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