A few months ago I took an Austrian girl on a tour of the old German Democratic Republic (GDR). Part of the point was to show that the view of East German history differed quite a bit depending on where one was. Now unfortunately we did not meet all that many people with a positive view of the previous regime, and so i, who usually count myself as quite opposed to Stalinism, had to step in and try to show some of the positive points of the GDR as well.
One of these is without question that Western Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), has media that is at least as false and brainwashing as that of the GDR, and by following both one could therefore escape most of the propaganda.
But now a report on some states in East and Western Germany by the research community “SUP-State” (the SUP was the Socialist Unity Party, the ruling party of East Germany) at the Free University of Berlin (FUB) shows that views amongst students in East Germany on the GDR are more positive than what they had expected. It appears that the selection of informants the Austrian girl and I had made was skewed.
I first saw the study in Spiegel Online. And because Der Spiegel (back then “Diese Woche” — “This Week”) was founded more or less directly by the British occupation authorities in 1946, just about anything that can be read as in any way positive towards the GDR or the Left Party is being twisted and talked down. Somewhere far down in the article I found the following bit of info:
Almost 70% of the students from Brandenburg believe that the FRG before 1989 was no better than the GDR, or at least they are undecided. More than 70% think it is “positive that in the GDR everyone had work, even though the state decided upon salaries and the level of prosperity was low”. Almost one of five thinks that the bankrupt economy of the GDR is better than that of the FRG, and more than half do not oppose the statement: “The GDR was not a dictatorship.”
Whatever they understand with the word “better”, is unknown. Is it supposed to mean “better at creating a surplus that can be sold at the capitalist world market”? Or “better at producing more units of whatever, independent on whether these are needed or not”? Or is it supposed to mean “better at balancing the production of the good that are needed to run society with making work life comfortable and focusing on the mental and physical needs of the work force”?
What Spiegel Online understands with “better” is hinted with the adjective “bankrupt”. The rest of the article really doesn’t do any good other than emphasizing once more on how stupid Brandenburg students really are. And because the trend of positive views on the GDR is mirrored in all other states they have researched, West- and East-Berlin as well as North Rhein West Phalia, as well, it really applies to them too. Some of it may be truly false, such as beliefs that the environment was better off in the GDR, but also these depend on how the question was stated.
In other FRG papers the results are presented using similar headlines such as “GDR Romaticism and pure Ignorance”, “Brandenburg students know nothing about the GDR” or “Many students in Brandenburg idealize the GDR”. Norwegian Aftenposten represents probably the low end of journalism when quoting and not commenting one of the researchers:
As an example he [Professor Klaus Schroeder] mentions that early in the 1990s, 200 former teachers received extra education at the university in order to be able to give a correct picture of what the situation in the GDR really was like, with political prisoners, massive surveillance, and killings of citizens trying to flee to the west.
Oh ok, so are secret CIA prisons part of the curriculum of West German schools? Is the fact that the federal government aided Pinochet in Chile and other dictators throughout the region, that the federal government repeatedly goes to war against the German populations will, that thousands have died trying to enter the EU for the past 17 years part of history on the FRG? Has anyone not heard of the shootings at the Berlin Wall? And look at the numbers — 1065 death altogether 1945–89, of which only 190 at the Berlin wall — against at least 3750 at the EU borders between 1993 and 2003.
Now I wanted to see the results of the study directly, so I googled for the, But unfortunately there was nothing to be found on the pages of the project itself. At this page you can only get to know that the results from Berlin can be acquired for 15. For that you need to send an email or call a phone number, there is no online payment system and my guess is they will then send the result in paper form by mail. In other words: the material is really made inaccessible for people with a personal interest.
All we get is the version filtered by Spiegel Online. But also these “researchers” behind the story comment it with statements such as “If I was with the Left Party, I’d say: ‘Great, cause all these are our potential future voters”. No, with the Left Party they are not. But with whom then? On their web page they posted the following event:
The third part of the series “Great were the times… ?” arranged by the Coalition90/Green Party in cooperation with the research community SUP-State at the FUB to the theme Myth of Equality. From banner appeal to citizenship science — everyday in the schools of the GDR.
Now imagine a research community at a federal German university entitled “Third Reich Successor state” that together with the Left Party has a series called “With the Federal Government for War, Dictatorship and Fascism — Everyday in foreign politics of the FRG in Latin America”.
Wikipedia tells us that the SUP-state project is fully financed until 2014 by sources from outside the university. They employ 13 academic, so it must be quite a sum. That not a single one of them has time to publish the results as a PDF on their web page, seems questionable.
Well, that is West European media. The funny thing is that by the very way they report on this study they reveal just how similar they are themselves to the state controlled media of the Soviet Allied countries. And what they fail to acknowledge is that it is not a generally higher level of stupidity among students across all of Germany that gives these another view of the GDR, but rather that their propaganda machinery isn’t working quite the way they want it too. Still, the generation of current retired people are being blamed for being too positive towards the GDR, usually with the excuse that they are just old farts who don’t remember clearly what it was like. Now they lost the youth as well.
Really, the unquestioning FRG supporters are getting quite lonely. Now none of the young people want to resurrect the GDR as it was, I am sure. But the FRG is not an acceptable alternative either.