E. Germany likes peaceniks -- but only in the West
East German authorities are cracking down on the country's small, independent peace movement -- even forbidding pacifists to wear their chosen ''swords into plowshares'' emblem.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Official opposition to the East German peace movement is particularly ironic because:
* The East German government has lauded a similar pacifist campaign in West Germany.
* The ''swords into plowshares'' symbol is taken from a Soviet sculpture at the United Nations that bears the same biblical title.
Klaus Gysi, the East German state secretary for church affairs, has just informed the East German Lutheran Church that the emblem may no longer be worn in public because it is being misused by youths ''as a demonstration of an attitude hostile to the state and participation in an illegal political movement.''
The government decision reflects concern that the East German peace movement might get out of hand, following the candlelight peace vigil of several thousand young Lutherans in Dresden in February on the anniversary of the World War II bombing of Dresden.
The peace movement within East Germany is unacceptable to the government, even though it is small, because it is autonomous. This is too much for a party leadership that considers itself the legitimate originator of any political or semipolitical campaign.
The banning of the peace badge comes after several months of government ambivalence on peace activism by various Lutherans and writers in East Germany.
For several months after the badge began appearing at year's end, the East German government hesitated to ban it formally, even though police in East Berlin and some other cities did force wearers of the emblem to remove it, according to East German sources.
The government has mounted an energetic campaign in the schools and youth organizations against a religiously inspired peace movement. Colonels are touring schools, trying to inculcate the proper martial attitude in East Germany's youth. The Free German Youth organization conducted an especially intensive campaign in March under the slogan ''peace must be armed.''
Actually, it was the introduction of compulsory military training for 9th and 10th graders in 1978 that sparked a peace initiative within the East German Lutheran Church. The training program (later expanded to include the 11th grade) has now been codified in the new military service law, along with conscription of women in an emergency.
Five of the eight regional Lutheran synods regretted this ''militarization'' of East Germany and the accompanying ''image of the enemy'' that is impressed on schoolchildren in an effort to ensure that in any war East German draftees could be relied on to shoot West Germans.
Various pastors have supported efforts by Christian teen-agers to be exempt from military drills on grounds of conscience -- and have called for an alternative social peace service for conscientious objectors to the draft. In addition, the Mecklenburg and Saxon synods have criticized civil defense exercises held late last year as ''making the danger of nuclear war appear harmless.''
Following the end-of-March ban on the ''swords into plowshares'' emblem, the evangelical synod of Saxony termed government suspicion of those wearing the badge a false insinuation. The synod called the government action a ''very grave error'' and deplored threats that anyone wearing the badge would jeopardize future school, apprenticeship, and work opportunities. At the same time the synod somberly warned youths that it was no longer in a position to protect them on this issue.
In its condemnation of autonomous peace movements, the East German government has not reacted as harshly to last December's East-West writers meeting on peace as it has to the Lutherans. The East Berlin meeting, initiated by East German writer Stephan Hermlin and subsequently officially endorsed, convened the day after the surprise declaration of martial law in Poland. Some of the West German writers present condemned repression in Poland, and some of the East German writers condemned the Soviet SS-20 missile as well as NATO's planned Pershing and cruise missiles.
The official East German way of coping with this was to block public access to the meeting, delete criticism of the Soviet bloc from news media coverage, and -- in the past few weeks -- to print the proceedings only for very limited distribution.
Perhaps echoing East Germany's hard line on the peace movement issue is the fact that border guards are now publicly authorized to shoot East Germans trying to flee the country.
The policy of shooting persons fleeing the country is not new, of course. Codification of the policy in military law just passed by the East German parliament is new. And it spurred West German government spokesman Kurt Becker to assert that East-West German relations can never be normal so long as East Germany's ''inhumane border installations'' remain.
The mined fields, automatic-firing devices, police dogs, and sharpshooters along the East German border, as well as the bizarre wall bisecting the city of Berlin, are familiar to every German. The order to shoot any East German trying to flee to the West has already lead to 186 known deaths on the East-West German frontier.