E. Germans seal off nation and church from Poles

The East German Lutheran Church is being stung by East Berlin's backlash against Polish liberalization. The communist-Lutheran dialogue, which reached its heyday between March 1978 and this past October, has come to an abrupt halt.

The reason is clear: the East German government fears that its own citizens might try to emulate the Poles' example of an independent trade union and a powerful independent church.

East Germany, therefore, has moved to seal its citizens off from contact with Poles, to curb the extensive East-West German contacts that developed during the detente of the 1970s -- and to prevent the Lutheran Church from being a spokesman for social complaints.

Lutheran pastors still are promoting peace, requesting equal treatment for Christians at school and work, and seeking contacts with West German coreligionists. But the atmosphere in which they work today is totally different from that during the height of the party-church dialogue.

Then, Socialist Unity (Communist) Party chief Erich Honecker inaugurated the new era of greater religious tolerance. He promised equal treatment for all citizens. He appeared in prominent news photos with church leaders. Now, Premier Willi Stoph not only avoids such photos but also ducks out of a scheduled November meeting with church officials altogether.

Then, East and West German Lutheran leaders could issue a joint statement without offending the party. Now, censors have intervened for the first time in years to prevent church publications from reporting the East German synod's wish for more East-West German contacts and its criticism of East German media glorification of military maneuvers.

In January 1979, East German Lutherans could project reunification by 1981 of the East and West German churches, which were forced to split by the East German government in 1969. Now (November 1980) delegates of the East German Lutheran Church are prevented for the first time in a decade from even attending a routine conference of the West German synod.

As part of this pulling into its shell, the East German government in October doubled and in some cases quadrupled the compulsory minimum exchange rate for West Germans visiting East Germany, thus cutting the number of visitors in half and reducing trips by none too rich churchmen.

It blocked the East German Lutherans' participation in the West German synod in November, and also -- for the first time in years -- barred West German reporters from attending public conferences of regional East German synods.

East German Lutherans are quietly voicing their objections to the various new restrictions. Leaders' reports to regional synod conferences effectively called for an end to discrimination against Christians and again advocated peace in a way that party officials have been uncomfortable with.

Thus, the report to the synod in Saxony took exception to an increased stress in schools on building a "communist personality" (a goal that by party definition excludes belief in God). It hoped for implementation of the fall 1978 promise that pupils who decline to take part in obligatory military training on grounds of conscience will not be penalized.

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