Where Perestroika Is Verboten
IT'S an aggravation for Mikhail Gorbachev. His showcase partner in the East Bloc, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), wants nothing to do with glasnost and perestroika. Instead of pursuing openness in the press, for instance, it bans Sputnik, a popular Soviet magazine. And when it comes to economic restructuring, its response is, in effect, ``We've done it already.''
These reactions have to do with the GDR's unique position and history in the East Bloc.
Even with a decaying infrastructure, increasing problems with product quality in its factories, and slipping exports, East Germany is still the economic powerhouse behind the iron curtain. Its claimed 4 percent annual growth in production of goods is strong by any standards.
The East Germans are saying that ``if Gorbachev can achieve what we achieved 10 years ago, he can congratulate himself,'' said West Berlin Prof. Friedrich-Wilhelm Baer-Kaupert at a December conference sponsored by the European Academy.
The GDR began its economic reforms in the early '70s. It reorganized manufacturing into groups called kombinats, which specialize in certain product areas. Theoretically, they are responsible for their own production, investment, and earnings - in the framework of profit and production targets set by the state.
One of these kombinats, called Zeiss, is devoted solely to high tech. It recently developed and tested a one-megabit computer chip. Five firms in Japan and Siemens in West Germany are the only producers of these chips for the world market, according to Wolfgang Stinglwagner, an expert on East German trade.
When it comes to press freedoms and other forms of glasnost, however, the East German government is far behind the Soviet Union. (Though with West German TV beaming across the border, the population is nevertheless well informed.)
The Sputnik ban came in November. The magazine, in drawing parallels between Hitler and Stalin, simply went too far in its de-Stalinization for the comfort of East German officials. In GDR dogma, Stalin and his ``deliverance'' of Germans from the fascist Nazis are sacred.
In the freedom of its own press, the GDR also trails the Soviet Union. Neues Deutschland, the official party paper, exists on a steady diet of word-for-word speeches by party dignitaries and congratulatory remarks on new apartment building construction.
Unlike Mr. Gorbachev, Erich Honecker, the 76-year-old leader of the GDR, can hardly point to the old guard and say, ``I've got a better way.'' He is the old guard, along with his Politburo, where the average age is 66.5 years.
But even time and a younger Politburo may not be able to overturn the heavy ideology in East Germany.
While the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries can hang on to their nationalism if their political and economic systems change, it is the system itself that defines the GDR. Without socialism, or more realistically, with modified socialism, the Russians are still Russia, the Hungarians are still Hungary, the Poles are still Poland.
But without socialist ideology, the East Germans are what ... West Germany? The whole idea smells too much like reunification for Mr. Honecker.
The GDR ``authorities have no legitimacy and so they make socialism the legitimacy'' for the existence of the state, says Dr. Marlies Jansen, the chief political analyst at the Ministry for Intra-German Relations in Bonn. ``Socialism has become the identity of East Germany.''
The task for Honecker then is to control the dissatisfaction that builds up when the East Germans compare what they could have (as seen on West German TV) with what they do have. He does this by opening a few valves: more permits to visit West Germany, cabaret acts that criticize everything except the general secretary himself, the preservation of other parties - no matter how meaningless and small.
But the basics of socialism won't change. For a long time to come there will be guaranteed jobs, central economic planning, subsidies of rent and basic foodstuffs, and a strong party.
Even a member of the ``new generation'' of historians in the GDR says essentially the same thing. Dr. J"orn Sch"utrumpf, at the Academy for the Sciences in East Berlin, admits that the GDR has a lot of problems to correct. But ``don't hope in the West that we will come up with something that is an absolute structural change.''