Censorship in East Germany

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As with many Soviet-allied countries prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the government of the former German Democratic Republic (German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik) applied wide censorship during its existence from 1949 to 1990.

Provisions of the East German constitution[edit]

The original 1949 version of the East German constitution did not provide for censorship of the press, but did guarantee in article 9, section 2 that "censorship of the media is not to occur"[1]. This provision was removed in the 1968 revision of the document, and expanded to become article 27, reflecting the modernization of technology:

  • "Every citizen has the right to freely and publicly advance his or her opinion in accordance to the principles of the constitution."
  • "The freedom of press, broadcasting and television is warranted."

Despite this, both official and unofficial censorship occurred throughout the history of the GDR, although to a lessened extent during its later years. Because the GDR was effectively a one-party state under the command and guidance of the SED, the freedom of the press and other printing industries was at the will of the ruling party, the regime, and the ideological desires of the people in command.

Although this apparently contradicts the above provisions, the fact that expression had to be "in accordance with the principles of the constitution" allowed the government to call on issues such as national security, public decency, and other issues covered in national law in order to enforce censorship.

Implementations[edit]

All publications in the media, the arts, or culture were governmentally controlled. To ensure that the system of censorship was complete, potential publications had to pass through different instances of censorship. Two stages were the outer and the inner (governmental and SED party censorship) censorship.

Outer censorship[edit]

The outer censorship consisted of the pre-censorship of the publishing companies. The censor analyzed the manuscript in the aspect of the socialist ideology and recommended changes to the author if necessary. Afterwards the whole work was again analyzed for ideology hostile to the current governmental ideology by a committee of the publishing company.

Governmental censorship[edit]

This kind of censorship was done and supervised by two governmental organizations which supervised the censorship of literature. The first one has been the head office for publishing companies and bookselling trade (Hauptverwaltung Verlage und Buchhandel, HV), and the second one was the Bureau for Copyright (Büro für Urheberrechte).

The HV decided about the degree of censorship and the way of publishing and marketing the work. The Bureau for Copyright appraised the work, then decided if the book or another publication was allowed to be published in foreign countries as well as the GDR, or only in the GDR.

Censorship of the party SED[edit]

This censorship existed within all layers of the GDR. Every business and organisation was affected by it. Party members were in all institutions and held key positions (e.g. in the authors collective). Sometimes censorship was done directly by the Politbüro, especially if it did not fit to the ideology of the day.

Censorship in art and culture[edit]

All publishers, as well as all public venues and exhibitions of art and culture, were subject to censorship. Before a novel could be published or a play could be performed, it had to be submitted to censors for review.

Censored topics[edit]

Content which was considered harmful to the regime, or to communist ideologies in general, was strictly forbidden. The definition of what could be harmful included a number of different categories.

Most directly, criticism of communism was not tolerated. This included any criticisms of communism in general, as well as discussion of the current regimes of the GDR and the Soviet Union, and usually of other Soviet-allied states. It also included discussion of the Stasi's activities and methods. Similarly, ideas which were sympathetic of capitalism or fascism, which were seen as the two enemies of communism, were not allowed. Any idea which encouraged resistance to the government, such as conscientious objection, was not to be discussed.

Negative portrayals of the GDR were censored as well. This included criticisms and complaints about the standard of living and education in the country as well as calling attention to pollution and other problems of the industrial system. Republikflucht, or fleeing the GDR for West Germany or other countries, was not to be portrayed at all, nor was discussion of the Berlin Wall.

Lastly, the government enforced strict standards of decency. "Crude" topics, such as homosexuality and pornography, were to be avoided. Similarly, portrayals of any East German as "uncivilized", through extreme violence or delinquency, or the suggestion that East Germans might suffer from problems such as alcoholism or suicidal depression were also to be excluded.

In addition to censoring content, the government also reserved the right to disallow publication or exhibition on the basis of form. Anything not considered a "proper" form was barred. Disallowed forms and techniques included free verse poetry; internal monologue and stream of consciousness; nonsense or avant-garde; and abstract art.

Execution and consequences[edit]

Disobeying the rules for acceptable releases carried varying penalties. At the very least, the offending party would be warned and the material in question would not be published or exhibited. Bans from publishing or performing were also levied in order to keep the material from being released.

Punitive measures were also taken, including arrest or house arrest. Party members could be expelled from the SED, and visa requests were frequently denied to offenders. In the most extreme of circumstances, an offender could be deported, most often to West Germany.

Censorship and punishment, however, were not carried out uniformly. For example, if the creator was a party member of the SED, the work was offered more leniency. Furthermore, if the creator had been successful, their work was also more easily passed. If he or she had political relationships (either the "wrong" or "right" ones), the censorship process was affected as well. Finally, because many regulations were subjective or unclear, a censor who enjoyed a piece might afford it leniency where another would not. Very often, pieces banned in one area were allowed in others for this reason.

Many artists and authors tried to avoid conflicts from the outset, working hard to create works that fit into the guidelines. This phenomenon was called the "shear in the head"[citation needed]. Others took the omnipresence of censorship as a challenge. For them, it was stimulus to their creativity. These dissenters, known as "wrap artists", tried to avoid censorship with clever usage of artistic instruments like satire, irony, metaphor, or alienation to say the desired in a different and, for the censor, unrecognizable way, with mixed results.

Censorship in film[edit]

Censorship in journalism[edit]

Several times a week, press information was released from the public relations office. In this press information were guidelines for the press, and how to deal with up-to-date issues. Prescribed terminologies for press, broadcasting, and television were included. The public relation office was authorized to give instructions to the General German Press Agency (German: Allgemeine Deutsche Nachrichtenagentur).

Apprenticeships of journalists[edit]

Journalists were seen by the regime as functionaries of the party, not as independent reporters. The journalistic apprenticeship took place at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig, which had a special program for journalism. If a journalist finished the studies successfully, the journalist became a certified "socialistic journalist".

The selection of potential students was the business of the state. A national governmental pre-selection of candidates was done before the apprenticeship. Within the studies, journalists learned the socialistic ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Only candidates who were considered likely to work to uphold those ideals were certified.

Organization of journalists[edit]

In addition, attempts were made to collectivize journalists within the government. To be member of the Journalistic Collective (Verband der Journalisten der DDR, VDJ) provided advantages to the members, and made it possible to achieve better positions. Approximately 90 percent of certified journalists were organized within the VDJ. The VDJ journalist understood himself as a professional educator of other journalists.

The VDJ advised the students in the journalism program of the university in Leipzig. Ideologically, was it used to consolidate the idea of socialist journalism. The VDJ also operated its own school for journalism in Leipzig. This school provided advanced training courses. The school became very popular with aspiring journalists as a result of the possibility to make contacts through socializing with VDJ members.

Free journalists and participation of citizens[edit]

Amateurs participated in public press work beside the professional journalists. These untrained co-workers were called Volkskorrespondenten, "the people's correspondents". These reporters were honorary workers in press and broadcast, and special journalists of companies. Having worked as a Volkskorrespondent was looked upon favorably in applications for journalism apprenticeship. Those citizens who participated in the Volkskorrespondent program were more likely to receive admission to the journalism program in Leipzig.

Some independent journalists attempted to publish material critical of the government. This was normally unsuccessful, as all publications were censored. Continual or substantial transgressions made a journalist vulnerable to the same punishments as those levied against artists and publishers.

See also[edit]

Other Eastern Bloc states:

Literature[edit]

  • Barck, Simone et al.: The Fettered Media: Controlling Public Debate. In: Konrad Jarausch (ed.): Dictatorship as Experience. Towards a Socio-Historical History of the GDR. New York, NY Berghahn Books 2006 (reprint), pp. 213-240. [2]
  • Boyle, Maryellen. Capturing Journalism: Press and Politics in East Germany, 1945–1991. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, San Diego 1992.
  • Conley, Patrick. Der parteiliche Journalist. Berlin: Metropol, 2012. ISBN 978-3-86331-050-9 (author and book info on berliner-mauer.de)
  • Holzweissig, Gunter. Massenmedien in der DDR. 2nd ed. Berlin: Verlag Gebr. Holzapfel 1989. ISBN 3-921226-33-3
  • Holzweissig, Gunter. Zensur ohne Zensor: Die SED-Informationsdiktatur. Bonn: Bouvier 1997. ISBN 3-416-02675-6
  • Kloetzer, Silvia/Siegfried Lokatis. Criticism and censorship. Negotiating cabaret performance and book production. In: Konrad Jarausch (ed.): Dictatorship as Experience. Towards a Socio-Historical History of the GDR. New York, NY Berghahn Books 2006 (reprint), pp. 241-264.

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