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Normalisation Across Borders: Official Cooperation and Contacts between East Germany and Czechoslovakia, 1969–1980

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Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe in the Era of Normalisation, 1969–1989
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Abstract

Taking East Germany as an example, this chapter examines what normalisation looked like across borders and how it helped to achieve stabilisation in neighbouring communist regimes in the 1970s. For the GDR’s pro-Moscow leadership and its internal security services, Husák’s Czechoslovakia quickly became an important partner in the quest to improve border protection, ideological unity and defence preparedness in the face of what was perceived to be the continued threat from capitalist West Germany and its NATO allies. After the bilateral agreement on visa-free travel for ordinary citizens in mid-January 1972, the normalised Czechoslovak system also provided reliable opportunities for youth tourism and teacher exchanges. By 1980, Poland, not the ČSSR, was clearly identified in East Berlin as the ‘enemy within’ inside the Soviet bloc.

I would like to thank Peter Grieder for his useful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Garton Ash’s time in East Germany, during which the Stasi identified him as an ‘object’ of special interest, is documented in his book The File: A Personal History (London, 1997).

  2. 2.

    C. Trosiak, ‘Die Grenzöffnung von 1972’, in H. Schultz (ed.), Grenzen im Ostblock und ihre Überwindung (Berlin, 2001), pp. 147–63.

  3. 3.

    I. I. Kavass and J. P. Granier (eds), Human Rights, the Helsinki Accords, and the United States: Semiannual reports by the President to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Buffalo, NY, 1982), p. 40. See also J. C. Torpey, Intellectuals, Socialism, and Dissent: The East German Opposition and Its Legacy (Minneapolis, MN, 1995), p. 83.

  4. 4.

    T. Garton Ash, “Und willst du nicht mein Bruder sein…”: Die DDR heute (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1981), pp. 188–9.

  5. 5.

    For an (admittedly) post-1989 example, which nonetheless is written in the style of older, Cold War-era publications, see W. Sikorksi and R. Laabs, Checkpoint Charlie and the Wall: A Divided People Rebel, trans. by George Bailey (= American journalist and former director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) (Berlin, 1998) [1997], esp. the timeline on pp. 145–8.

  6. 6.

    On travel from the GDR to Poland in the 1950s, which was restricted to officially staged tours only, see K. Ruchniewicz, ‘“Wer das heutige Polen bereist, kann eigentlich berichten, was er will”: Reisen von Deutschen nach Polen in den 1950er Jahren’, in J. Kochanowski and J. von Puttkamer (eds), 1956: (Nieco) inne spojrzenie / Eine (etwas) andere Perspektive (Warsaw, 2016), pp. 305–31.

  7. 7.

    P. Betts, Within Walls: Private Life in the German Democratic Republic (Oxford, 2010).

  8. 8.

    Torpey, Intellectuals, Socialism, and Dissent, p. 83. See also M. Allinson, ‘1977: The GDR’s Most Normal Year?’, in M. Fulbrook (ed.), Power and Society in the GDR: The ‘Normalisation of Rule’? (New York and Oxford, 2009), pp. 253–77 (here pp. 254 and 266).

  9. 9.

    Garton Ash, “Und willst du nicht…”, p. 204.

  10. 10.

    Garton Ash, The File, p. 12.

  11. 11.

    S. Wolle, Die heile Welt der Diktatur: Alltag und Herrschaft in der DDR 1971–1989 (Bonn, 1998), p. 86.

  12. 12.

    Torpey, Intellectuals, Socialism, and Dissent, p. 64.

  13. 13.

    See, for instance, Fulbrook (ed.), Power and Society in the GDR. As many of the contributors to Fulbrook’s volume nonetheless stress, seeking answers to the question of how, when and whether SED rule was ‘normalised’ does not mean to imply that it was ever accepted as ‘normal’ by the majority of ordinary East Germans.

  14. 14.

    Allinson, ‘1977’, pp. 254 and 276. My italics.

  15. 15.

    H. Schultz, ‘Von der Nachkriegsordnung zur postsozialistischen Staatenwelt’, in Schultz (ed.), Grenzen im Ostblock, pp. 11–35 (here p. 22).

  16. 16.

    Wolle, Die heile Welt, p. 93. In 1974–1975 the travel agency Jugendtourist, run by the state youth organisation, also identified price increases in other socialist countries as a potential barrier to the planned growth in the number of young East Germans making educational trips abroad for the period 1976–1980. See Information über vorliegende bzw. angekündigte Preiserhöhungen im Jugendtouristenaustausch durch Partnerbüros in sozialistischen Ländern und die sich daraus ergebenden Konsequenzen, n.d. [1974/75], in Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der ehemaligen DDR im Bundesarchiv Berlin (henceforth SAPMO-BArch), DC 4/1925.

  17. 17.

    I.-S. Kowalczuk, Endspiel: Die Revolution von 1989 in der DDR (Munich, 2009), p. 383. Even so, the restrictions imposed on 3 October 1989 were lifted again on 1 November—see ibid., p. 453.

  18. 18.

    See here J. Palmowski, Inventing a Socialist Nation: Heimat and the Politics of Everyday Life in the GDR (Cambridge, 2009), esp. p. 116. Also A. L. Nothnagle, Building the East German Myth: Historical Mythology and Youth Propaganda in the GDR, 1945–1989 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1999).

  19. 19.

    Garton Ash, “Und willst du nicht…”, pp. 102–3.

  20. 20.

    T. Garton Ash, In Europe’s Name: Germany and the Divided Continent (London, 1993), pp. 185–96.

  21. 21.

    T. Lindenberger, ‘Divided, but not Disconnected: Germany as a Border Region of the Cold War’, in T. Hochscherf, C. Laucht and A. Plowman (eds), Divided, but not Disconnected: German Experiences of the Cold War (Oxford and New York, 2010), pp. 11–33.

  22. 22.

    On generational aspects or ‘collective biography’, see D. Wierling, ‘How do the 1929ers and the 1949ers differ?’, in Fulbrook (ed.), Power and Society in the GDR, pp. 204–19; and for an example of personal life-story writing, see R. Kuczynski, Wall Flower: A Life on the German Border, trans. by A. J. Steinhoff (Toronto, 2015) [1999]. For fantasy-fiction, see P. Schneider, The Wall Jumper, trans. by L. Hafrey (London, 2005) [1982].

  23. 23.

    M. Thomas, ‘“Aggression in Felt Slippers”: Normalisation and the Ideological Struggle in the Context of Détente and Ostpolitik’ in Fulbrook (ed.), Power and Society in the GDR, pp. 33–51 (here p. 34).

  24. 24.

    Ibid., p. 43.

  25. 25.

    M. E. Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Détente, and Ostpolitik, 1969–1973 (Chapel Hill, NC and London, 2001).

  26. 26.

    Wolle, Die heile Welt, p. 61.

  27. 27.

    U.S. State Department, Countries of the World and their Leaders in 1975 (Detroit, MI, 1976), p. 433

  28. 28.

    Idem., Countries of the World and their Leaders in 1981 (Detroit, MI, 1983), p. 527.

  29. 29.

    M. Judt (ed.), DDR-Geschichte in Dokumenten: Beschlüsse, Berichte, interne Materialien und Alltagszeugnisse (Berlin, 1997), p. 509.

  30. 30.

    P. Ahonen, Death at the Berlin Wall (Oxford, 2010), pp. 173–5.

  31. 31.

    P. Major, Behind the Berlin Wall: East Germany and the Frontiers of Power (Oxford, 2010), p. 231.

  32. 32.

    Thomas, ‘“Aggression in Felt Slippers”’, p. 35. See also P. Grieder, The East German Leadership, 1946–73: Conflict and Crisis (Manchester, 1999), p. 171.

  33. 33.

    Thomas, ‘“Aggression in Felt Slippers”’, pp. 47–50.

  34. 34.

    A. Mihr, Amnesty International in der DDR: Der Einsatz für Menschenrechte im Visier der Stasi (Berlin, 2002); R. Brauckmann, Amnesty International als Feindobjekt der DDR (Berlin, 1996).

  35. 35.

    Judt (ed.), DDR-Geschichte in Dokumenten, p. 524. See also C. C. Low, ‘Détente, Recognition, and Citizenship: The Case of East Germany’, Region: Regional Studies of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, vol. 4, no. 2 (2015), pp. 265–89 (here esp. pp. 283–4).

  36. 36.

    Garton Ash, The File, p. 59.

  37. 37.

    Wolle, Die heile Welt, p. 64.

  38. 38.

    I. Merkel, ‘The GDR—A Normal Country in the Centre of Europe’, in Fulbrook (ed.), Power and Society in the GDR, pp. 194–203 (here esp. pp. 198–9).

  39. 39.

    Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil, pp. 46–54.

  40. 40.

    For an example of the more sceptical view, that de facto recognition of the GDR would make things worse, see the letter from an East German woman who escaped to West Germany via Prague in February 1968 to her parents, 24 March 1970, as seized by the Stasi, in Bundesbeauftragter für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (henceforth BStU), MfS, Archiv der Zentralstelle, Abt. X, Nr. 2411, Bl. 202–3.

  41. 41.

    H. A. Winkler, Germany: The Long Road West. Vol. 2: 1933–1990, trans. by A. J. Sager (Oxford, 2007) [2000], p. 305.

  42. 42.

    See, for instance, Informationsbericht über eine Reise in die CSSR vom 17.08 bis 19.08.1968, 21 August 1968, in BStU, MfS, Bezirksverwaltung Magdeburg, AS 7/73, Bd. 7, Bl. 4–6; and individual files on escapes/attempted escapes during (and after) 1968 in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2008 and 2411.

  43. 43.

    M. Tantzscher (ed.), Maßnahme ‘Donau’ und Einsatz ‘Genesung’: Die Niederschlagung des Prager Frühlings 1968/9 im Spiegel der MfS-Akten, 2nd edn (Berlin, 1998), p. 16.

  44. 44.

    Bezirksleitung für Staatssicherheit Karl-Marx-Stadt, Stellvertreter Operativ, to Comrade Damm, director of Department X, 3 June 1970, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2413, Bl. 161–2.

  45. 45.

    Ibid.

  46. 46.

    Main Department XX to Department X, 28 January 1970, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2393, Bl. 44.

  47. 47.

    Dorfmeister, Operativgruppe CSSR, Prague, 16 March 1970, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2413, Bl. 31.

  48. 48.

    Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil, pp. 21–3.

  49. 49.

    Department X was in charge of ‘liaison to other Eastern bloc security services’. See M. Dennis, The Stasi: Myth and Reality (London, 2003), p. 54.

  50. 50.

    Damm to Mielke, 21 July 1969, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 1747, Bl. 1–6.

  51. 51.

    Damm, ‘Notiz über Dienstreise nach Prag vom 12.4.–15.4.1971’, 20 April 1971, in ibid., Bl. 7–12.

  52. 52.

    ‘Erklärung der ideologischen Kommission der Revolutionären Sozialistischen Partei’, August 1969, received 6 August 1971, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2395, Bl. 39–52. On the Revolutionary Socialist Party, see also T. S. Brown, Sixties Europe (Cambridge, 2020), pp. 146–7.

  53. 53.

    Damm, ‘Notiz über Besprechung zwischen Genossen MIELKE und Genossen KASKA am 14.1.1972’, 25 January 1972, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 1747, Bl. 23.

  54. 54.

    Bezirksleitung für Staatssicherheit Karl-Marx-Stadt, Stellvertreter Operativ, to Comrade Damm, Department X, 3 June 1970, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2413, Bl. 161–2.

  55. 55.

    Ibid.

  56. 56.

    P. Springer, Der Blick der Staatssicherheit: Fotografien aus dem Archiv des MfS (Dresden, 2020), pp. 176–7.

  57. 57.

    Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil, p. 98.

  58. 58.

    An uncensored Polish version of The Tin Drum, published in 1979 by the Independent Publishing House (Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza) in Warsaw under the title Blaszany bębenek, can be found in the British Library, St. Pancras, London. By contrast, the novel was only licenced for publication in the GDR in 1987. See V. Hage, ‘Kein Respekt’, Die Zeit, 18 September 1987, at https://www.zeit.de/1987/39/kein-respekt (last accessed 5 August 2021).

  59. 59.

    Autorenkollektiv, DDR-VRP: Bündnis und Zusammenarbeit (East Berlin, 1974), pp. 223, 226 and 231.

  60. 60.

    Wolle, Die heile Welt, pp. 93–4.

  61. 61.

    Amt für Jugendtouristik, ‘Erfahrungen aus dem visafreien Verkehr zwischen der VR Polen, der CSSR und der DDR’, 11 December 1973, in SAPMO-BArch, DC 4/1925.

  62. 62.

    Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil, p. 175.

  63. 63.

    S. Wolle, Der Traum von der Revolte: Die DDR 1968 (Berlin, 2008), p. 208.

  64. 64.

    V. V. Kusin, From Dubček to Charter 77: A Study of ‘Normalisation’ in Czechoslovakia, 1968–1978 (Edinburgh, 1978), p. 140.

  65. 65.

    K. McDermott and K. Pinerová, ‘The Rehabilitation Process in Czechoslovakia: Party and Popular Responses’, in K. McDermott and M. Stibbe (eds), De-Stalinising Eastern Europe: The Rehabilitation of Stalin’s Victims after 1953 (London, 2015), pp. 109–31 (here p. 117).

  66. 66.

    B. Balint, Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy (New York and London, 2018), p. 171.

  67. 67.

    Autorenkollektiv, Grundlagen der marxistisch-leninistischen Kulturtheorie (East Berlin, 1979), p. 93.

  68. 68.

    A. Rudhart, Twentieth-Century Europe (Philadelphia, PA, 1975), p. 414.

  69. 69.

    E. Mielke, Referat für Kreisleitungssitzung, originally planned for 29 November 1968, postponed until 12 December 1968, in BStU, MfS, SED-KL 3099, Bl. 77–220.

  70. 70.

    Grieder, The East German Leadership, pp. 160–70.

  71. 71.

    Autorenkollektiv, Grundlagen der marxistisch-leninistischen Kulturtheorie, p. 93.

  72. 72.

    Wierling, ‘How do the 1929ers and the 1949ers differ?’, p. 213.

  73. 73.

    G. Rose, ‘Modernisierungstheorien und bürgerliche Geschichtsschreibung’, in Akakemie für Gesellschaftswissenschaften beim ZK der SED (ed.), Zur theoretisch-methodologischen Analyse und historiographischen Umsetzung bürgerlicher Modernisierungstheorien: Materialen der 4. Tagung der Fachkommission “Theorie, Methodologie und Geschichte der Geschichtswissenschaft” der Historiker-Gesellschaft der DDR am 26. März 1981 in Berlin (East Berlin, 1982), pp. 7–39 (here p. 13).

  74. 74.

    Ibid., pp. 13–14.

  75. 75.

    N. Khoo, Collateral Damage: Sino-Soviet Rivalry and the Termination of the Sino-Vietnamese Alliance (New York, 2011), p. 48.

  76. 76.

    B. Schaefer, ‘Sino-West German Relations in the Mao Era’, Cold War International History Project, 3 November 2014, at https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/sino-west-german-relations-during-the-mao-era (last accessed 5 August 2021).

  77. 77.

    Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil, pp. 144 and 159.

  78. 78.

    I. Kovalenko and R. Tuzmukhamedov, The Non-Aligned Movement: The Soviet View (New Delhi, 1987), p. 64.

  79. 79.

    The above quotations are all taken from Amt für Jugendfragen, ‘Programm für die Weiterentwicklung der Jugendtouristik der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik in den Jahren 1974/75’, 2 May 1974, in SAPMO-BArch, DC 4/1925. Ernst Thälmann was leader of the German Communist Party (KPD) from 1925–1933. He was arrested shortly after the Nazis came to power and was murdered in Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944.

  80. 80.

    M. Stibbe, ‘Ideological Offensive: The East German Leadership, the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact Invasion of August 1968’, in K. McDermott and M. Stibbe (eds), Eastern Europe in 1968: Responses to the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact Invasion (London, 2018), pp. 97–123 (here pp. 108–10)

  81. 81.

    See, for example, C. Jordan, Kaderschmiede Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin: Aufbegehren, Säuberungen und Militarisierung 1945–1989 (Berlin, 2001), esp. pp. 178–82; and A. Saunders, Honecker’s Children: Youth and Patriotism in East(ern) Germany, 1979–2002 (Manchester, 2007), esp. pp. 31–45.

  82. 82.

    See, for instance, Bericht über die Entwicklung der staatssicherheitlichen Situation in der CSSR nach dem August 1969, StB document translated into German, 26 January 1970, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 2212, Bl. 39–67.

  83. 83.

    ‘Einschätzung der Zusammenarbeit des Ministeriums für Volksbildung der DDR mit den Ministerien für Schulwesen der CSSR’, 13 January 1977, in SAPMO-BArch, DY 30/IV B 2/9.05/70.

  84. 84.

    All the above quotes are taken from ‘Information über die Reise einer Delegation der Abteilung Volksbildung des ZK der SED in die CSSR vom 5.–9.6.1978’, n.d., in ibid.

  85. 85.

    Jordan, Kaderschmiede Humboldt-Universität, pp. 182–5.

  86. 86.

    Saunders, Honecker’s Children, pp. 18 and 60. See also I. Geipel, Schöner Neuer Himmel: Aus dem Militärlabor des Ostens (Stuttgart, 2022), pp. 31–2.

  87. 87.

    Jugendamt der FDGB, ‘Vorlage an die Kommission für Ausreisen in das sozialistische Ausland. Betr. Aureise zur Teilnahme an der Tagung der Jugendkommission des WGB vom 5.2.–8.2.1979 in Prag’, in SAPMO-BArch, DY 34/6969.

  88. 88.

    P. Grieder, The German Democratic Republic (Basingstoke, 2012), pp. 78 and 120–1.

  89. 89.

    Autorenkollektiv, DDR-ČSSR: Sozialistische Zusammenarbeit (East Berlin, 1978), p. 191.

  90. 90.

    R. Grosse, Mordshochhaus: Ein Berlin-Krimi, 2nd edn (Berlin, 2016) [2015], pp. 72–3.

  91. 91.

    Wierling, ‘How do the 1929ers and the 1949ers differ?’, p. 209.

  92. 92.

    Sarotte, Dealing with the Devil, p. 89.

  93. 93.

    Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, ‘Information über den Reiseverkehr zwischen der DDR und der CSSR’, 17 January 1972, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 1747, Bl. 20–2 (here Bl. 20).

  94. 94.

    Saunders, Honecker’s Children, p. 84.

  95. 95.

    Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, ‘Information über den Reiseverkehr’ (as note 93), Bl. 22.

  96. 96.

    Trosiak, ‘Die Grenzöffnung von 1972’, p. 153.

  97. 97.

    Damm, ‘Notiz über Dienstreise nach Prag vom 12.4.–15.4.1971’, 20 April 1971, in BStU, MfS, Abt. X, Nr. 1747, Bl. 7–12 (here Bl. 11).

  98. 98.

    Damm, ‘Notiz über Dienstreise nach Prag, 22.–24.9.1971’, n.d., in ibid., Bl. 13–16 (here Bl. 14). See also Damm, ‘Notiz über Besprechung zwischen Genossen MIELKE und Genossen KASKA am 14.1.1972’, 25 January 1972, in ibid., Bl. 23.

  99. 99.

    On Milewski’s role in 1980–1981 and reactions in the GDR, see A. Kemp-Welch, Poland under Communism: A Cold War History (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 265 and 281.

  100. 100.

    Saunders, Honecker’s Children, p. 82.

  101. 101.

    See also Trosiak, ‘Die Grenzöffnung von 1972’, p. 152.

  102. 102.

    On the relaxation of visa restrictions for Poles travelling to West Berlin in the late 1970s and early 1980s, see K. Grote and G. Staroste, ‘Das polnische Berlin’, in E. Babayan et al. (eds), Europa an der Grenze: Ost Odra, West Oder (Münster, 2003), pp. 149–57 (here p. 150); and W. Rott, Die Insel: Eine Geschichte West-Berlins 1948–1990 (Munich, 2009), pp. 404–5.

  103. 103.

    Winkler, Germany: The Long Road West, Vol. 2, p. 268.

  104. 104.

    The Czechoslovak side of Czech-GDR relations in the very earliest part of the normalisation era is usefully, albeit briefly, addressed in L. Prieß, V. Kural and M. Wilke, Die SED und der ‘Prager Frühling’ 1968: Politik gegen einen ‘Sozialismus mit menschlichem Antlitz’ (Berlin, 1996), pp. 265–72. However, nobody seems to have studied the period after 1970 in any depth, at least in a German or English-language study.

  105. 105.

    For a broader view, see the various contributions to M. Grant and B. Ziemann (eds), Understanding the Imaginary War: Culture, Thought and Nuclear Conflict, 1945–90 (Manchester, 2016); and E. Conze, M. Klimke and J. Varon (eds), Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear, and the Cold War of the 1980s (Cambridge, 2017).

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Stibbe, M. (2022). Normalisation Across Borders: Official Cooperation and Contacts between East Germany and Czechoslovakia, 1969–1980. In: McDermott, K., Stibbe, M. (eds) Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe in the Era of Normalisation, 1969–1989. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-98271-3_12

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