Anatomy of a Gut Feeling

The leadership of the GDR celebrated itself and its socialism, even in the face
of its collapse. Here a military parade on the national holiday, October 7, 1988.

JLH has translated an analysis of the similarities and differences between the twilight of the GDR and the (sepulchral) twilight of Angela Merkel’s regime. The translator includes this introductory note:

How similar is Merkel’s rule to the end of Honecker’s? Notice especially the reference to Gauck.

The translated article from Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung:

Anatomy of a Gut Feeling

by Wolfgang Kaufmann
February 24, 2018

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) died in 1989. It had been mortally ill since 1988. The Germany of 2018 exhibits remarkably similar symptoms of crisis.

“Annus mirabilis” is the name given to years in which epochal events rattle the course of history. 1989 was such a remarkable year, when the Wall fell and the communist regimes in the GDR and eastern Europe collapsed. Signs were already visible in 1988. Many people sensed that the old system was sick unto death. Thirty years later, this gut feeling is experiencing a renaissance. But are 1988 and 2018 really comparable?

Remarkable parallels catch the eye. For example, dealing with critical media. While graybeards Honecker and Riege banned the Soviet monthly journal Sputnik in November 1988, SPD Minister of Justice Heiko Maas now forces through a censorship law that will cut off annoying Internet critics of the system. Because, you see, the “class enemy” lurks everywhere — but now is called “right populist.” And is, as always, a suitable scapegoat for all the home-made failings in the country. If the GDR had sympathizers of the “Bonn Imperialists”[1] who were slowing the “triumphant march” of real socialism in the “first worker’s and peasant’s state on German soil,” there are presently critics of Europe-and-refugee policy who cause “bad feeling” in the country and endanger the “multiculti” togetherness.

And the enemy is not only within our borders, but also in the land of our erstwhile “big brother,” where he has even taken power. Which causes yet another déjà-vu. What the USA is now under Trump, that was once the USSR under Gorbachev. To say nothing of Hungary, which thirty years ago mutated into an irritant for the rulers in East Berlin because it tore one of the first holes in the Iron Curtain, and in the present day is criticized for its measures against illegal immigration.

Then, as now, people react to these things in two ways. Some withdraw into a private world and enjoy sports, music and such things that have nothing to do with politics. In 1988 there were, among other things, the Summer Olympics, the European soccer championship, concerts by touring Western stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Joe Cocker and Bryan Adams. In 2018, diversion from the sadness of everyday life is available from the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the soccer championship in Russia and various other events. There is everything from the RTL Jungle Camp [a trash TV format] to Helene Fischer’s tour and the excitement around whether the ill Schlager queen will be able to sing or not.

The other group suddenly turns political, and goes into the streets to protest against increasing impositions by the system. In 1988, it was the few dozen or hundred demonstrators who demanded “freedom for dissidents,” preservation of human rights or an end to censorship. In 2018, it is the followers of AfD and Pegida, but also citizens in cities like Cottbus or Kandel, who were never interested in politics, but are sick and tired of suffering from the spine-chilling practices of asylum-granting.

That, of course, triggers the security apparatus, which is no more hesitant to act under Merkel than under Honecker. To be sure, there is no ministry for state security as under Honecker, with 91,000 headquarters and 190,000 part-time spies watching over the “stability” of society, but the present-day phalanx of services allegedly intended to protect the “liberal, democratic constitutional order” in one way or another is also very impressive. There are actually more than forty various agencies at the federal and state level responsible for warding off “threats” from within or without. Adding the auxiliary agencies — except for undercover because no one knows how many there are — results in 7,500. That makes the Stasi look a little less monstrous.

But that does not mean that today’s guardians of the system could act any more effectively than the 1989 Mielke apparatus to prevent a revolution. The federal system of states makes common end effective action difficult. Institutional bureaucracy consistently promotes to leadership people distinguished above all by their incompetence.

Nonetheless, a mutinous, pan-German “Wende” will not necessarily take place this time, because there are serious differences in the situation. First, most Germans have it pretty good. Second, there is no longer much of a feeling of togetherness in society. A dog-eat-dog mentality and individualism dominate. Third — in contrast to 1989 — there is no “senior partner” that can provide orientation, and assist In helping the shattered state out of its rough patch after the “revolution.” Fourth, there is no moral authority which unites, encourages and simultaneously restrains the potential rebels, to prevent potential anarchy. In the GDR, the churches served this purpose.

At any rate, they have suffered extreme losses in respect and influence in the last three decades. Not to mention that the highest Christian office-holders now stand much more clearly on the side of the powerful. And fifth, the leftish establishment and the Antifa troops control violence-prone sympathizers who have fewer scruples about attacking “rightist dissidents” than Honecker’s National People’s Army and the combat groups of the worker class.

What was happening in the GDR in 1988:

January 17: 160 demonstrators in East Berlin demand freedom for dissidents — and end in prison.

February 13: ca. 100 people arrested in Dresden for calling for the preservation of human rights.
Spring/summer: Joachim Gauck [!], head of the convention of churches committee, stops a “church convention from the bottom up.” According to the Stasi protocols of May 9, 1988, the future Federal President declared: “Church convention… is for celebrating, not demonstrating.”

October 2: End of the Olympic Summer Games in Seoul. The GDR takes second place with 103 medals, behind the USSR and above the USA.

October 10: GDR security forces break up a protest march in East Berlin against the censoring of church newspapers.

November 21: The GDR leadership bans five Soviet films critical of Stalin.

December 2: Erich Honecker, at a meeting of the SED central committee, criticizes the reform policies in the USSR.


1.   Bonn was the capital of West Germany.

7 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Gut Feeling

  1. I believe ‘with 91,000 headquarters and…’ should read ‘with 91,000 (full-time) employees and…’.

  2. Zersetzung. Look it up on Wiki. Once the DDR signed the Helsinki Accords in the 70’s the brazenly open brutality of torture and prison were bad publicity. The Stasi police perfected the most chilling method of human control ever. They would literally drive opponents crazy, quietly spread lies and confusion guaranteed to destroy lives. Even sneak in and subtly rearrange a target’s furniture, steal trivial items etc. Those who perfected zersetzung which is a scientific term meaning ‘decomposition’ are still about and ready to go to work.

  3. Good article.

    Especially the analogy between Gorbachev and Trump is interesting to observe, with both men rowing against an all-powerful, destructive tendency of the establishment, and altering the course of history by their own decisions, although this only manifests in the international arena. Domestically, they belong to completely different segments of their respectice societies, but that’s a different story.

    There are still four other factors that make a Wende (change) harder this time.
    To begin with, the changes happening in the GDR in 1989 were already preceded by similar developments in Poland, Czechoslovakia (still one state) and Hungary.
    So far the analogue holds strikingly well with today’s situation, but the GDR was a small state compared to Poland, while the united Germany of today is much more powerful than the Visegrad countries combined, which makes it almost impossible for them to drag Germany along in the current of the time.

    Secondly, there is an EU, backed up by most Western-European goverments, which forms an etra obstacle to tackle. It’s only thanks to Trump that we for now do not need to fear NATO going against the very people and nations it was meant to defend.

    Thirdly, in connection to points already mentioned by Wolfgang Kaufmann, the national German culture was still intact in the GDR and even cultivated. It was only “cleaned” from so-called “fascist” elements. In contemporary Germany, German cultur as such is being slandered and demonised -by the official government and media!- as being “fascist”, “old-fashioned”, “boring” etc. One ma wonder how this daily propaganda affects the thoughts and feelings of people, when having been eposed to these lies since young a age.

    And last, most important: in 1989, the GDR was still mostly inhabited by ethnic Germans, and the few foreigners who lived there posed no cultural, demographic or security problem. The same was true for almost al (now post-)communist countries.
    How different is this situatien today, not only in Germany, but in the entite West with the positive eception of -ironically- the countries in Central- and Eastern Europe who used to be communist-ruled in the past.

  4. There’s another difference. The left can mobilize Islamist forces within the country. They are outside state control, but will engage in a (temporary) alliance with the left.

    • Yup. Back in the day (1980’s) the enemy and ally was clear: the enemy is the communist regime with its always-right party at the helm, the ally is the Western world.

      Now things are different – albeit many of the mentioned signs are showing, and quite some parallels can be found, that clear of “us vs. them” is not here. “Them” is one nebulous force of the coming conflict: it is the left in all its shades, the green, the academia, mass media, antifa, social network owners with their censorship … a very diverse picture of “our” adversaries.

      I feel the astonishing irony of the above picture from 1988 compared to Merkel’s n-th term as the Kanzlerin. Those fools must have known in 1988 that their days were numbered … yet the grandstanding, the pose, the denial, the repression, the censorship.

      Historia magistra vitae est.

  5. Complain all you like about the authoritarian behavior of the Merkel government, the truth is that she was put in power by the German people and has retained power because they refuse to throw her out.

    East Germany, then, was a dictatorship. (Reunited) Germany, now, is a democracy. In a democracy, the majority of the people gets the government they deserve.

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