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Interview with an East German Environmental Initiative in Schwerin (1980)

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Question: Environmental problems were among the subjects discussed at the council meeting of the Mecklenburg state church in the spring of 1980. A resolution stated that in the GDR it is necessary to speak about the possibilities and risks entailed by the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Is nuclear power a subject in your groups?

Answer: Yes, it’s a subject over which there is a lot of speculation, but unfortunately very little information is available, because up to now youths have had no access to scientific accounts. Some of us know which books are available in the FRG, for example, and these can help young people form an opinion about what and where the dangers really are. Here, however, many, many people just don’t have a clear idea. So it isn’t so easy to simply say we’re opposed to nuclear power or we’re for it. Most, or at least many, are for it because we simply need energy; that’s a very simple argument. Some church representatives are extremely worried about the whole thing. And there are some young people in the GDR who reject nuclear power for now or at the present stage, when it’s said that different power plants don’t have sufficient safety regulations. For instance, right now construction has been stopped at the new power plant being built along the Elbe. No one knows why, and nowhere is anything official said about it by the state. And so rumors start to spread among the youth about questions relating to nuclear power. We’re worried about the whole thing and people are talking about it. But the most important thing is that we don’t have any information about where the dangers are and what the problem is with nuclear energy and what effect it has on us.

Question: Another question pertains to the so-called alternative lifestyle, which is directly related to environmental issues and the future. To what extent are you concerned with this?

Answer: That’s another thing that we talk about, but as a whole only very few young people have really dealt with it. In our conceptions, an alternative lifestyle is marked primarily by an environmentally conscious approach to living. We have a very clear understanding of the alternative movement in the FRG, and we also know young people and young adults who are trying to live that in the GDR. But we think that in the GDR these people are living in great isolation.

[ . . . ]

Question: How do the state authorities react to your environmental protection work? Do they welcome it? Are they suspicious of it?

Answer: What we don’t want – and that needs to be made very clear – is to become something comparable to the Greens in the Federal Republic, or to work in that direction. And still, people were initially very critical here. For us, the main thing was not to challenge the state politically, but to do something for the environment, and that’s why there been no major conflicts between state institutions and us. We ourselves are a self-supporting group; we have no full-time church staff. So we had to clarify that kind of question among ourselves or with the help of the church. The church supported us in these actions, but in the end we made all the preparations ourselves, and got involved on our own, so we had to deal with the consequences ourselves.

Source: “Es geht um mehr als Bäumepflanzen. Interview mit einer Schweriner Umweltinitiative” [“It’s about More than Planting Trees. Interview with an Environmental Initiative in Schwerin”], Kirche im Sozialismus, 1980, No. 5-6.

Translation: Allison Brown

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