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An Expelled East German Dissident Explains the Peace Movement (July 21, 1983)

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What effect did the events in Poland have on the GDR?

That was very complex. It generated a lot of hope, especially among the younger generation. A large segment of the peace movement sees itself as an alternative movement with respect to all aspects of society. The people are prepared to forego the normal path, careers, etc., simply because of the threat. Then that develops further into a drive to develop one’s own personality, which is only possible under democratic conditions. And any change in this direction is of course welcomed. Poland was like the GDR: elections results of 99 percent [for the Communist party]. And then suddenly the people learn to express themselves. That made a lot of people here optimistic and made it possible for people to feel hopeful for the GDR. On the other hand, of course, people saw that the GDR is not Poland. They are still doing well, in material terms, that is.

What will happen now in Jena? The Peace Community has lost a lot of its members.

There are enough people to continue the work. Although it is a community, and not an organization with a president, etc., there is still a structure there. We gave ourselves a concept. For us, peace is not the absence of war; rather, it is action that can be lived all the time in concrete situations. That also means trying to deal with the issues, having an effect on society. It’s not that we’re a bunch of people who just want to do spectacular things.

We began working in groups. Initially, the issue was the problem of militarism. Then came questions about its cause, where it started: in how we are raised and educated. So an education group formed. Then we asked ourselves: what else do we feel threatened by? Of course, the relationship between humanity and nature/the environment, so an ecology group formed. Then: many wound up in jail, were subjected to the arbitrariness of the state. They don’t know the laws, so a group formed and concerned itself with legal problems. Or we asked ourselves, are we alone in the GDR? There are groups like this all over, we have to build up contacts and exchange information. Everyone contributed whatever they could to our work. That included artistic work. For example, we worked a lot with different photo-techniques; we made postcards about peace and then sent them throughout the GDR.

All of that exists as before. Some people left, including some very significant individuals, but everything continues to exist. Even if we cannot determine quantitatively how many people belong to the peace movement, we know that there is something inside people, that the increasing arms build-up and militarization, the increasing violence by the state, and very concrete things like my expulsion make a difference. So people are looking for ways to work together to do something to oppose the threat. That’s how these communities will form, and new people will continue to find their way to them.

Source: Traude Ratsch, Interview with Roland Jahn: „Ich persönlich bin kein Pazifist“ [“Personally, I am not a Pacifist”], tageszeitung, July 21, 1983, p. 9.

Translation: Allison Brown

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