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Young Christians Propose a "Social Peace Service" as an Alternative to Compulsory Military Duty (December 7, 1982)

Taking the peace propaganda of the SED at it face value, young Christians proposed a “social peace service” as an alternative to compulsory military service. They wanted to express their opposition to the arms race and the militarization of East German society while trying to initiate a political dialogue with the ruling party on a local level.

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A World without the Military – that Would Be an Alternative

In the spring of 1981, when three church workers from Dresden drafted a text demanding the introduction of civilian service as an alternative to military service in the GDR, they were probably unaware that they had provided the impetus to the most significant peace initiative in the GDR (both in terms of numbers and political impact) since the debate on military instruction in schools. Their demands were actually nothing new; time and again, young conscripts had written letters and petitions that criticized the options for unarmed military service in the National People’s Army as insufficient.

It was only in March [of this year] that the leadership of the [Protestant] state church of the province of Saxony considered a letter by students in Naumburg that “mentioned the possibility of a civilian alternative to military service in the context of the larger question of concrete steps toward promoting peace. This letter was forwarded to the Church Leadership Conference.”

The Dresden initiative differed from similar attempts in the 1960s and 1970s, however, in that it aimed from the outset at a broader public within the church. Up to that point, petitions by individuals or small groups had always ended up with the state authorities or the church leadership, without having had any tangible effect. The Social Peace Service [Sozialer Friedensdienst] Initiative, which quickly became known by its abbreviation SoFd, was set up differently, so that many people could lend their support to the initiative through signatures without it becoming the type of signature collection subject to authorization in the GDR. Also, it was not addressed to the church leadership or state agencies but was supposed to be sent to the synods that convene in the fall. They were supposed to take up the matter and forward it to the government.

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