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

The expelled Jena dissident Roland Jahn explains to a leftist West Berlin newspaper the motives, activities, and hopes for the future of the East German peace movement, which sought to stop the nuclear arms race and to create space for political alternatives within the GDR.

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“Personally, I am not a Pacifist”

Why is the GDR bureaucracy so allergic to the autonomous peace movement that, as we saw in your case, it doesn’t even stop short of forced expulsion? The Peace Community [Friedensgemeinschaft] in Jena also supports the official government proposals. So where’s the problem for the GDR?

Jahn: The problem is that we don’t hold back, that we put our ideas into practice, delve into what takes place in daily life. And there we see the contradiction between the militarism in social life and the officially pronounced desire for peace. The state authorities think that this movement could produce something that calls the entire social structure into question. The system is set up in a way that disciplines people and takes away their right to make decisions, just like in the military: orders – obedience. There’s no democracy but rather a despotic militarism. And we’re turning against militarism, militarism all over the world, and so of course we start here at home, where we feel it every day, and we point it out. In doing so, we debunk the official peace pronouncements and thus become dangerous. Threats and restrictions are felt everywhere, but they don’t always express themselves outwardly. The movement itself is everywhere inside the people. But when someone breaks ranks publicly, more and more people find courage and suddenly realize how restricted they are, how little say they have, and they start to express themselves and resist things. This generates movement and the authorities want to counteract that. But it’s not that we’re protesting just for the sake of opposition. We simply want peaceful coexistence with respect for the individual and for human dignity, the kind of conditions under which an individual can develop fully.

What role does the church play for [all of] you?

The Protestant church in the GDR contributes significantly in that it gives autonomous peace work a chance to develop at all. Of course, there are lots of problems that go beyond the scope of the present conversation. But just a short remark: the conflicts we had in Jena led to our going public as a peace community, independent of state and church, for the first time.

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