Wednesday, March 16, 2005


"Zone" is a term that came up today in a conversation. It's not the first time it came up in a conversation. What does the word refer to? The Soviet occupied zone also known as the GDR. The term has been used in conversations by West Germans only. Interestingly enough by West Germans (in my experience) of different ages. However, it bothers me. It bothers me because it does not acknowledge that the GDR was an indeed existing country. By using the word "Zone" the GDR becomes a second class territory, not a full state. And what are the citizens of that zone then. It wouldn't be the first time East Germans are called zonies, which is rather derogatory.

However in my reality it is a state and only few would deny that for the 40 years it existed it was an independent state. A country that had its own flag, its own national anthem, its own army and made largely its own policy. Of course policy making was influenced by the Soviet Union, but no one would argue Poland was a zone, so why degrade the GDR to just a "zone".So aside from it being a derogatory term there is something else that irks me about it. Because it is not just me who acknowledges the GDR as a reality, as a state. As a state that has citizens who are/were loyal to it. A part of the civil rights movement was of a generation that grew up with the GDR being a reality and a united Germany being an idea of the past. In the same sense they constructed their initial demands for reform - as reform of that state. At the very beginning of the protest movement in 1989 reform was the priority not unification, unification made the agenda much later.

Now most of the people highly identified with the movement of back then have disappeared, but what about politicians of today that are of the same generation, how has the reality of two existing states shaped their loyalties? Are they more loyal to the region now because it is their country and has that affected their ambitions of being engaged in national politics? I am asking and wondering just based on two observations, interview statements made by Matthias Berger (mayor of Grimma) and Wolfgang Tiefensee (mayor of Leipzig). Both became nationally famous, Berger when the flood of 2002 hit Grimma and destroyed large parts of it and Tiefensee when he pushed the application of Leipzig as German Olympic candidate for the Summer Games 2012. Tiefensee declined calls for serving in the German cabinet following the 2002 national election and Berger said in an interview he is more concerned with solving the local problems of his town and not interested in being involved in national politics.

This raises the question whether or not underrepresentation of East Germans in national level elite positions is (at least in part) due to a lack of interest to be involved nationally. Aside from the fact that the national parties suffer from low participation by East Germans to begin with, could be the reason why we do not see more East Germans nationally because the elite is not interested in serving nationally and feel they are more useful getting involved on the local and state level?


melanie said...

When you say they have 'disappeared', where have they disappeared to? What happened to them in the post-unification purges of the GDR's intelligentsia?

Aufbau Ost said...

When I say they have disappeared it means that they either have withdrawn from active politics, have gone into state and local politics or hold positions that are not high-profile.

Heather said...

I come across the term "Zone" or "Ostzone" a lot in my work, but I'm dealing with the '50s so it's not so surprising. But I'm surprised to hear that rhetoric circulating today--how could someone be so naive or stubborn or just mean to use this term now? Of course, the unification process pretty much denied the sovereignty of the GDR, so maybe it's not so unusual to hear people talk about it this way.

I was going to add that using this kind of terminology now is silly, because it doesn't have any political weight, but that would be patently wrong. Distinguishing between east and west is clearly still important within German society...for better or worse.

Aufbau Ost said...

Heather, I am sure you come across it more often, it the 1950s I am very sure the division of Germany seemed much more unreal than the idea of a united one.
To hear it in younger people is probably a socialization effect - because their parents called it a zone, they call it a zone too.

Distinguishing between east and west is clearly still important within German society...for better or worse.

Right, just like we distinguish between women and men or just like in the US differences between African-Americans and White Americans still matter a lot.
The difference: The visible difference between East and West Germans is small/ non-existent, while their "mental" difference is constructed and a result of different socialization in different systems.

Henrik said...

When I was serving in the (British) Army in Berlin in 1980-83, there were a couple of usages which were unique. We and the Amis always referred to the BRD as "the Zone" (I guess a folk memory) and a certain sort of stuffy right-wing German would always refer to the GDR as either 'die "DDR" ' - in such a way that you could hear the inverted commas, or, pace Springer, as 'die SBZ'.

It was interesting as well to see the contrast on the Transitstrecke between "Transit Westberlin" and "Berlin Haputstadt der DDR".

I'm lucky enough to travel quite a lot and make a point of visiting Berlin at least twice a year and catching up with old mates and meeting new ones. Interesting in the last few years how many people, quite unprompted, have reflected on their percepting that the reunification was too much, too soon.