12 December 2009

Ten years before the changes ..

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the decision at the NATO meeting at which the western Alliance agreed its "dual track decision" which threatened the deployment of additional nuclear arms from 1983 onwards in the event that the stationing of SS-20 missiles had not stopped by that time. This was both a symptom and a cause of the tension between East and West. In the GDR this was reflected in the militarisation of education and that would find another episode later in December 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up an unpopular government having difficulties in stemming an insurgency. To mark the anniversary, a conference has been held in Rome on “The Euromissiles Crisis and the End of the Cold War". Among other things, the conference has attempted to:
explore the impact of the crisis on the evolution of the Cold War as a whole, and possibly on its winding down. Did the deployment of the missiles, as the so-called Reagan victory school has been arguing, really contribute to the Soviet strategic defeat and to the Western “victory”, thanks to its superior economic, political, and strategic cohesion? Did it facilitate the emergence of those factors which would help overcome the East-West division throughout all European societies, by promoting a new level of civic awareness, raising a new consciousness across Europe of the dangers of the Cold War, and indirectly linking for the first time Western peace activists with Eastern dissent? Or did it actually prolong the Cold War, as some other historians have argued, by forcing upon an already dying bipolar international system a new round of rearmament and military expenditures that actually helped –at least for a few years– the survival of the Soviet system by offering the Soviet leaders a pretext to mobilize its last resources and call its public opinion to arms to defend the motherland against this renewed imperialist challenge?
In other words, the Euromissiles crisis has to be seen in the wider context of the militarisation of East-West relations that followed the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. In the German Democratic Republic, this was reflected in an increasing internal militarisation of society through which the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) sought to reinforce control over public life, witnessed for example in the 1978 decision on pre-military education in schools. At the same time, the SED used the discourse of peace (understood as opposition to Western military policies such as the US plans for a Neutron Bomb) as an ideological justification for such internal militarisation.

The effect of the twin-track decision of December 1979 could be seen, at one level, as creating a new justification for this dialectic of peace rhetoric and internal militarisation. Equally, if not more important, however, was that the decision spawned a new type of transnational social protest. This helped to promote a collective movement identity both ‘temporally’, by allowing individual protest events to be perceived as components of a longer lasting action, and ‘transversally’, by helping those who were engaged to feel linked ‘by ties of solidarity and ideal communion with protagonists of other analogous mobilisations’ (Della Porta/Diani 1999: 8). This transnational social protest transcended narrowly political opposition to previous political campaigns for disarmament, reaching out to previously unmobilised sectors of society.

In the GDR, opposition to the internal militarisation of society had come not least from within churches, and not least because of the existence of a cadre of Protestant pastors with a strong anti-militarist attitude due to their personal refusal to carry arms in the National People's Army. The transnational social protest movement created by the 1979 "twin track" decision offered a wider framework within which campaigns against militarisation of GDR society could be placed, and for more thoroughgoing political demands. At the same time, this mobilisation represented an ideological challenge to the SED's use of the discourse of peace, and created a basis for links between opposition to militarisation and other forms of dissent. An important factor in this development of political dissent was the attempt by activists in the GDR to build links with movements in other European countries, both to the West, as with the "personal peace treaties" between GDR and Dutch peace activists, and to the East, as in the contacts between GDR peace activists and political dissent in Czechoslovakia.

Far from the 1987 Treaty of Washington marking an end in the GDR of the political crisis unleashed by the twin-track decision, the period from January 1988 to October 1989 was marked by a new stage in political mobilisation in the GDR and attempts by the SED not seen in previous years to suppress such dissent. This culminated in the 1989 "peaceful revolution" which drew both on the protest repertoires developed in opposition to the militarisation f society and the political demands that grew out of the transnational social protest movement unleashed by the Euromissiles decision.

Reference: Della Porta, D. and M. Diani 1999, Social Movements, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.


Post a Comment