I am now hearing more and more often that the pressure that arises when one perceives that one’s own actions are not compatible with one’s own values, and which is reinforced by FridaysForFuture, is compared with the social pressure that was built up in the GDR. The Nazi party AfD is playing with this cleverly, and the Freie Wähler are also campaigning against fear-mongers.
This blog post is intended to show why the comparison is fundamentally flawed.
Social pressure in the GDR: Commitment to military service of 13-year-olds
I simply give an example of how pressure worked in GDR and what the consequences were if one opposed the pressure and refused to collaborate with the system: I loved mathematics, was a member of the Mathematical Student Society (MSG) and I applied for the math school Heinrich Hertz. That was in 1981. There were two conditions for admission: a 90-minute test with mathematical brainteasers and an hour-long political conversation with members of the school board.
I passed the math test with the best possible result. During the recording interview, I was asked if I would take part in the GST camp and if I would serve in the army for three years. I was 13 years old. I had never thought about three years of military service, but spontaneously considered the idea crap. Eventually, the letter came with the rejection.
I am very grateful to my parents for fighting for me. They left no stone unturned. I received a supportive letter from MSG, they called the person responsible for education in Friedrichshain, the director of my POS. Then there was a second talk with the director of the POS, in which I explained that I would of course very much like to serve in the army for three years and that somehow this has always been my wish (sarcasm must be marked, right?).
The Hertz School was fantastic! I am still very happy that I was able to learn four years of my life there. I learned a lot of maths, physics and chemistry there, but the most important thing I learned there is to think in a structured way. Thanks for that!
What was not so nice was the pressure and political influence that was applied to students, as everywhere in the GDR. Paramilitary training was an integral part of the teaching. I learned to shoot with automatic weapons (compulsory military camp in the 9th century). And 11. Class). In physical education from the fifth grade onwards, we threw egg hand grenades.
Those who didn’t participate were out. A student a year above me was the absolute crack. He could have gone to the international Math Olympiad if they would have given him permission to travel. He refused the GST camp and then became a shepherd. Shepherd. After a few years, he was able to get a temporary job as a system operator in the Academy of Sciences. After the system collapsed, he studied.
Scientifically sound worldview
The SED and its representatives have claimed that they have a scientifically sound world view. Somehow one would then assume that this world view can also be discussed scientifically. We had a compulsory event called the FDJ Study Year, which took place once a month (?). A Stasi man did that with us. I had learned in the Introduction to Socialist Production lessons that communism could only be achieved if socialism prevailed in all countries. This was also immediately obvious to me, because otherwise the capitalists would simply come and eat our bread. I mentioned this in the discussion with the Stasi man, which resulted in a 10-minute lecture about me in front of the parents’ council (perhaps also in the parents’ meeting of the party members, which took place before the regular meeting).
At the end of school we were all in the FDJ. At the beginning, there was a boy who was not in the FDJ (a miracle that he had made it to school in the first place. In the 11th grade, he then applied for admission. In the FDJ meeting, which was about his admission, he was asked by the agitator about the reasons for his request for admission. The expectation now was that something like world peace, class struggle, insight would come. His answer was, “I want to study.” I grinned internally and admired him.
Commitment to three years of military service
I remember very well an FDJ session dealing with military service. The basic military service in the GDR was 18 months. Loyal citizens committed themselves for three years, even more loyal ones for 4 years (officer career, sub-lieutenant) and the greatest heroes for 25 years. In the meeting we were all sitting in a circle and I remember the agitator asking me, “And Stefan, what are you doing for peace?” I hated it. Some girls took part in this putting pressure on people and asked us to go to the army for three years. In the magazine Neues Leben there were such stories about girls who, of course, waited for their sweetheart during the army time and supported him really strongly morally.
The GDR wanted to ensure that those who study were also loyal to the system. The commitment to three years of military service was therefore an important part of the application for study. There were probably people who made it without the obligation, but we didn’t know that and the risk was great: once rejected for political reasons meant: shepherd. See above. All institutions were connected. People had a Kaderakte, a file that traveled along with you your whole live; if there was anything in it, you were out. Shepherd. There is a good description of this in Christoph Hein’s Tangospieler (tango player). Even if companies were desperately looking for workers, they couldn’t hire people if there was something wrong with their file.
I was in the army for three years. With two exceptions, all the guys in my class have committed for three years. From 18 to 21, I have spent over 1000 days of my life wishing that this part of my life is over.1 I am a pacifist. I would never have served in the army in the West. This option did not exist in the East. There were Bausoldaten `construction soldiers’, they wore uniforms and built rocket launching sites. If you went this way, the only thing you could study was theology. Total denial meant imprisonment.
That was social pressure!
Moral pressure of the bleeding hearts
What is the situation today? FridaysForFuture has been around for a year and the consequences of the climate crisis have been more visible for several years. Depending on the filter bubble they are in, people start to wake up. Events threaten us. Greta Thunberg said we should act as if the world was on fire. Well, and now it is on fire. We have the reports in the press, on television, on social media. The glaciers are melting, the permafrost soils are thawing. 70 years before the expected date. Tipping points could be reached. To avoid worse, CO2 emissions must be reduced to one tonne per person per year. The German average is 11.61 tonnes. 10% of Germans have an average of as much as 17.7 tonnes. The consequence is that we should demand everything politically possible, which favors a reduction, and also that we must contribute to a reduction by changing our behavior.
This leads to cognitive dissonances, which are naturally amplified by renewed evidence of the problem. Vegetarians have always been unpleasant contemporaries. Even if they didn’t say anything and just quietly muzzled their veggie burger. They were the personified accusation. This is amplifying and intensifying right now: the one who sees the colleague with the bicycle helmet, thinks: “Oh, crap, I came by car today. It drizzled.” The one who wants to report from his conference in Tokyo thinks: “Oh, crap, he doesn’t fly anymore. I’d rather shut up.”
All of this is difficult, but it cannot be blamed on those who clearly state that we as humanity have a problem. People are good at displacing. This is called terror management, as I learned from the PsychologistsForFuture.
In the current situation, we must no longer displace (say the PsychologistsForFuture). We must face up to reality and consider what we can do. Everyone a bit. As much as it goes.
The social pressure of the bleeding hearts results from the acute circumstances, it is not – in any way – comparable to what took place in the GDR, because there are no negative consequences when someone eats meat or takes a plane. The only thing there is is acognitive dissonance. And this is a good thing! Have fear!