In divided germany: the russians as “friends”, as opponents in the cold war, as coexisting

Images of Russia in Germany, Russian Realities and German Russian Policy – Part 4

The political violence in the German territory lay after the fall of the "Third Reich" among the four occupying powers. To the extent that there was agreement between them on German policy, it dissolved soon after the end of the war, and the Cold War began as a conflict primarily between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Part 3: A second campaign to the east – The "Russian Untermensch" defends himself

In a divided germany: the russians as 'friends'freunde', als gegner im kalten krieg, als koexistierende

Stalin on a GDR stamp, 1954. Image: uploaded by Nightflyer/freeware

This had inevitably drastic effects also for Germany. In 1948, the separate constitutional reform in the three western occupation zones marked the intermediate step toward the division of the state; in 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany was founded, followed by the constitution of the GDR.

From 1952/53 on, it became clear that an all-German solution could not be expected for the time being. Consequently, images of Russia and German actions in the field of Russian policy developed separately, under conditions dictated by the East-West conflict and under the supervision of the respective external power.

Germany East: The Relationship to the Soviet Union “Friends” – officially and in everyday consciousness

Soviet government policy initially saw its occupation zone as a socio-historical provisional arrangement; it aimed at an all-German state, out of its own economic and political interests. This Germany was to be committed to neutrality between the blocs, pose no military threat, pay reparations to the Soviet Union and not run the risk of returning to anti-Communist policies. The socio-structural changes in the SBZ (expropriation of large-scale industrial property, land reform) seemed to fit into the perspective of a “antifascist-democratic reorganization” with an all-German character; in this respect there were also quite programmatic overlaps between the SED and Christian Democrats in the early postwar period.

The establishment of a multiparty system in the SBZ corresponded to this Soviet line in German policy. However, the East German “reorganization” Under the leadership of the SED and under Soviet control, the German government developed a problematic momentum of its own: it did contain elements of a “German state” “Bolshevization” and offered just with it also cause and opportunity, against the “Zonal communism” to turn.

The Soviet Union’s decision to found the GDR was certainly welcome to part of the SED leadership, but it sprang from the failure of Soviet all-German plans; the separate East German state was “Stalin”s unloved child” (Wilfried Loth). Short-term attempts by the Soviet government to reverse the German separation (such as the Stalin Note of 1952) were unsuccessful. From the autumn of 1953, the population of the GDR had to adjust to long-term statehood.

There could be no doubt about the political dependence of the East German republic on instructions from the Soviet government; however, the official reading of its own history in the GDR obscured this fact, which "Road to Socialism" should be described as a self-reliant historical choice. And so the state-bearing speech was formed by the Soviet "Friends" with an ironic undertone, even among some SED functionaries.

The Soviet soldiers stationed in the GDR kept away from contact with the population, but they did not use the Russian language "German-Soviet friendship" was state doctrine. In everyday life in the GDR, it was translated into a wealth of Russian literature, into scientific contacts with colleagues from the Soviet Union, into study visits there and trips there (the young Angela Merkel also made use of this opportunity), into the adoption of Russian terminology. And solyanka was standard in the GDR gastronomy, quite appreciated by the consumers.

But it would be far exaggerated to speak of a Russification of East German life; Soviet supremacy was culturally very fond of German traditions, including those that originated in monarchical or bourgeois times. The National Democratic Party served in the political scene this tradition cultivation, officers from the "National Committee Free Germany" The Russian people helped to build up the National People"s Army, and the Friderizian style was increasingly honored – it did not contradict the ideal of a German-Russian alliance.

On the other hand, the German side was emotionally burdened by memories of the misery of expulsion and flight or imprisonment, and also of the arbitrary actions of the Soviet military administration during the zonal period. The dismantling of East German industrial plants for the purpose of reparations to the Soviet Union was deplored, and expropriations of industrial property were chalked up to the occupying power.

"The Russian" was considered by some to be the culprit of personal misfortune or private disadvantage, and was often a motive for migration to West Germany. Nevertheless, hatred of the Russians did not become the emotional pattern of the majority of the population in the GDR. On the other hand, they had perceptions of reality: they did not forget that Hitler’s German policy had caused immense destruction in the Soviet Union. It was seen that most people in the eastern part of the Siegerland region were by no means wallowing in wealth. It was not uncommon for inhabitants of the GDR to realize that the Federal Republic of Germany had shirked its responsibility for the material consequences of the National Socialist campaign against the East, which "Westerners" had got away well. This assessment had its historical correctness…

To sum up: folk or nationalist resentment against Russia was by no means typical for the citizens of the GDR, even if the "Friendship" with the Soviet Union was predominantly perceived as a compulsory state event, unofficially. majority in the eastern German state by no means wished to "Liberation strike" of the West against communism; the Second World War had not yet been forgotten. And it was with quiet sympathy that most people here took note of the changes that Khrushchev’s speech about Stalin had brought about in the Soviet self-image; a civil relationship between the West and the East now had a better chance of being established.

Germany West: First a frontline state against "the East", then "Change through acceptance"

The West German constituent state was founded with the intention of integrating it firmly into Western political and economic structures, with the social elites calculating: "Better half a Germany whole than a Germany half whole." This orientation also enabled West German industry to soon gain access to the world market and thus the "Economic miracle".

Government policy was determined by a bloc of citizens led by the CDU/CSU, while the Social Democrats were in opposition. The two camps, however, were united in their opposition to communism, which overrode their antipathies toward the state "the Russian" included. Konrad Adenauer as chancellor was oblivious to any sympathy for National Socialist world views, but he thought it tactically wise to "Denazification" not rigorously to continue or reuse former functionaries of the Nazi system and to use them for its politics.

This, too, resulted in some continuities between the anti-communism of the "Third Reich" and that in the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany. The propaganda organization "League for Peace and Freedom" for example, funded by U.S. services and the federal government, was steered by an expert in anti-communist agitation from among former Nazi personnel. Before the election to the Bundestag in 1953, the CDU used an infamous poster against the SPD, which read: "All roads of Marxism went to Moscow", and on it was shown a "Face of the Bolshevik" in exactly the same style as Nazi propaganda.

The Federal Republic set in motion the rearmament, the affiliation to NATO came about. In West German politics, the speculation that the Soviet Union could be defeated militarily also played a role at first. But the thought of a new eastern campaign was far from reality. The pragmatist Adenauer now liked to enter into talks with the Soviet government; diplomatic relations with Moscow were initiated in 1955, albeit with rough reservations. The chancellor was also interested in solving a domestic political problem in this way: neutralist tendencies toward an all-German solution were stirring at times, warning of the dangers of a new war. They were to be tactically quieted.

For the time being, anti-communism remained in the ideological stock of governing West German politics; in 1956, the KPD was banned, the persecution of communists or those politically active people who were declared so continued. "Russophilia" and "Orientation toward the East" were considered suspicious.

Then, however, a new concept of Eastern policy began to gain acceptance in West German Social Democracy at the beginning of the 1960s; Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr argued for a path of "East Germany" "Change through Acceptance". The CDU/CSU gradually agreed to such a policy, with much resistance, after the SPD became stronger in elections and a temporary grand coalition in Bonn could not be avoided. The FDP also advocated more normality in the relationship between the Federal Republic and the Soviet Union. The Moscow Treaty of 1970 confirmed this course.

Aggressive anti-communism lost its acceptance in the Federal Republic, hatred of the Russians was no longer socially acceptable. This was helped by the historically educating, now unstoppable clarification of the state crimes of the Soviet Union "Third Reich" in "East room".

system competition in peace-preserving coexistence was now the dominant idea for an epoch of West German politics, which lasted until the years after German reunification, which had only been possible with Soviet approval. After the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Republics and the departure of the Communist Party there from state power, Germany, which was no longer divided, had to redefine its relationship with Russia, and the search for the "Russian soul" continued. For the present, disturbing state of affairs, see Part I of this series: Russian Urge for World Political Coarseness? Or Russia as a Failing State?


Biermann, Werner/ Klonne, Arno: The Rough Game. German Economy and World Politics from the Empire to the Present; Koln 2009

Brandt, Peter: The German Image of Rubland and the Russians; Yearbook Iablis, Berlin 2002

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