The National People's Army as an Object of (Non) Remembrance: The Place of East Germany's Military Heritage in Unified Germany
Leonhard, Nina, German Politics and Society
On 3 October 1990, the National People's Army (NVA) of the German Democratic Republic, in which about 2.5 million East German citizens served their country, was dissolved. Its personnel either was removed from military service, placed into early retirement, or integrated into the Bundeswehr after a two-year selection and examination process. Since then, the NVA has turned into an object of history with no immediate significance for contemporary German society--despite efforts of former NVA officers to change the official interpretation of 1989-1990. This article examines the processes of remembering and forgetting with regard to East Germany's military heritage since 1990, contrasting the Bundeswehr's politics of memory and "army of unity" ethos not only with the former NVA soldiers' vision of the past, but also with the East German population's general attitude towards their former armed forces.
Keywords: politics of memory; collective memory; forgetting; German unification; military heritage, National People's Army; German Democratic Republic; Bundeswehr
In February 2006, about 400 former soldiers of the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee, NVA) gathered in a little town northeast of Berlin to commemorate the official formation of East Germany's armed forces fifty years ago. (1) On 18 January 1956, the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) decided to establish a Ministry for National Defence, as well as the NVA. On 1 March 1956, the General Staff took office under the command of East Germany's first defence minister, Colonel General Willi Stoph, in Strausberg (in the vicinity of Berlin). Ever since, 1 March was commemorated annually in the GDR as "Day of the National People's Army." Fifteen years after the NVA had ceased to exist, this tradition was revived in remembrance of the initial event fifty years ago. As reported in the local newspaper, (2) speeches were delivered by various former NVA generals. In addition, a ninety minute montage of GDR television contributions on the NVA was shown. The commemoration ceremony was organized by a private association and was not open to the general public.
A couple of weeks before this event, the Federal Ministry of Defence had issued an order instructing all commanders of the German armed forces (Bundeswehr), not to allow or tolerate any manifestations related to the NVA'S fiftieth anniversary to take place on Bundeswehr property. (3) Between June and November 2005, however, a number of official and/or public events had been organized by the Bundeswehr throughout the country to celebrate its own formation in West Germany in 1955. (4) Whereas the anniversary of the East German armed forces was largely ignored, the fiftieth anniversary of the Bundeswehr was well covered by the media and was thus quite noticeable (and noticed) in the public sphere.
The diverging ways in which these two anniversaries were commemorated in 2005-2006 reveal the place of the GDR's military past in unified Germany. Today, the NVA, in which about 2.5 Million East German citizens served their country, (5) is virtually no object of (public) remembrance at all. If memory is to be defined as a reconstruction of the past based on selecting certain aspects and leaving others out, examining "memoralization" in the case of the NVA seems to consist above all in identifying facets of "forgetting."
Forgetting might be considered a blessing or a default option. From a sociological perspective, it is interesting to analyze why, in a certain context and at a particular time, certain aspects of the past--like the NVA--fade away, while others--like the Stasi (6)--remain very present. In his article "History as Social Memory," Peter Burke (7) discusses different forms and functions of what he calls "social amnesia." He most notably refers to the official elimination and silencing of unwanted memories. Still, he also …
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Publication information: Article title: The National People's Army as an Object of (Non) Remembrance: The Place of East Germany's Military Heritage in Unified Germany. Contributors: Leonhard, Nina - Author. Journal title: German Politics and Society. Volume: 26. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2008. Page number: 150+. © 2001 Berghahn Books, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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