Christianity and Modernity in Eastern Europe

By Bruce R. Berglund; Brian Porter-SzŰcs | Go to book overview

Constructing Peace in the GDR

Conscientious Objection and Compromise among East
German Christians, 1962–1989*

DAVID DQELLINGER

In September 1964 a young East German conscientious objector named Wolfgang Stadthaus began an eighteen-month tour of unarmed military service within the National Peoples Army (Nationale Volksarmee; hereafter NVA). Stadthaus, like the other 219 men who chose to serve in the military's newly created construction units (Baueinheiten) that year, participated in a compromise agreement between the state, church, and society. Stadthaus's experience as a construction soldier (Bausoldat) and his commitment to pacifism in civilian life afterwards run counter to the traditional narrative of East German history. Scholarship on the German Democratic Republic has typically emphasized the militarized authoritarian state's success in secularizing society and preventing the formation of reform movements within the ruling Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands; hereafter SED) and organized dissident movements outside it.1 But during the quarter-century between 1964 and the fall of communism, many former Bausoldaten, like Stadthaus, challenged the boundary of state power in the GDR with the support of the Lutheran Church and fellow Christians. An examination of the Bausoldaten reveals limits to the East German government's secularization policies and its authoritarian power, as the state was compelled to compromise with pacifists supported by the Lutheran Church. The Bausoldaten activities also highlight the Christian influence on dissent in the GDR and its connection to anti-militarization.2 Indeed, Christian conscientious objectors in the GDR appear to have been motivated more by a rejection of the state's militarization policies than a defense of the faith against secularization or communism.

The first generation of conscientious objectors who served as Bausoldaten after the construction units became a legal alternative to mili-

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