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East Germany shuns glasnost, opts for more censorship

Glasnost remains a foreign word in East Germany. Censorship, far from liberalizing, is tightening up - and both the Protestant Church and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev are its victims.

Gorbachev's enthusiasm for more glasnost, or openness, is definitely not shared by Erich Honecker, the septuagenarian East German party and state chief who got his start in the Stalinist era.

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Mr. Honecker's team is cautious and doesn't want to pick a fight with its patron superpower. But neither does it want to loosen the reins of censorship.

The results are sometimes awkward, and this week is one of those times.

Neues Deutschland, the official newspaper of the Socialist Unity (Communist) Party, at first waited circumspectly before reprinting a full-page ``reader's letter'' from a Soviet opponent of Gorbachev's reforms to the Soviet newspaper Soviet Russia.

But when no put-down of the letter appeared after three weeks in the Soviet press, Neues Deutschland picked up the original letter, with apparent Soviet approval, and carried it during Easter weekend.

Unfortunately for the East Germans, the delayed Soviet reaction to the letter appeared four days after the Neues Deutschland reprint, in a blistering attack on the letter in the Soviet party newspaper Pravda. The East German press has ignored the reprimand.

Other official censorship of Soviet media in East Germany included a failure to distribute three German issues of the Soviet magazine New Times early this year. Those three issues carried excepts from the Soviet anti-Stalinist play ``Forward, Ever Forward'' that East German periodicals have repeatedly criticized (in the usual form of reprinting Soviet attacks).

East German censors have now turned their attention to Protestant Church periodicals. Before this, internal church publications (which have only a low circulation of 150,000) have been left largely to their own devices. After the arrests of mild church-related dissidents by security forces in November and January were overruled, however, the hard-liners yearned to reestablish their authority, according to West German analysts.

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This they have done by barring the latest issue of the regional Mecklenburg Church Newspaper from appearing at all, while making the Berlin paper, The Church, delete passages in reports about the spring synod meetings in the Mecklenburg and Dresden districts.

Church sources told West German journalists that the excised sections reported on comments by pastors about freedom of expression and the problems of those East Germans who try to emigrate. Editors of The Church protested quietly by leaving blank spaces where paragraphs were removed.

West German State Secretary Ottfried Hennig in the Inner-German Ministry responded to the censorship by urging that this violation of the Helsinki Act of 1975 be raised in the Helsinki conference currently taking place in Vienna.

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