English-language publishing: a tool of GDR foreign policy


The extensive English-language holdings in the East German Studies Archive give a sense of the huge scale on which the GDR published magazines and journals in foreign languages. The GDR is often regarded as a closed-off state, but the Archive’s holdings challenge this view, showing that foreign-language publishing was approached proactively and strategically. In responding to significant international developments and seeking to shape the GDR’s reputation abroad, foreign-language publications were used as a tool of foreign policy. Looking back at the Archive’s holdings today, they capture key moments in the GDR’s relations with the rest of the world.

12 issues of ‘First-hand information’ appeared in 1974

The series First-hand information provides a striking case. These booklets were published from 1966 until the collapse of the GDR and covered topics such as education, women’s rights, the economy, healthcare and agriculture. The preface to the first booklet indicates their initial aim: to give West German readers ‘correct’ information to counter the ‘misinformation’ that had been circulating about life in the East. By the early 1970s, however, the GDR had begun to translate these booklets into other languages, and those produced in 1974, in particular, show that they were now serving broader foreign policy goals. No fewer than 12 booklets were published in 1974, a remarkable increase on the previous quarterly schedule, and all were translated into English. It seems no coincidence that this huge output took place in the context of three significant events that year: the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the GDR, the exchange of permanent representatives with West Germany, and the passing of the final GDR constitution, which dropped any reference to the entire German nation. The quantity and themes of the 1974 booklets suggest that they were being used strategically to emphasise the GDR’s achievements in areas ranging from environmental protection to healthcare and living standards at the very moment when, politically and constitutionally, it was asserting its longevity and its independent identity.

As well as serving this collective purpose, some of the 1974 booklets also seem to have been employed individually to position the GDR in relation to important international issues. The booklet How do we protect our environment? promotes the GDR’s environmental protection credentials, implicitly responding to the European Union’s adaptation of its first Environmental Action Programme in 1973. Youth in the GDR draws on the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students (held in East Berlin in 1973) and the new Youth Act to contrast the GDR’s views on the rights and responsibilities of young people with the prevailing countercultural trend of international youth movements. Fun – Health – Fitness emphasises the GDR’s successes in the 1972 Olympic Games and other recent sporting events.

Publishing a wide range of journals and magazines in multiple languages was expensive for the GDR. The scale of the investment demonstrates that, far from closing itself off, the GDR was seeking to present itself as part of the international community, offering sound solutions to international problems.

To access a detailed catalogue of the Archive’s English-language holdings, click here.

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For more information on the Archive’s English-language holdings, contact Dr Mary Frank.

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