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Political Organisations 1949-1990 (East Germany)

Last modified: 2013-11-30 by pete loeser
Keywords: east germany | german democratic republic | politics |
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Introduction

     In October-November 2000, during a visit to my old home town in (East) Germany, I did some research on flags of former East German political organizations. It took some digging deep in the past but —especially thanks to the East Germany Museum in Brandenburg— I came up with some new findings.
     Almost every part of daily life in the German Democratic Republic was organized following some kind of organization. A television show tried once to find what single person was member in more organizations — they found one who was in more than 30 of them. I myself remember having been member of at least nine organizations. All of these organizations had one plan in common: to avoid spontaneity and to ensure that everybody — from sports fishermen to marching bands followed the party line.
     There were two major kinds of organizations: parties and so-called mass organizations. A person could be only a member of one party, but membership in mass organizations had no such restrictions. Thus, the leading positions in all of the mass organizations were held by members of the Socialist Unity Party (mostly simply called The Party) and therefore the broad spectrum of different organizations boiled down to one party line.
     In elections, all five parties and the four leading mass organizations ran together on one list, called National Front, there was no opposition and all parties and organizations were committed to support the party line. As a matter of fact, during its 40 years of existence, the East German Parliament passed all but one bill with 100% of the votes.
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 23 January 2001

I very much appreciate the effort of Volker Keith but there is a publication on this topic showing some differences to his images. The reference is Günther 2000 (Günther E., 2000, Politische Symbole in der DDR 1989/90 (Fortsetzung), in Der Flaggenkurier no. 11, pp. 18-35).
Marcus Schmöger, 26 January 2001


Political Parties

As we remarked for Nazi Germany, the Communist regime in East Germany was, until its last days, characterized by the union of party and state.
Norman Martin, March 1998

In any event, the facts are that all were the block parties. They were officially committed to supporting the SED and ran in coalition with it. Starting in late 1989, they (except for the SED) gradually joined the opposition and eventually merged with West German parties. There were of course illegal political parties (all rather small), such as the illegal East German SPD.
Norman Martin, 20 June 2000

The Socialist Unity Party [Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands or simply SED] was the leading East German party. (...) Besides the SED, there were four more parties, attempting to align non-communists with the leading SED. All Parties were united in the democratic block and thus could not run independently for election. Each of these four parties had —regardless of election results— 52 seats in the East German Parliament.

While the SED flag was very widespread throughout the country, flags for the four block parties were not commonly used. Literature and online-sources only refer to party symbols. The only time I remember seeing the symbols on flags was during May Day Parades, when they were printed on little paper flags as so-called waving elements. Nevertheless I suppose they were used at party congresses and other events and I have therefore included them here. The source for the symbols is this German Democratic Republic parties website which provides black and white images of the party symbols. The only source for colors is my personal memory.
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 23 January 2001


Parliamentary Political Organisations
Political organisations holding seats in the East German parliament

The four largest and most influential political mass organizations had their own representatives in the parliament, running for election on the same democratic block list as the five parties. However, during the 1981-1986 election period, 149 of the 175 representatives of these organizations were also members of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), thus assuring a safe 55% SED majority in parliament, according to the German Democratic Republic parties website. While the FDJ flag was one of the most commonly seen flags in the country and the FDGB flag was also widely used, the DFD flag was very rarely seen and the Culture Association probably did not have a flag.
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 24 January 2001


Other Political Organisations

Ruled by the Socialist Unity Party and the Free German Youth, there were more political organizations, covering all aspects of political life. These organizations focused on certain parts of the communist doctrine, addressing either a certain age group or a certain political interest.
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 24 January 2001


Mass Organisations

All public activity in East Germany was backed by some kind of organization. Thus, there were literally hundreds of organizations for everything from collecting stamps to folk music. Most of these organizations had some kind of a logo or symbol, usually consisting of the abbreviation of its name, arranged in some geometrical order. The two largest of these organizations were the German Sports Fishing Association (Deutscher Anglerverband / DAV) and the Association of Gardeners and Animal Breeders (Verband der Kleingärtner, Siedler und Kleintierzücher / VKSK). I remember vaguely having seen their flags at some parade, but cannot confirm this anymore. Those linked above are examples of some of the most popular organizations.
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 29 January 2001


Civil Rights Movements 1989

There were a lot of civil rights movements in 1989, starting illegally and becoming quite powerful with the growth of the 1989 Revolution. Most important were:

  1. New Panel - Neues Forum/NF
  2. Democracy Now - Demokratie Jetzt/DJ
  3. Initiative for Peace and Human rights - Initiative für Frieden und Menschenrechte/IFM - one of the oldest groups, founded in the mid-eighties
  4. Democratic Outset - Demokratische Aufbruch/DA
  5. Social Democratic Party of the GDR - Sozialdemokratische Partei in der DDR/SDP
  6. United Left - Vereinigte Linke/VL
  7. Initiative for Independent Trade Unions - Initiative für unabhängige Gewerkschaften
  8. Independent Women's Association - Unabhängiger Frauenverband/UFV
It was a very creative time and people came up with all kind of symbols (e.g. the historical handshake of the Socialist Unity Party, surrounded by the words 'Good Bye'), but there was simply not enough time to develop official flags or banners. All the movements used certain logos, usually arranging the organization's name or abbreviations. Commonly used symbols were the Swords into Ploughshares symbol and a green/blue sash with the words KEINE GEWALT (no violence). In October 1989, Neues Forum published a Draft Proposal for a New Constitution, in which a new flag was proposed for the German Democratic Republic: black-red-gold with the Swords into Ploughshares symbol in center. However, soon after the (West-) German flag became the most common flag in the mighty demonstrations demanding German unification.
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 30 January 2001

Neues Forum was founded in 1989 and was the first opposition group that actually requested the East German parliament to be registered as a political organization (September 1989). The request was denied, which was one of the incidents that triggered the demonstrations in October 1989. Since demand to legalize Neues Forum was one of the major requests in the first demonstrations, the group became quite popular and had indeed some kind of leading role in the beginning of the uprising. As far as I remember, the group had no flag, but their rainbow-like logo was widely used on all kinds of buttons, poster and banners. More (in German) at this website (logo here).
Volker Moerbitz Keith, 1 February 2001


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