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Table of contents
2. The State of the Environment in East Germany at Reunification
3. Environmental Politics and Policies in the GDR
4. The Role of the Environment in the Economy of the GDR
4.1 The Energy Sector
4.2 The Agricultural Sector
5. Environment and Society in the GDR
We are now in the fifteenth year after Reunification and still the East German states, the New Länder, are still not on the same standard as the West German states. Still there are lower wages, higher unemployment and more poverty than in the Old Länder. One factor that contributed to this residue despite the massive monetary transfers from the West to the East since Reunification is the disastrous state in which the former GDR’s environment was found. Much money had to be spent for detailed investigations about the extent of environment pollution and, mainly, for clean-up projects and rehabilitation. This money could not be used for other purposes in the building up process in East Germany.
What were the responsible factors for dashing the environment into such a disastrous state? Which role did the environment play and which importance did it have in the GDR? How was this destruction of the nature justified? What was the people’s attitude towards environment and were there any activities to do something against the increasing environment pollution?
To answer these questions I will begin with giving some facts about the state of the environment in the GDR at Reunification to give an image of the extent of the destruction of nature. Then I will have a closer look at the environmental politics and policies in the GDR to see how far environment protection or even environment itself was touched by law, which importance the topic environment had for the leaders of the GDR and how they argued the environmental pollution. The effects of these policies can be seen clearly by the consequences for economy and society. Thus, these are the next topics to be examined. Firstly, the role of the environment in economy in the sectors energy and agriculture will be reviewed because these two sectors had the biggest aftereffects on environment. Afterwards and finally, I will explore how the GDR’s society reacted to the not ignorable bad state of the environment or if it reacted at all.
2. The State of the Environment in East Germany at Reunification
According to Pia Christina Wood the biggest environmental problem in the GDR was air pollution primarily caused by the use of obsolete brown coal burning plants without dust filters or desulfurization systems combined with an extremely high per capita consumption of energy (The GDR had one of the highest rates in the world!). There was “a total emission of SO2 of 5.25 million tons in 1989 – the highest rate among European countries”, which was together with the other emissions mainly concentrated on the more industrialized south (Wood 1999: 498).
Another serious problem was water pollution: “Forty-two percent of water courses and 24% of lakes were so polluted that even with treatment they would be unfit for drinking water” (Wood 1999: 498). Reasons for that were “the inadequate sewage system, industrial discharges, and the heavy use of chemicals for agriculture” (Wood 1999: 499).
“In 1989 over 40% of the land surface in the GDR was polluted from agricultural practices, lignite mining, and the thousands of abandoned toxic dumpsites” (Wood 1999: 499). So soil contamination and “the disastrous state of commercial waste dumps and the existence of unofficial contamined or toxic dumpsites” (Wood 1999: 499) were further severe problems.
Of course, the high level of environment pollution was not effectless for the humans living in the GDR, especially in the southern part of the country. People suffered from “Chronic bronchitis, asthma” and there were “high levels of infant mortality and children born with deformities” as well as “a lower life expectancy than in West Germany” (Wood 1999: 500).
To summarize the whole situation in Mrs Wood’s words: “The state of the en-vironment in the GDR in 1990 can only be described as catastrophic.” (Wood 1999: 497)
3. Environmental Politics and Policies in the GDR
In terms of legislation the GDR was one of the forerunners: Environment protection was mandated in the constitution of the GDR, in 1970 the Landeskulturgesetz was passed, one year later the Ministry for Environmental Protection and Water Management was established (that was fifteen years earlier than in West Germany!) and in the same year as well as in 1973 charges for water and air pollution were implemented (Wood 1999: 497).
What seems to be a rather well formulated and organized environmental policy appears very different in reality. Here the preambel of the Landeskulturgesetz gives us a hint to the importance of environment protection how it was really estimated by the East German leaders: “In the German Democratic Republic nature and its treasures serve the people ... the arrangement of the developed societal system of socialism requires the complex development, the sensible and rational use as well as the keeping and care of landscape on scientific foundation for the securing of a continuing growth of economy and for the improvment of the working and living conditions of the citizens ... “ (Schwartau 1985: 10, my translation). Thus, environment protection was just seen as device to safe the nature as basis of further economic growth. This shows what the East German government’s priority was: “high growth rates above all other economic goals” (Wood 1999: 497).
This economical growth was in the GDR-poltician’s and economist’s opinion necessary to be able to compete in the system contest between socialism and capitalism and to increase the people’s material living standard in form of a better supply with consumer goods and social services. Behind this improvement of the material living conditions was the political interest in stabilizing the existing sys-tem of powers: “by rise of the economical performance“ a “better offer of con-sumption goods“ was achieved and in this way “an identity of interests with the majority of the population” was brought about (Gruhn 1985: 99, my translation). And since stabilization was a main political interest environmental questions had to be left behind economical interests.
Consequently, environment protection was pushed into the background in the command economy of the GDR because seen as a “foregroundly unproductive project“ (Gruhn 1985: 101, my translation) it worked against the high productiveness oriented economical policy. In the eyes of the economists and politicians environment protection was unproductive because for the budget plans and the evaluation of productiveness was only relevant what could be measured by figures. But how can you express the nature’s immanent value in statistic measures? And also the long-term emerging “considerable environ-mental damages with high economical loss“ (Gruhn 1985: 101, my translation) could not be calculated in the rather short-termed one and five year plans.
Here another Problem is found: “The short-term thinking of success, referring just to single planned years, destroyed ... long-term redevelopment and structure changing strategies” (Stinglwagner 1999: 456, my translation). Thus, for in-vestions in environment protection there remained only 1.7% of the entire annual investions (average value from 1980 until 1989), which were described as “considerable means“ by Erich Honecker (Stinglwagner 1999: 458, my trans-lation).
Another point is that there was an environmental legislation but this legislation was rather effectless because „the existing environmental penalty regulations were not used by the authorities and courts“ (Stinglwagner 1999: 460, my trans-lation). Also the “Verursacherprinzip“, which makes the companies that caused environmental burdens and damages responsible for their removal, did not have any real importance: “Of which use is it to proclaim the ‘Verursacherprinzip’ if the Volkseigene Betriebe and Kombinate … are not made liable for the non-keeping of environment protection regulations because they are not granted the means that are necessary to keep the regulations” (Stinglwagner 1999: 459, my translation)?
But how were the obvious environmental burdens justified in the official debate? Mainly, capitalism was blamed for all problems because the environmental damages were an ‘Erblast’ still from the pre-socialist era. The reasons for the problems of capitalism to get on with nature easily were seen by the GDR-economists in its orientation on profit at all costs (under the motto “Today profit, after me the Deluge.” Timm 1985:121, my translation), which lead to the ruthless exploitation of nature. Also the “spontaneous, not controllable development and the general orientation on the next benefit lead necessarily to ‘ecologic volun-tarism’“ because “it was generally impossible for the single-economical cal-culation to include the consequent, distant and long-term effects“ which were “finally the main cause for the ecological crisis“ (Timm 1985: 121-122, my trans-lation).
To be able to eliminate the environmental problems the socialism would first of all have to “totally … destroy the material-technical basis of capitalism … ‘to then … bild up its own, for itself typical system of productive facilities’“. But that would be “Maschinenstürmerei“ and it was rather important “to improve the found produc-tive facilities fundamentally in the way that natural requirements receive con-sideration.” Unfortunately, this was “an ‘historical, long time taking and compli-cated process’ which would only be finished in communism“. (Timm 1985: 124, my translation).
That was one of the reasons given for the still existing environmental problems despite the introduction of socialism, which was estimated to be superior, some decades ago. As another, exterior reason the contest of systems between socialism and capitalism was mentioned. Here it was argued that socialism would get into residue through the financial efforts for environment protection. More-over, it was said that the means were lacking because of the high efforts on de-fense against capitalism (Timm 1985: 124, my translation).
But other reasons were seen, too: For one thing “the minor level of knowledge ... about ecological connections“ were mentioned and for another even system immanent causes were seen: firstly “the insufficient consideration of nature pro-tection in the whole system of planning and leading the economy“ and secondly the impossibility “to realize nature protection measures on the foundation of the complete economical calculation because the results of these measures were not expressed in figures“ (Timm 1985: 125, my translation).
As approach to a solution was basically seen the “Ökologisierung” of the pro-duction where the “scientific-technical revolution“ (Timm 1985: 134, my trans-lation) is considered to play a central role in changing the production process. To achieve this aim of an ecologized production various steps would have had to be taken. Steps like intensifying research, an “’optimizing’ … of the relation between … ecology and economy“, a “cultivating of the needs“ and the inclusion of ecological “criteria in the system of planning and leading the economy“ (Timm 1985: 129-131, my translation).
Anyway, the “Ecologizing of production in the GDR does not appear as an auto-nomous aim, but as a device for the increase of production” (Gruhn 1985: 112, my translation). The objection that “the communist society would have to go without further growth or was even not achieveable“ was turned down as “totally baseless” (Timm1985: 130, my translation).
All in all, it is to say that there was not much correspondence between the laws in theory and the implementation in reality while mainly external factors were blamed for the problems and while the leaders of the GDR sticked to the ideology of economical growth.
4. The Role of the Environment in the Economy of the GDR
4.1 The Energy Sector
After World War II the buildup of the supply with energy was one of the most important tasks about infrastructure. Whereas especially “the native mining of brown coal was built up (…) since there were only low layers with other energy sources available. (…) After this basic structural choice had been made once the GDR-leaders did not deviate from it later.“ (Buck 1999: 190, my translation)
In the first half of the seventies brown coal with its high content of sulfur and, resulting from this, SO2-emissions was replaced by the more environmental friendly mineral oil. But as consequence of the increase of the price for mineral oil during the seventies it was resubstituted again by brown coal to economize the oil, which became more and more expensive. This “strategy of substitution was, however, urged without consideration of environmental concerns“ (Gruhn 1985: 108, my translation). So there were “in scarcely one facility … de-sulfurization systems installed“ (Schwartau 1985: 17, my translation).
Also the way of saving energy was taken to reduce the consumption of imported raw materials “but not by renunciation of producing methods with a particularly high consumption of energy or raw materials ..., but by bothering the end con-sumers”, e.g. by determination of a maximum temperature of apartments (Gruhn 1985: 108, my translation). Alternatives like a better thermal insulation or the use of solar collectors were moved forward as well but “such projects“ were “not in the front“ (Gruhn 1985:108, my translation).
Besides the use of the environmental unfriendly brown coal there was the uneconomic usage of energy: For one thing, raw materials were not used efficiently for the production of energy (“The general technological under-development of the East European machine and facility construction lead ... to the fact that ... the ... energy sector showed evident lacks of efficiency compared to the international level of technology” Buck 1999: 202, my translation) and for another the generated energy was wasted by industry and private households. In industry this waste was based on the manifold use of obsolete facilities and production methods, which can be explained with the penury of investment devices and with errors in the planning and leading system of the GDR-economy (Buck 1999: 202-205, my translation). In private households the wasteful use of energy stemed from the fact that the “heating of apartments“ was „regarded as part of the social basic supply“ and therefore “the costs for heating” were “a component of the rent”. This did not give any incentives for saving energy to the renters. “Besides, the insufficient thermal insulation in old as well as in new buildings contributed considerably to a loss of energy” (Buck 1999: 206, my translation).
The consequences for nature of this power industry were extremely high encum-brances of air with SO2-emissions (“’the encumbrance of air of the capital Berlin is about twice as high as in Paris or London’“ Buck 1999: 210, my translation) and the warmup of the rivers where cooling water was taken from (Schwartau 1985: 28-31, my translation). By the intensive mining of brown coal, which was needed for the generation of energy, much agricultural valuable soil was lost. Even recultivating could not change this because the fertility of the soil after recultivating was not as good as before. Furthermore, the ground water level around minig areas went down and whole villages, rivers and streets had to be displaced in favour of the mining of brown coal (Buck 1999: 408, my translation).
A big carrier of hope was nuclear energy: “The GDR-leadership expected it to be a growing stable contribution to … electrogenesis.“ But this hope should not be fullfilled as “the increasing costs for the construction of nuclear power plants were hard to manage for the power industry planners of the GDR“ (Buck 1999: 194, my translation). Here a burdening of environment did not fail to be present, either: For one thing there were inadequacies with safety („the security standards of nuclear reactors of soviet construction style ... stayed evidently behind western security standards.” Buck 1999: 410, my translation) and for another the water of rivers and lakes was warmed up and „contaminated waste water was drained off into the Baltic Sea” (Buck 1999: 411, my translation).
4.2 The Agricultural Sector
Out of the constitution of the GDR it is to read that the “soil priorily“ had to “serve the agricultural and forestrian production“ and that “nature conservation legis-lation“ therefore was “subordinate towards agricultural rights“ (Kurjo 1985: 39-40, my translation). The agriculture of the GDR was included in the planning system of the GDR-economy. Thus, independ and autonomous planning was impossible for agricultural companies, wherefore they were “not to compare with agricultural companies in the western world“ (Kurjo 1985: 40, my translation).
After the Second World War half of the state soil fund was splitted into small agri-cultural undertakings “to be placed at the new farmer’s [Neubauern, S.V.] disposal“. As a result of the bad equipment with production devices in the post war period it came to “impairments in ... refinement of the areas.” The resulting “lack of aliments lead to an intensive cultivation“ by drainage and dehydration “of areas which had not been used for agriculture by then“. This process continued until the sixties (Kurjo 1985: 55, my translation). These measures of consol-idation of farming lead to a grave “pauperization of animals and plants“ but as counterbalance“ ecological retreating areas were created out of the new farmer jobs [Neubauernstellen, S.V.] by laying out small …wind protection hedges. But this period of creating retreating areas continued only to about 1949.“ (Kurjo 1985: 55, my translation)
With the formation of the Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaften in the 1950s bigger sizes of companies and fields emerged, conditioned by the use of „Großtechnik“.
This development to large agricultural companies had noumerous consequen-ces. Namely it lead „to a reduction of the multiplicity of manners of plants and animals“ (Kurjo 1985: 56, my translation) and to a burdening of the soil with high physical and chemical strains by the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Here the authorities stimulated “to use chemicals thriftily and namely under the aspect of economic viabiltiy and efficiency of production”. (Kurjo 1985: 62, my translation). Furthermore, the “high concentration level of animal producing companies lead … partly to an overuse of soil“ (Kurjo 1985: 58, my translation). Besides, this ethical questionalbe „zootechnics for production purposes“ (Kurjo 1985: 67, my translation) meant a heavy burdening of water because a “considerable part of the feaces“, which came up to “the waste of 17 million inhabitants” in 1972 (Kurjo 1985: 64, my translation), was „either drained of into waste water … or incorrectly funneled into public water“ (Kurjo 1985: 63, my translation). Moreover, the water consumption for cleaning purposes was unpro-portionately high in such “industry like animal production facilities“ (Kurjo 1985: 65, my translation).
Besides this industrialized agriculture there existed a few farms that used alternative farming methods like “biologic-dynamic“, or “organic-biologic“ respec-tively, methods (Kurjo 1985: 72, my translation). These farms, which mostly resided “on so-called Grenzstandorten“ (Kurjo 1985: 72, my translation) and whose farmers had chosen this form of agriculture „mostly because of ideological reasons“ (Kurjo 1985: 72, my translation), had “a very difficult status, especially in the time of the forced collectivization “ (Kurjo 1985: 72, my translation). Nevertheless, they were able to assure their existence as “niche within the GDR-agriculture“ (Kurjo 1985: 72, my translation)
Overall, the political course of priority of economical growth was brought to light rather evidently in the energy and agricultural sector. If environment protection measures were lacking this was caused by the very limited investment devices that were rather invested into obviously growth promoting projects. If once something was done for environment protection by the state this happened more as a side effect of saving measures, caused by the hard financial situation in the same manner.
5. Environment and Society in the GDR
In general there was rather a big lack of interest in environmental problems in society and therefore there were no “societal movement of citizens’ initiatives and single environment-consciuos persons comparable to the Federal Republic [of Germany S.V.]” (Knabe 1985: 233, my translation). The reasons for that are for one thing “the lack of information caused by state supervision“ (Knabe 1985:233, my translation) and for another “the shortage of concrete possibilities to act and the nearly insurmountable obstacles of an autocratic and on economic success oriented dominion system“(Knabe 1985: 234, my translation).
Nevertheless, there were critical voices out of society referring to environmental problems. Primarily in the clerical area there emerged study groups and initia-tives for this topic. The beginnings of this development go back to the seventies: In 1974 a study group which occupied with environmental questions was set up by the Saxon Landeskirche. Furthermore, the GDR-Kirchenbund established a committee “Kirche und Gesellschaft“ which coped with ecological problems as a permanent topic and which invited in 1978 “for the first time to an GDR-internal exchange of experiences with which the semi-public discussion process about ecological ideas … was initiated“ (Knabe 1985: 171, my translation).
There were particularly three clerical institutions which moved forward – “besides parsons, scientists, young people who commited themselves to the environment and single theologicans – the debate about the socialist industry society in the following time with publications, recitations, discussion groups and practical help“ (Knabe 1985: 171, my translation). They were the Theologische Studienabteilung (ThSA), the committee “Kirche und Gesellschaft“ and the Kirchliches Forschungsheim. The debate was mainly about “the reduction of the huge information deficit“, about “the causes of the ecological crisis and ... about concepts that show practical possibilities of change“ (Knabe 1985: 172, my translation).
Followingly, the main points of criticism are mentioned:
- Criticism of the prevailing comprehension of nature which degenerated nature to material and which contributed to the exploitation of nature without regard on future generations.
- Critism of the wissenschaftlich-technischer Fortschritt (scientific-technical progress): Disapproved were the “one-sidedness, concentration and specialization due to economic reasoning of usefulness“ (Knabe 1985: 175, my translation). While socialism saw science as “the only appropriate, objective and reliable way of comprehending reality ... , clerical ecologists discovered it as concretization and objectivization of nature, the measurability and mathematicization of the external reality“ (Knabe 1985: 175, my translation).
- Criticism of the efficiency/ productivity: From every single one “productive maximum efforts“ (Knabe 1985:178, my translation) were required, which cut back everybody’s opportunities of one’s individual development of personality (e.g. because there was no time left for this purpose). Also, work was “reduced to an as productivity accepted payed activity“ which lead to a neglect of “’communicative’“ and “’mediative’“ work. For those who could not stand “the socialist principle of productivity“ it meant “permanent failure“ (Knabe 1985: 178, my translation).
- Criticism of the needs: “consumer goods and organized services“ are “just an inadequate substitute for the loss of live in industrial production” (Knabe 1985: 181, my translation). So the attempt of gratification of the immaterial needs by material consume lead to frustration and therefore to a permanent rise of needs.
Out of this criticism manifold demands to the state as well as to every single citizen, which aimed at a compatible dealing with nature, were hinted.
In addition to the theoretical debate there were groups who experimented with alternative lifestyles in practice. But these groups had a difficult status in the GDR: In case of collective manners of living the groups often got under “sus-picion of a unjudicial joining“ (Knabe 1985: 187, my translation) and were accordantly put under pressure or prosecuted. Futhermore, it was difficult to get a fitting appartment or house for a cotenancy because of the central allocation of appartments and houses. Last but not least it is to mention that “a societal rejection“ stood against „the alternative manners of living“ (Knabe 1985: 187, my translation).
All persons who did not want to go that far commited themselves diferently to the environment. This commitment was expressed by smaller activities like wood cleanings and tree plantings as well as by reader’s letters and little bike demonstrations (mostly on clerical drive). Also, there was the possibility to get informed about environmental questions by clerical newspapers.
The church played a rather importent role. So, its main task in this matter con-sisted of “giving enlightenment and orientation, placing a protected space at the countermovement’s disposal as well as intermediating between these and the state oragnizations“ (Knabe 1985: 190, my translation).
The range of the influence of this movement was, with regard to the conditons in the GDR, surprisingly broad but still restrictions by the state were perceptible.
Besides the mentioned prosecutions there was either another attempt to keep the movement under controll: “Under the roof of the GDR-Kulturbund the ‘Gesellschaft für Natur und Umwelt’ was founded in 1980 in which within few years about 1600 working groups which dealt concretely with ecological prob-lems got together – of course under trusteeship of the Sozialistische Einheits-partei Deutschlands [German Socialist Unity Party, S.V.].” That happened as attempt “to integrate organizationally the spontaneous, independent initiatives to be able to control them politically“ (Fricke 1984: 203+204, my translation).
All in all, the ecological debate and the practical commitment are not to characterize as opposition or resistance. They were rather a societal dissent “which accepts the found circumstances as commencement conditions within which criticism is expressed and changes are searched“ (Knabe 1985: 196, my translation).
The main factors which were responsible for the heavy environmental pollution certainly were the fixation of the GDR-leaders on an as high as possible economical growth and faults in planning and leading economy. Since in latter the value of nature was not regarded and therefore nature contributed supposed-ly nothing to economic growth, the importance of nature was correspondingly low in the GDR-politician’s and economist’s perception. The long-term advantage of environment protection was not seen, environment protection measures were rather considered to slow down growth because of required financial outlay. If there were accomplished environment protection measures they were only moti-vated by the wish to save expensive raw materials.
For all problems mainly capitalism was blamed. So the guilt was primarily searched in external actualities which could not be changed by the East German government itself wherefore it could not be made responsible for doing nothing to solve the problems. But also there was some silent critisism about failures in the socialist system itself whereat the priority and neccessity of stronger and stronger becoming economic growth was never questioned. Willingly it was mentioned that prospectively in comunism all problems would be solved. So, responsibility was not only shifted intragenerationally outwards, towards ‚the others’, but also intergenerationally towards later genererations.
The society of the GDR did in general not care very much about the existing problems which was doubtless not only caused by laziness or ignorance of the people. For a large part it was wanted to be like that by the state: Relevant infor-mation was hold back and partly it was unabashedly lied to keep the society’s re-sistance as low as possible.
But not everybody was affected by this strategy. Thus, there was a good many things of commitment to environment and criticism, mostly out of the protected space of church. The expressed criticism went beyond the public ecological debate. Here socialist ideals and guiding principles, e.g. the claim for better and better gratification of the needs, were definitely doubted. Of course, this doubting never became criticism in the system itself. Certainly, everybody was aware that this would have been the end of each outer state action for nature. And so, the numerically relatively small environmental movement rather achieved little than nothing.
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- Sarah Velten (Autor), 2004, The Role Of The Environment In The GDR, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/109793