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Germany (East)

 
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East Germany

Conscientious Objection to Military Service

The work of the FDJ, GST, families, and schools was complemented by vocational counseling centers, parent associations, and military district commands. The entire apparatus of socialist military education, in turn, was part of a sophisticated, comprehensive structure that tied together police, traditional military, and uniformed as well as plainclothes security organs in a network of professional services that blanketed the entire society. The resulting system was so pervasive that it touched every citizen and every activity in the country.

As the regime stepped up its efforts in the late 1970s and the 1980s to militarize society still further, popular resistance increased as well, despite tightened controls. One source reported that the number of young men who refused to do any military service at all had risen from 8 in 1980 to about 150 in 1985. Traditionally such refusal resulted in a prison sentence of twenty-four months, greater than the length of the military service obligation. The number of young East Germans choosing to serve in the NVA's construction units--the only route open to those who wished to do unarmed service--also was on the rise, from about 700 a year to approximately 1,000, according to one source.

Since the autumn of 1964, there have existed NVA engineer companies that do not bear arms, in accordance with an order of the National Defense Council. On this basis, in well-founded exceptional cases, those subject to induction who for religious or similar reasons refuse to bear arms are permitted to serve as construction soldiers. The Military Service Law of 1982 did not permit refusal to serve for reasons of conscience. The new law no longer used the term "alternative service" (Wehrersatzdienst).

Beginning in the 1980s, construction soldiers had to take a vow to increase defense readiness rather than the oath of allegiance required of other soldiers. They wore gray uniforms with the design of a spade on the shoulder patch, performed military construction and rear-guard services as well as some tasks in the industrial and social-service sectors, were subject to military law and disciplinary regulations, were commanded by NVA officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and received engineer training and political education. In 1983, of the 230,000 soldiers in the NVA, 0.6 percent--about 1,400 persons--were allowed to serve in the construction units. According to one report, however, the number of persons electing such service was so high that draft officials claimed the plan was overfulfilled, and in 1983 young East Germans unwilling to bear arms had to join the regular troops. In February 1983, in Schwerin, Dresden, and East Berlin, five young men were sentenced to eighteen months in prison because they tried to exercise their right to join the construction units. Service in the construction troops did, however, have certain consequences. In the 1970s, East German leaders acknowledged that former construction soldiers were at a disadvantage when they rejoined the civilian sphere. They were not allowed to enter certain professions or to pursue a university education. In 1984, however, Honecker and Defense Minister Hoffmann asserted that construction soldiers no longer suffered such discrimination; like others who had completed their military service, they were given preference in the university admission process.

Since 1978 the East Germany's Lutheran Church has sought a liberalization of the system for conscientious objectors, who have only one option: service as construction soldiers. Reaction to the 1982 Military Service Law was strong, and the church advocated a program of social service for peace, that is, alternative service in hospitals, old-age homes, and the like. Church leaders also opposed the introduction of compulsory military education in schools, the practice of teaching hatred of the foes of socialism, and the SED's emphasis on the image of the enemy. The church became the focus of a growing independent peace movement, which expressed its goals in the suggestion that swords once again be turned into plowshares. After passage of the 1982 law, the East German Roman Catholic Church grew more active as well. In a pastoral letter in January 1983, Catholic bishops condemned the militarization of life in East Germany (see Religion and Religious Organizations , ch. 2).

Data as of July 1987

Germany [East] - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • National Security

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