Construction soldier

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A construction soldier (abbreviation: BS , synonym : Spatensoldat , soldierly : Spati ) was a member of the construction units of the National People's Army (NVA) of the GDR . The service as a construction soldier offered the GDR citizens an opportunity to refuse military service with a weapon that was not available in any other socialist country . It was not a civilian alternative service . Service as a construction soldier could have negative effects on training, study and advancement opportunities. Many construction soldiers contributed to the development of the opposition in the GDR and were among the pioneers of the Peaceful Revolution because of their fundamental attitude towards non-violence .


On January 24, 1962, conscription was introduced in the German Democratic Republic . An order of the National Defense Council of the GDR dated September 7, 1964 formed the basis for the installation of the NVA's structural units. The fact that there was even a special regulation in dealing with conscientious objectors is primarily due to the fact that in the first two years after the introduction of the Conscription 1,550 conscripts refused to be drafted. In March 1962, one-off state-church discussions about "questions that arose for the church and for the parishioners after the passing of the conscription law" took place, but without any consequence regarding a regulation for possible conscientious objectors. Only after the spring draft in 1963 957 conscripts announced their intention to refuse, the internal military leadership dealt with the problem.The Ministry of National Defense decided to conduct a more detailed investigation, the results of which were presented to the Ministry by the head of the replenishment administration on May 4, 1963. The report contains one A list of the reasons also includes a proposal to solve the problem of conscientious objectors: “In the pioneer troops, construction and labor battalions are to be created outside of the position plan, in which conscripts who refuse military service with the weapon have the opportunity to do the military service n't to perform without having to pick up a weapon. " Following this report as much as possible, the management of the ministry decided on June 6, 1963 to “set up work units or labor battalions for objectors, or those who evade military service.” However, the order was not implemented immediately because the In autumn 1963 a decline in the number of objectors became apparent and there was hope that the problem would be solved by itself. Due to a sharp increase in the spring of 1964, it was decided to finally implement the plan in autumn 1964.

This special form of military service , like service with a weapon, lasted 18 months. The uniform showed a small spade on the epaulettes , so that the refusers referred to each other as " spade soldiers" or "spatis". Terms such as "work companies" and "work battalions" were among the word creations in the run-up to the creation of the legal text for the construction soldiers order in 1964. In order not to linguistically move the future construction crews into dubious proximity to the penal companies of the Wehrmacht, the was finally found for them more innocuous term “structural unit”.

Shoulder piece of the construction soldiers

The land forces initially received four construction pioneer battalions, air and naval forces (People's Navy) one each. They offered space for 256 unarmed conscripts. The other members were regular soldiers of the engineer force. However, the teams of the companies each consisted either entirely of unarmed construction soldiers or of conventional armed engineers. Until 1973 these units were also used to build military installations. After renewed complaints from the churches, at least the conscientious objectors were given comparatively “civil” tasks in military institutions as gardeners , nurses in military hospitals or kitchen helpers. In the last few years of the GDR in particular, many construction soldiers also worked in large companies that suffered from a labor shortage, for example in the chemical industry or in lignite opencast mines. The conditions for the construction soldiers tightened as they were now mostly grouped into larger units, for example in Merseburg and Prora : In what is now called Block V of the KdF holiday complex that was once planned , the core of which was converted and expanded into a large barracks around 1950, were in the 1980s Years, up to 500 construction soldiers stationed at the same time. This made Prora the largest and, because of the port construction in Mukran, also the most notorious site for construction workers in the GDR.

Shortly after the building units were founded, the need for this type of workforce grew rapidly. In 1966 four more battalions were set up. In these units, however, no unarmed opponents of military service served, as in many of the construction pioneer units set up in the following decades.

In the peace movement in the 1980s there was an increasing demand for alternative civilian service or social peace service. Only the government of Hans Modrow reacted to this demand and replaced the provisions on alternative military service as a construction soldier with the regulation (VO) on civil service in the GDR of February 20, 1990 . This regulation came into force on March 1, 1990, the day of the National People's Army . As early as January 1, 1990, the building units were disbanded and 1,500 building soldiers were released; the remaining soldiers were given the option of doing civilian service, so that the last construction soldiers were released from the NVA at the beginning of October 1990, a few days before reunification, even though their service life was only ten to eleven months in some cases.

It was a deliberate political act of the last GDR government under Lothar de Maizière to appoint former construction soldier and pastor Rainer Eppelmann as minister for disarmament and defense , i.e. the last defense minister of the GDR, in April 1990 and help him prepare for the dissolution of the NVA to commission. This was accepted by the army command without any noticeable public resistance. In 1990, under Eppelmann, a large number of files from the NVA's military intelligence service were destroyed, including numerous files on construction soldiers. This complicates the work-up.

The impulses for coming to terms with history came from within our own ranks. There is no central place of remembrance and education. At the same time as the construction preparations for a youth hostel at the former construction site of Prora, the Berlin historian and author Stefan Wolter founded the non-profit organization Denk-MAL-Prora in 2008 . With contemporary witnesses (including mostly former construction soldiers), scientists and sympathizers, he fought against the one-sided and falsifying public portrayal of Prora as a “former KdF bath” and campaigned against political resistance for the preservation of structural structures from the GDR era. Due to the ignorance of GDR history and the destruction of its traces on site, Stefan Wolter previously (2007) occupied a former club room of the construction soldiers with a mural that tells the story of the opposition. In 2010, the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania State Center for Civic Education in Schwerin advertised an education center for this location , which was to be implemented in connection with the construction of the Prora youth hostel (opened in 2011). As it turned out years later, there was no serious intention behind this. The choice of sponsorship was also a political decision that went against the ambitions of contemporary witnesses. Wolter's demand to present the entire history of the conscientious objection to weapons and military service in the GDR in addition to the history of the Prora construction soldiers in the future education center was not taken up by either politicians or those affected themselves. On August 30, 2010, Wolter announced the end of the association in a press release which reads: “For the association's founder, the dissolution of the Denk-MAL-Prora e. V. ended a double trauma. ”In November of the same year, Stefan Wolter succeeded in installing a memorial plaque for the Prora construction soldiers on the site of today's Prora youth hostel on behalf of the Denk-MAL-Prora. This act and the previous discussions about structural relics from the time of the military use of the site finally changed the perception of the place, "from a Nazi memorial to a place with a double past " (Politische Memoriale eV). Since then there has been a political declaration of will to convey the history of the construction soldiers. However, under the slogan “gray becomes colorful”, the rooms of the youth hostel are largely kept free of the history of use, at best reflecting on the history of Nazi planning. Contemporary witnesses to GDR history still play almost no role in Prora. The history of the use of what was once the largest site for GDR construction soldiers and the process of approaching them are documented in the Denk-MAL-Prora series .

Memorial plaque on the multipurpose building of the Prora Youth Hostel
Portrait of the construction soldier Important in front of the locker, Prora 1987, watercolor on paper by Mathias Tietke

The barracks in Merseburg were largely demolished in 2008. The Geusa business park is now located on the site . On December 22, 2011, the Senate of Merseburg University of Applied Sciences decided to propose to the city council that a place on its campus should be named “Place of Construction Soldiers”. On July 2, 2014, a memorial plaque for the construction soldiers was inaugurated at this place. The media also took a look at Prora on Rügen, where - mostly surprising for those affected - an exchange of construction soldiers had been made repeatedly.

Construction soldiers' congresses and reception

In 2004, a large construction soldiers congress "Civil courage and compromise - Construction soldiers in the GDR 1964–1990" took place in Potsdam, at which Joachim Gauck gave a laudatory speech. Despite repeated requests, Gauck later did not advocate straightening the initially concealed and later sometimes distorted history at what was once the largest site of the construction soldiers, Prora , nor for an education center next to today's youth hostel. In 2009 the conference "Rank: Spaten - The construction soldiers in the last years of the GDR" followed in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. At that time, 39 participants signed one from Denk-MAL-Prora e. V. introduced an open letter to the Minister for Education, Science and Culture in MV, Henry Tesch , with the request for a "comprehensive approach to the subject of 'construction soldiers in the GDR' with the involvement of contemporary witnesses (...) and those concerned about it scientists dealing with this topic. ”The letter went unanswered. 2014 was the 50th anniversary of the construction soldiers' regulation. On this occasion, from September 5th to 7th, another construction soldiers' congress "Peace certificate without a trade fair" took place in Wittenberg. After 2004 the archive of the citizens movement Leipzig e. V. initiated touring exhibition Digging for Peace, as well as the exhibition of contemporary witnesses, letters from the unarmed front , was presented by the educational institution PRORA-ZENTRUM e.V., sponsored by the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. V. the exhibition Opposition and Resistance (also sponsored by the Federal Foundation for Coming to terms with the SED dictatorship ) . Construction soldiers in Prora 1964–1989 / 90 . Those who had unselfishly pursued the process for years, including through the Virtual Museum Proraer Bausoldaten (since 2007), remained excluded from participation. The disputes over an education center next to the youth hostel - in the last remaining authentic rudiments of an NVA construction soldier barracks - continue (2016).

Service conditions

Construction soldiers were usually separated from other conscripts as much as possible during their service. Contact between “normal” soldiers and construction workers was prevented as far as possible. Construction soldiers had to expect harassment both during and after their service . Service as a construction soldier had a negative impact on training opportunities. Construction soldiers were often denied the desired study place. On the other hand, service as a construction soldier was often viewed by other conscripts as a lighter variant of military service, which, together with the beginning peace movement, led to a steady increase in the number of conscientious objectors and thus construction soldiers towards the end of the 1970s and especially in the 1980s rose. The SED regime basically viewed the construction soldiers as “hostile-negative forces”, as the “'very last thing you can expect the working people to do!” “The concentration of' negative forces' in the construction units went with increased military pressure. and control options, on the other hand it unintentionally prepared the breeding ground for oppositional group formation. ”With regard to the former building soldiers site Prora (in the rooms of today's Prora youth hostel ), a hermeneutical investigation of the autobiography “ Behind the horizon alone - The Prince of Prora ”was carried out in 2012 at the University of Mainz came to the conclusion that this place was a total institution .

In the GDR there was no basic right to conscientious objection with the weapon and no civilian alternative service . Anyone who did not want to do military service as a construction soldier ( total refusal ) had to face a prison sentence of 18 to 22 months, which was often followed by expulsion from the GDR. In 1985, on the instructions of the then GDR Defense Minister Heinz Hoffmann, all total objectors were released from custody, and from that point on no one was imprisoned or convicted.

Legal basis

Order of the National Defense Council of the German Democratic Republic on the installation of building units in the area of ​​the Ministry of National Defense. 7 September 1964

§ 1

(1) Building units are to be set up in the area of ​​the Ministry of National Defense.
(2) Service in the building units is alternative military service in accordance with Section 25 of the Compulsory Military Service Act of January 24, 1962 (Journal of Laws of I, p. 2). It is carried out without a weapon.

§ 2

(1) The building units have the task of performing work in the interests of the German Democratic Republic. These include in particular:
a) Participation in road and traffic construction as well as expansion of defense and other military installations;
b) Elimination of exercise damage;
c) Use in disasters.
(2) The construction units are deployed by the Minister for National Defense or those appointed by him.

§ 3

For the members of the building units, the legal and military regulations that regulate the basic military service or the reservist service in the National People's Army apply, unless otherwise specified in this order.

§ 4

(1) Conscripts who refuse military service with a weapon for religious beliefs or for similar reasons are used for service in the building units.
(2) The members of the building units have the rank of "building soldier".

§ 5

(1) The members of the structural units do not take oath of the flag under Section 3 of the Service Career Regulations of January 24, 1962 (Journal of Laws of I p. 6).
(2) The members of the building units make a vow (attachment).

§ 6

In addition to the use of work in accordance with Section 2, Paragraph 1, the following training must be carried out with the members of the building units:
a) state political training,
b) training on legal and military regulations,
c) Drill training without a weapon,
d) military physical fitness,
e) Pioneer service and specialist training,
f) protective training,
g) First aid training.

§ 7

The construction soldiers of the construction units wear a stone-gray uniform with effects and the weapon color "olive". As a special feature, they have the symbol of a spade on their epaulettes.


§ 9

The superiors of the members of the construction units (training personnel) are proven soldiers, NCOs and officers of the National People's Army.


The pledge to be made by the construction soldiers was:

"I pledge: To serve the German Democratic Republic, my fatherland, faithfully at all times and to use my strength to increase their readiness for defense."
"I pledge: As a member of the building units to actively contribute through good work that the National People's Army on the side of the Soviet Army and the armies of the socialist countries allied with us can defend the socialist state against all enemies and achieve victory."
"I vow to be honest, brave, disciplined and vigilant, to obey the superiors unconditionally, to carry out their orders with all determination and to always strictly keep the military and state secrets."
"I pledge: to conscientiously acquire the knowledge necessary to carry out my tasks, to fulfill the legal and military regulations and to preserve the honor of our republic and my unity everywhere."

Press publications in GDR newspapers

  • Construction pioneer battalions. Order of the Defense Council on alternative military service. In: New Time . Berlin, September 23, 1964.
  • What are construction soldiers? In: New Germany . Berlin, November 26, 1964.
  • Visiting construction soldiers. In: New Time. Berlin, December 22, 1964.

Prominent construction soldiers

See also


  • Bernd Eisenfeld : Conscientious Objection in the GDR - A Peace Service? Genesis, questioning, analysis, documents . Haag + Herchen, Frankfurt 1978, ISBN 3-88129-158-X .
  • Klemens Richter : The refusal of arms service in the GDR . ARB-WK 10/79. Ed .: Catholic Working Group on Development and Peace, Commission Justitia et Pax in the FRG. Self-published, Bonn 1979.
  • Uwe Koch, Stephan Eschler: Put your teeth up, grit your head. Documents on conscientious objection in the GDR 1962–1990. 1st edition. Scheunen-Verlag, Kückenshagen 1994, ISBN 3-929370-14-X .
  • Ina Scheibe: Rösch : Construction soldier, PM 12, and lots of friends everywhere. From someone who wanted to turn swords into plowshares. In: Gerbergasse 18 . Issue 2 - Issue II, Jena 1996, ISSN  1431-1607 .
  • Uwe Koch: The Ministry for State Security, the conscientious objectors of the GDR and the construction soldiers of the National People's Army. An overview of the state of research . Publisher: The State Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former GDR in Saxony-Anhalt and the State Commissioner for the records of the State Security Service of the former GDR in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania , Printed by: JVA Naumburg - Labor Administration, November 1997, DNB 952459302 .
  • Philipp Mosch: The decision - construction soldier. Three fates from the former GDR. In: Gerbergasse 18. Thuringian quarterly journal for contemporary history and politics. Ed .: Geschichtswerkstatt Jena e. V. in Zsarb. with the State Commissioner Thuringia for the Stasi documents. (= Forum for History and Culture. Issue 15). Edition IV, Jena 1999, ISSN  1431-1607 .
  • Gert Mengel: "The beginning of the end of the GDR". The first construction soldiers and the Pomeranian Evangelical Church. In: Contemporary history regional. Messages from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania . Issue 2, December 1999, pp. 21-34; Issue 1/2000, pp. 24-28; ISSN  1434-1794 .
  • Jochen Sievert: The Spade Soldiers of the People - Regiment belonged to the area of ​​special construction. In: Gerbergasse 18. Thuringian quarterly journal for contemporary history and politics. Ed .: Geschichtswerkstatt Jena e. V. in Zsarb. with the State Commissioner Thuringia for the Stasi documents: Forum for History and Culture, Issue 16 - Issue I, Jena 2000, ISSN  1431-1607 .
  • Andreas Pausch: Conscientious objection in the GDR: ... the only possible and justifiable concession to the people . Edited by Uwe Schwabe and Rainer Eckert . Archive Citizens Movement Leipzig e. V., Leipzig 2004, ISBN 3-8334-1558-4 .
  • Thomas Widera (Ed.): Pacifists in Uniform. The construction soldiers in the field of tension of the SED policy 1964–1989 . V&R unipress, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-89971-180-7 . (on-line)
  • Moral courage and compromise. Construction soldiers in the GDR 1964–1990. Construction Soldiers Congress Potsdam, 3rd – 5th September 2004, a documentary. Robert Havemann Society , Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-9804920-8-7 .
  • Sebastian Kranich : “First listen to Christ, then to your comrades”. Building soldiers letters: Merseburg, Wolfen, Welzow 1988/89. Projekt-Verlag 188, Halle 2006, ISBN 3-86634-125-3 .
  • Rainer Eckert : "Nobody contradicted the militarization of the GDR". Construction soldiers and conscientious objectors. In: What's true? DDR: the most important answers. (= Herder spectrum. Volume 5735). Herder Verlag , Freiburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-451-05735-9 .
  • Klaus Udo Beßer: National People's Army: Manpower Reserve of the GDR? The building industry of the NVA. In: Military History. Historical Education Journal . 2/2008, ISSN  0932-0458 .
  • Felix Tasch: Construction soldier blues. In: Gerbergasse 18. Thuringian quarterly journal for contemporary history and politics. Ed .: Geschichtswerkstatt Jena e. V. in Zsarb. with the Thuringian State Commissioner for the Stasi documents: Forum for History and Culture, Issue 53 - Issue II, Jena 2009, ISSN  1431-1607 .
  • Felix Tasch: Eichsfeld refused to do arms. Construction soldiers and the Catholic Church in Eichsfeld: Joint witness of peace or solitary decision of conscience? Mecke Verlag, Duderstadt 2018, ISBN 978-3-86944-191-7 .
  • Bernd Eisenfeld, Peter Schicketanz : Construction soldiers in the GDR. The "bringing together of hostile-negative forces" in the NVA . With a foreword by Joachim Gauck . (Research on GDR society). 1st edition. Ch. Links Verlag , Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-86153-637-6 .
  • Justus Vesting: Forced Labor in the Chemical Triangle. Prisoners and construction soldiers in the GDR industry . Ch. Links Verlag , Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86153-675-8 .
  • Mathias Tietke : Spade. In: Listen and Look . Journal for the critical reappraisal of the SED dictatorship. Berlin 2004, No. 47, p. 62f.
  • Stefan Wolter: Prora - In the middle of the story. Volume I: The southern colossus and the culture of remembrance. Norderstedt 2015, ISBN 978-3-7386-3237-8 and Volume II: The northern colossus with youth hostel. Norderstedt 2015, ISBN 978-3-7386-2981-1 .

Sources and personal testimonies

  • Lucas Ackermann: Construction soldier blues. Memories of a gun refuser in the GDR. Verlag Ludwig, Kiel 2008, ISBN 978-3-937719-75-7 .
  • Thomas Brösing: The construction soldier - 542 days in eternity . Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2008, ISBN 978-3-8370-4806-3 .
  • Wolfgang Klietz: “The construction soldier was never as valuable as it is today!” - The economic importance of construction soldiers in the GDR in the 1980s, in: Gerbergasse 18, Thuringian quarterly journal for contemporary history and politics, Jena Geschichtswerkstatt, 3/2017
  • Sebastian Kranich: “First listen to Christ, then to the comrades.” Building soldiers letters: Merseburg, Wolfen, Welzow 1988/89 . Projekt-Verlag 188, Halle 2006, ISBN 3-86634-125-3 .
  • Hendrik Liersch : A voluntary visit: As a construction soldier in Prora. 2nd, modified edition. Am BEATion / Randlage, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-928357-06-9 .
  • Martin Morgner : Decomposed time. Song of the puppet . Netzbandt-Verlag, Jena 2004, ISBN 3-937884-00-9 , pp. 5-60.
  • Holger Richter: Güllenbuch: a book about construction soldiers. 1st edition. Forum-Verlag, Leipzig 1990, ISBN 3-86151-014-6 .
  • Stefan Wolter: Alone behind the horizon - The ´Prince´ of Prora. Experiences of an NVA construction soldier. 3. Edition. Projekt-Verlag 188, Halle 2010, ISBN 978-3-86634-028-2 .
  • Stefan Wolter: The "Prince of Prora" in the mirror of criticism. The trauma NVA and us. Projekt-Verlag, Halle 2007, ISBN 978-3-86634-370-2 .
  • Stefan Wolter: The Prince and the Proradies. About the fight against collective repression. Projekt-Verlag, Halle 2009, ISBN 978-3-86634-808-0 .
  • Stefan Wolter: KDF and barracks: (in) visible GDR history in the Prora youth hostel. Searching for traces at the location. (= Series Denk-MAL-Prora. Volume 1). Projekt-Verlag, Halle 2011, ISBN 978-3-86237-503-5 .
  • Stefan Wolter (ed.): Secret records of a construction soldier in Prora. Courage in the barracks, today's youth hostel. (= Denk-MAL-Prora series of publications. Volume 2). Projekt-Verlag, Halle 2011, ISBN 978-3-86237-630-8 .
  • Stefan Wolter: Ashes on your head! About the fight against the collective suppression of the GDR past from Prora on Rügen. (= Denk-MAL-Prora series of publications. Volume 3). Projekt-Verlag, Halle 2012, ISBN 978-3-86237-888-3 , available at:
  • Citizens Committee “15. January “e. V. (Hrsg.): Horch und Guck  : Journal for the critical processing of the SED dictatorship. Issue 46, 02/2004 (= main topic: construction soldiers in the GDR ). Berlin, ISSN  1437-6164 , p. 81. (online)

Web links

Commons : Construction soldier  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Bausoldat  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Journal of Laws of the GDR Part I No. 11 of September 16, 1964 (issue date), p. 129, ISSN  0138-1644 , DNB 011279702
  2. Felix Tasch: Eichsfelder weapon conscientious objector. Construction soldiers and Catholic Church in Eichsfeld. Duderstadt 2018, p. 66 ff .
  3. Peter Schicketanz: The history of the origins of the building soldiers, in: civil courage and compromise. Construction soldiers in the GDR 1964 - 1990 . Series of the Robert Havemann Archive, No. 9 . Berlin 2006, p. 27 .
  4. ^ Bernd Eisenfeld, Peter Schicketanz: Construction soldiers in the GDR. The "bringing together of hostile-negative forces" in the NVA. 2011, p. 65 f.
  5. Journal of Laws of the GDR Part I No. 10 of February 28, 1990 (issue date), p. 79, ISSN  0138-1644 , DNB 011279702
  6. Stefan Wolter: Ashes on your head! About the fight against the collective suppression of GDR history from Prora on Rügen. (= Denk-MAL-Prora series of publications. Volume 6). Halle 2012, ISBN 978-3-86237-888-3 , p. 52 and Hendrik Liersch: A voluntary visit as a construction soldier in Prora. 2nd Edition. Berlin 2003, p. 14.
  8. (pdf)
  9. Prora is reminiscent of NVA construction soldiers. , November 23, 2010.
  10. Homepage of the State Office for Memorial Work MV, last accessed on December 5, 2012.
  11. ( Memento from February 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 23 kB)
  12. Stefan Wolter: Ashes on your head! About the fight against the collective suppression of GDR history from Prora on Rügen. 2012.
  14. ^ Press release from Denk-MAL-Prora on the petition in April 2016.
  15. Stefan Wolter: Ashes on the head. 2012, p. 116.
  16. Objection to the awarding of the award to the Prora Center 2014 and Stefan Wolter: Secret diary of a construction soldier in Prora. 2nd Edition. 2015.
  17. ^ Application for monument protection by Denk-MAL-Prora (Stefan Wolter) ( Memento from June 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  18. Uwe Rühle: Notes from the building soldiers' barracks. In: Stefan Wolter: Secret diary of a construction soldier in Prora. 2nd Edition. 2015, p. 59.
  19. Stefan Wolter: Secret records of a construction soldier in Prora. 2nd Edition. 2015, p. 30.
  20. Nadin Lowin: The reconstruction of the biographical development of an NVA construction soldier. Master's thesis at the University of Mainz. 2012.
  21. Reinhard Schult : Conscientious objection in the GDR. In: With us against conscription e. V. (Ed.): Disloyal - Journal for Antimilitarism. No. 10, Berlin Winter 99/00, ISSN  1434-2871 , OCLC 85492181 , DNB 019469985 , p. 16.
  22. GDR Law Gazette Part I No. 11 of September 16, 1964 (issue date), p. 129, ISSN  0138-1644 , DNB 011279702
  23. Annex to Section 5 (2) of the above arrangement.