Censorship in the GDR

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Measures to control media, expressions of opinion and artistic production are referred to as censorship in the GDR and previously in the Soviet zone of occupation .


On June 9, 1945, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) with its headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst was installed in the Soviet occupation zone ; she took over government and introduced a strict system of pre-censorship .

The GDR systematically veiled the censorship authorities since the constitution of 1949, the term " censorship " disappeared from laws, pronouncements and the media. While the constitution, in the revolutionary tradition, formally guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of expression, a network of authorities was created to control and direct the GDR public . These supervisory bodies were initially structured according to supporting organizations, essentially according to membership of the SED, state bureaucracy or state security. Over the years, a regional structure of the censorship authorities developed in addition to the hierarchical one. In addition, laws were created that could be used against unpopular statements.

As far as possible, the SED avoided public conflicts in its censorship policy by clear deletions or publication bans. Attempts were made to make the control activity appear as a promotional activity, developed delay tactics and supportive arguments ("paper shortage") and gave rewards or perks (trips to the West, prizes and medals, positions and other privileges) for adaptive work by cultural workers (e.g. writers, theater managers or Directors). The result was a climate in which all those affected by possible censorship constantly reflected on whether the planned statement was in line with the prevailing ideology and what price would have to be paid if one leaned too far out of the window. The censorship developed in the respective political context and in response to major historical events such as the building of the Wall, the invasion of Hungary or Czechoslovakia or a change in power in the SED.

"The word censorship itself was one of the taboos that were guarded by censorship in the GDR."

A goal of the SED's cultural policy was also the functionalization of artists and culture. Performances that one would not have liked to see in the GDR were also very popular in the systematic competition between the Federal Republic and the SED.

When Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 in the Soviet Union a clear reforms - glasnost and perestroika - struck and friendly parties and governments in the Eastern Bloc countries now free hand for the internal development ( " Sinatra Doctrine ") was that rejected SED regime that route strictly. It imposed censorship on the Soviet media and propagated “ socialism in the colors of the GDR ”. This met with incomprehension and increasing resistance in the GDR population, even in their own SED ranks; the GDR disintegrated in 1989/1990.

Soviet occupation zone

In the Soviet occupation zone , the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD) exercised censorship from 1945 until the GDR was founded in October 1949 . For this purpose, press officers, mostly captain or major, with usually very good knowledge of German, were employed in the local commandant offices. While the newspapers of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) adhered to the given language regulations for reporting (“party line”) with self-censorship, the papers of the so-called block parties CDU , LDPD and NDPD were subject to prior censorship. In practice, a dedicated editor had to present the page prints of the next issue to the commandant's office before the start of the printing process and have the imprimatur issued.

Organizationally, the "Administration for Propaganda and Censorship" ( Russian управление пропаганды , uprawlenije propagandy ), later the "Administration for Information" ( управление информации , uprawlenije informazii ) existed as part of the SMAD. The head of this administration was Major General Sergei Ivanovich Tjulpanow from 1945 to September 1949 . Similar departments have also been set up at the state administrations of SMAD.

With the founding of the GDR in 1949, the " synchronization " of the press and the nationalization of the media and printing works were so far completed that the previous censorship was abolished and replaced by more subtle forms of censorship.

Control of the content of the media

The subjects and priorities of media reporting were specified centrally. This central specification was made by the Politburo of the Central Committee (ZK). The Central Committee secretary for agitation and propaganda was assumed, among other things, the department agitation, which was responsible for organizing and directing the mass media. The instruments of control were daily conferences in Berlin, conference calls to the other SED newspapers and press instructions. Another instrument was the "instructions" from the press office of the GDR government.

At the local level, this process took place via the state “offices for information”, which also issued “instructions” in accordance with East Berlin guidelines. Indirect censorship was also exercised via the party headquarters by specifying mandatory topics, commentary arguments, headline wording and "target plans" sent daily via telex by the editorial staff. This is why there was a common saying among the editors of the provincial newspapers: "My opinion will come from Berlin at two o'clock!"

Censorship of literature, theater and film

Unlike in the West, the GDR writers, artists and musicians could be sure of the attention of the highest government agencies. Culture played an important role in the SED's structural concept. This becomes clear with the example of drama: “Politicians wanted the theater to play a positive role in shaping the identity of the new state and its citizens.” In the process, the state and the party developed quite contradicting interests. On the one hand, greats like Bertolt Brecht were welcome representatives of the early, diplomatically isolated GDR, on the other hand, Brecht and his Berlin ensemble were in constant conflict with the principles of socialist realism , an art concept that promotes the development of socialism through positive examples and heroes and thereby criticizes the party and economy should avoid. An early didactic piece on the attempt of government agencies to influence content is shown by the extensive attempts at filming by Brecht's mother Courage and her children . The pressure of cultural and film politics to introduce positive socialist founding characters into the script for the drama and to show farmers triumphing over the Soldateska became ever stronger.

Like literature, dramas were first examined before going to press. From 1956, the main administration for publishing and bookshops (HV) in the Ministry of Culture succeeded the “ Office for Literature and Publishing ”, responsible for the printing approval procedure , the central procedure for censoring literature in the GDR . Due to the regulation on the development of advanced literature , the task was to allow or prohibit the printing of books by assigning paper. The HV had a complete monopoly over all 78 publishers in the GDR. In addition to the allocation of paper and printing capacities, the AGM was able to directly access publishing managers and editors.

It was also not permissible for GDR writers to publish their works in western countries to circumvent censorship. Since 1966 this has only been allowed with the permission of the Copyright Bureau . A grant could be refused or subject to conditions.

The state control, particularly in the theater area, was not completed with the printing permit. Rehearsals were observed by various bodies, such as regional politics at the venue, the party organization of the theater staff, and the state security. Even when a performance was approved, the process was continued and the audience's reaction was specifically analyzed. One goal was to avoid complete bans on plays and to defuse the play through various interventions or to postpone performances for technical reasons.

Laura Bradley examined specific censorship measures in the GDR in a historical context. Using categories from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu , she shows how a social field is created on the basis of the extensive state control and reward system in which the actors constantly reflect on the gains or losses that might follow their actions and statements. At the same time, the scope for cultural experiments was constantly being explored anew.

In 1990 the memorial library was founded in Berlin in honor of the victims of communism with the aim of storing books that were banned in the GDR.

Censorship of newspapers and magazines

As a licensed newspaper, the publication of periodicals was subject to licensing. In the Soviet Zone, apart from a few non-partisan newspapers (e.g. the Abendpost in Erfurt or the Tagespost in Potsdam), only party-affiliated newspapers were permitted. With the DC circuit of the parties to block parties , the SED gained complete control. With the closing of the last non-partisan newspapers in the early 1950s, all daily newspapers in the GDR were controlled by block parties and mass organizations.

The GDR's postal newspaper distribution had a monopoly on the sale and delivery of newspapers and magazines. The postal newspaper distribution kept a list of the newspapers and magazines to be distributed. Failure to include or remove from this list was in fact equivalent to a ban. In November 1988 z. For example, the Soviet magazine “Sputnik” was deleted from the list for a year because of several critical articles.

The central committee (the “selection group” of the agitation and propaganda department at the SED Central Committee) and the press office had evaluation departments that evaluated all publications. These evaluations were the basis for decisions about sanctions against the media or journalists.

Radio and television censorship

The regional radio stations founded after the war under the control of the Soviet military government (e.g. the Berliner Rundfunk, the Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk and the Landessender Dresden, Schwerin, Halle, Erfurt and Potsdam) were under the control of the Berliner Rundfunk , which in turn was controlled by the Soviet military administration (SMAD) was controlled.

On October 12, 1949, the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic officially took control of the radio. In 1952, the transmitters were centralized and placed under the supervision of the State Committee for Broadcasting (StKfR), which received its instructions from the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the SED . “Topics and the way in which they are to be dealt with were specified centrally in press instructions. The individual journalist implemented the specifications without having the instructions available as a printed source. "

On September 4, 1968, based on the model of the StKfR, the State Committee for Television was founded, whose head was Heinz Adameck (1968–1989) for many years .

The effect of the censorship of the electronic media remained limited because the people in the GDR were able to receive radio and television programs from the West. Even before western television had an important role in informing the population, it was radio stations like RIAS that broke the GDR leadership's monopoly on information.

An attempt was made to prevent reception with jammers . However, only the medium wave reception was disturbed. West German VHF radio and television programs were technically not disturbed, reception was possible in large parts of the GDR without any problems and also common among the population, apart from the “ Valley of the Unsuspecting ”.

The reception of western television and radio programs was never officially banned in the GDR, but the state tried to restrict their use as early as the early 1950s. Regardless of this, there were government-tolerated initiatives in the 1980s to build cable networks, which were mainly set up to improve reception of West German programs.

Legal basis

Constitutional Law and Constitutional Reality

The GDR constitution of 1949 guaranteed freedom of expression and freedom of the press:

"Article 9

(1) All citizens have the right, within the limits of the laws applicable to all, to express their opinion freely and publicly and to assemble peacefully and unarmed for this purpose. This freedom is not restricted by any service or employment relationship; no one may be disadvantaged if he makes use of this right.
(2) There is no press censorship. "

The term censorship no longer appears in the 1968 constitution . Article 27 of the constitution of the GDR guaranteed every citizen the right to freely express his or her opinion as well as freedom of the press, radio and television.

"Article 27

(1) Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic has the right to freely and publicly express his or her opinion in accordance with the principles of this constitution. This right is not restricted by any service or employment relationship. Nobody should be disadvantaged if they make use of this right.
(2) The freedom of the press, radio and television is guaranteed. "

The concept of censorship was taboo due to the clear regulation in different versions of the GDR constitution . Nevertheless, an extensive, multi-track censorship apparatus was established, differentiated according to the main body, such as administration, party or state security, according to region and monitored sectors.

A legal basis can be found in Article 18 of the 1968 Constitution:

"Article 18

(1) The socialist national culture is one of the foundations of socialist society. The German Democratic Republic promotes and protects the socialist culture that serves peace, humanism and the development of the socialist human community. It fights the imperialist culture that serves psychological warfare and the degradation of people. The socialist society promotes the cultural life of the working people, cultivates all humanistic values ​​of the national cultural heritage and world culture and develops the socialist national culture as a matter for the whole people.
(2) The promotion of the arts, the artistic interests and abilities of all working people and the dissemination of artistic works and achievements are the obligations of the state and all social forces. The artistic creation is based on a close connection between the cultural workers and the life of the people. "

From the perspective of the SED, the development and the content and formal design of the culture were political tasks. From this perspective, censorship appeared euphemistically as encouragement.

Euphemisms for censorship

Laura Bradley showed in a study from 2010 that censorship was well accepted as part of denazification in the immediate post-war period , but that after the 1949 constitution it could only be addressed in clauses. By meticulously adhering to the language regulations, the very extensive control was presented as positive support. Terms such as “censorship” or “prohibition” were systematically excluded and replaced by official codes. One source of the euphemistic language was the planned economy , state interventions in the culture appear as "planning", "management", "steering", "game plan design" and "party leadership". According to Bradley, another linguistic camouflage came from the official language: the previous censorship became an “approval procedure”, the censorship orders became “instructions”, and performance bans became “administrative measures”. The SED itself and its censors had stylized themselves as promoters of culture and educators by using terms such as “ideological clarification processes”, “patient conviction”, “help”, “support” and “self-criticism”.

"Their language characterized the party as patient and omniscient and presented playwrights and directors as annoying teenagers who lacked sufficient wisdom and insight that careful tutors needed and had a lot to learn."

- Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict , p. 13

Criminal law

The GDR Criminal Code provided a number of legal norms that were used to enforce censorship:

  • The " rubber paragraph " 106 made " subversive agitation " and thus the "discrimination of social conditions" a punishable offense.
  • With section 219 “Illegal contact establishment”, possession and distribution of western newspapers and magazines could be punished.
  • Section 220 "Defamation of the State" protected state organs and their employees not only from defamation, but also from "contempt".
  • Sections 245, 246 “ betrayal of secrets ” were used to punish the passing on of information about the situation in the GDR to western media.


In order to prevent GDR writers from publishing their works in western countries in order to circumvent censorship, the "Order on the protection of copyrights by the Office for Copyrights" stipulated that this was only allowed with the approval of the Office for Copyright .


Edition of the
Telegraph published by the Environmental Library

The censorship led to attempts to create an (illegal) counter-public . In addition to a few smaller ecclesiastical papers , the samizdat and the magnitizdat within the Leipzig song scene should be mentioned here. However, they could not achieve more than a local effect.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernest Wichner, Herbert Wiesner: Literature development processes - the censorship of literature in the GDR. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt 1993.
  2. ^ Martin Broszat , Gerhard Braas, Hermann Weber: SBZ-Handbuch ; Munich: Oldenbourg, 1993², ISBN 3-486-55262-7 , pp. 53-54.
  3. ^ Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict , p. 2.
  4. ^ Ordinance on the development of progressive literature of August 16, 1951; Journal of Laws No. 100, August 27, 1951, p. 785.
  5. Nils Kahlefendt: Farewell to the reading country? The East German book trade and publishing landscape between demolition and departure . In: From Politics and Contemporary History (B 13/2000)
  6. Marcel Reich-Ranicki : Only with permission. Another blow against the writers in the GDR . In: Die Zeit , No. 13/1966.
  7. See Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict: GDR Theater Censorship, 1961–1989 (Oxford UP, 2010), New York 2011, pp. 2 f.
  8. See Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict , p. 4 f.
  9. ^ Günter Höhne: Prenzlauer Berg and Jammertal. From today in the KulturBrauerei: testimonies of the 80s about a prevented dialogue on urban renewal . ( Memento from December 22, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) First published as a review in: Der Tagesspiegel , 1996.
  10. Patrick Conley: The Partial Journalist. Metropol, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86331-050-9 , p. 36.
  11. Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk: Lexicon: Rundfunk der DDR ( Memento from August 14, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  12. ^ Claudia Dittmar: Enemy television. GDR television and its strategies in dealing with West German television. Transcript, Bielefeld 2010, ISBN 978-3-8376-1434-3 , p. 100.
  13. ^ GDR - Myth and Reality, Media. kas.de, accessed on June 11, 2020
  14. ^ Constitution of the German Democratic Republic of October 7, 1949 on verfassungen.de; also on documentarchiv.de
  15. ^ Constitution of the German Democratic Republic of April 6, 1968 on dokumentenarchiv.de
  16. a b quoted from: Constitution of the German Democratic Republic of April 6, 1968 on dokumentenarchiv.de
  17. Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict , pp. 9 ff.
  18. See Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict , p. 11.
  19. Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict , p. 12.
  20. ^ Laura Bradley: Cooperation and Conflict: GDR Theater Censorship, 1961-1989 , p. 13; Original: "Their language characterized the Party as patient and omniscient, and presented dramatists and directors as troublesome teenagers who lacked sufficient wisdom and insight, needed careful tutoring, and had a good deal to learn."
  21. Law Gazette of the German Democratic Republic , Part II, No. 21
  22. Leipziger Liederszene Magnitisdat