Glasnost and Abgrenzung
street cafe in Eisenach, Thuringia 1985
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as general secretary . Through his policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) he hoped to revitalize the stagnating Communist system. The Soviet Union faced huge economic problems from the Brezhnev years, huge sums were spent on the armed forces and massive projects such as the Baikal Amur Mainline of the Transsiberian railway. the Soviet Union could no longer afford to prop up its Eastern Bloc client states.
As relations between the superpowers improved, Honecker grew more distrustful of Gorbachev's new policies .Honecker wished to visit West Germany to establish his status as a world statesman. Gorbachev refused to agree to such plans which incensed Honecker. From this point onwards, meeting at of the SEDs leadership were full of Honecker's tirades against Gorbachev. Honecker eventually did visit West Germany in 1987. At this time Gorbachev was seeking to ease the burden of foreign entanglements and stated the Soviet Union would no longer interfere in Germany's internal affairs, in effect renouncing the Brezhnev Doctrine. Honecker decided to test this by moving against dissidents in East Germany in 1988. Later in the year, the East German Politburo announced that there would never be an East German version of Perestroika, instead, a policy of Abgrenzung or 'insulation' would be pursued to protect East Germans from too much Westernization and give east Germany time to develop socialism in their own way .
Soviet newspapers such as Pravda were banned in East Germany . After the 1976 at the ninth congress of the SED in 1976 propaganda was increasingly used to convince East Germans that East Germany had historically been separate from West Germany . An East German 'German' that could be distinguished from the German spoken in West Germany was encouraged . References to Germany were replaced with East Germany, the lyrics to the national anthem were no longer sung . Gorbachev hoped that the Eastern European countries would rid themselves of hardliners like Honecker and replace them with reformers still loyal to Moscow.
Failure of a large dissident movement to grow in East Germany
Unlike Poland, where a Solidarity movement was started in 1980, there was no serious dissident movement in East Germany. Thanks to the West Germany policy of paying for dissidents, it was profitable to 'sell' troublesome dissidents for a profit . An estimate 2 to 3 million voted with their feet until the Wall was built in 1961. Over 3,000 were sold this way between 1963 and 1989 and was a major factor in a dissident movement failing to develop in East Germany. The movements, when they started were spontaneous, like those in 1953. In the late 70s Honecker began a crackdown singers, actors and intellectuals who were thought to be critical of the state . Many were encouraged to immigrate or had their citizenship revoked when they toured abroad . The most famous case of this was with the singer Wolf Biermann, who lost his East German citizenship while he was touring in West Germany .This sparked a wave of protest from other artists such as Christina Wolf. Some of the dissenters were committed Marxist such as Robert Havermann and Rudolf Bahro who criticized the gap between the theory and practice of socialism .