Ulbricht Replaced by Honecker  1971


 Really-Existing Socialism - Ostpoltik - Detente

In 1969 there were border clashes between the Soviet Union and China and a serious risk of war. To prevent a US-China alliance, the Soviet Union pursued a policy of detente ( relaxation of tensions ) . The high point of the detente era Helsinki Final Act in 1975, which recognized the postwar frontiers in eastern and central Europe and, in effect, legitimized Soviet hegemony over the Eastern Bloc.


In the 1970s, the USSR introduced the term ' Really Existing Socialism' to account for the obvious differences between the ideals of socialism and what was happening in real life . It was claimed that East Germany, with its higher standard of living was coming the closest to true socialism .In 1968 Willy Brandt led the Social Democrats to victory in the West German elections after two decades of rule by the Christian Democrats. Brandt moved quickly through his policy of Ostpolitik to improve relations with the East .This coincided with the American and Soviet policy of detente at the time . In 1972 East and West Germany signed a treaty recognizing the right of the other to exist . In 1973 both countries were admitted to the UN.Travel restrictions were eased and direct telephone service was restored .During this period, Honecker replaced Ulbricht as general secretary of the SED. Steps were taken to increase the supply of consumer goods and to build more housing . More freedom was given to the Protestant Church . Ironically, as West Germany poured more money into East Germany hoping it would lead to reform and 'change through convergence' Honecker became more oppressive.



 Rise and Fall of Erich Honecker

However, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, the relationship with the West deteriorated .The Soviets began to station SS-20 mobile missiles in East Germany .In response, the Americans began to station cruise missiles in West Germany . Honecker and his economic advisors dreamed of turning East Germany into ' the Japan of Eastern Europe' and was a leader in software and medical technology. There was no way for East Germany to match the economies of scale of the capitalist counties. Ulbricht's policies from 1967 to 1981 were in response to the Soviet detente negotiations .Ulbricht feared warmer relations with West Germany might result in absorption by West Germany, which did indeed happen .Ulbricht tried to strengthen ties with other Soviet Bloc countries to organize opposition to detente and to reject normalization of relations with West Germany unless Bonn recognized East German  sovereignty . He launched a campaign in 1968 for COMECON states to develop their economy by their own means . In August 1970, the Soviet Union signed the Soviet-West German treaty and pressured East Germany to begin bilateral talks with West Germany, which Ulbricht resisted .



Erich Honecker (1912-1994)


Erich Honecker was born in 1912 in Saarland. He was imprisoned for 10 years under the Nazis as a communist . He studied communism at the International Lenin School in Moscow, as had Walter Ulbricht. His was a committed Stalinist .


Honecker with Brezhnev


He visited Brezhnev in the 70s where  Brezhnev told him '...never forget that East Germany cannot exist without us.' His wife, Margot, was in charge of education and nicknamed 'the purple witch'  due to her tinted hair . In 1971, Ulbricht was forced out as head of state under Soviet pressure, and replaced by Erich Honecker. Ulbricht resisted Brandt's attempts at closer relations, which went against the Soviets favor for detente with the West at the time. This and Ulbricht experimenting with reforms ( New Economic System (Neues Ökonomisches System or NÖS). This meant that under the central coordinated economic plan, a greater degree of local decision-making would be possible.) led the Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev  to pressure the SED to remove Ulbricht and replace him with Erich Honecker, who had argued against Ulbricht's reforms . Ulbricht was given a honorary position with no real power and died a few years later in 1973. Honecker tightened the reins and imposed a new constitution that used the word "German" sparingly and defined the country as a "republic of workers and peasants." East Germany was generally regarded as the most economically advanced member of the Warsaw Pact. Until the 1970s, West Germany regarded East Germany as an illegally constituted state, and under the Hallstein Doctrine refused to have diplomatic relations with any country (except the Soviet Union) that recognized East Germany as a separate country. In the early 1970s, Ostpolitik led by Willy Brandt led to a form of mutual recognition between East and West Germany.


 17/5001 is the official name of a bunker completed after five years of construction in 1983 outside East Berlin. In the event of nuclear war it was to provide shelter for the East German cabinet. The multistory facility is now open to the public, albeit for only a few weeks due to the expensive maintenance costs involved.




 The Brezhnev Doctrine


Escalation of the Cold War