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2013 Series Panizzi Lectures 3

3. Communist East Germany: Planning and Persecution

Although censorship was forbidden by the constitution of the German Democratic Republic, it existed on a large scale and was organised at the summit of power in the Administration of Publishers and the Book Trade. Interviews with the censors shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall reveal their own understanding of their work.

Positive and unapologetic, it was summarised by them in a single word, “planning”. Literature under the GDR had to be planned, like everything else, through a process of social engineering. Copies of the annual plans and the ideological exegesis of them prepared for the Communist (SED) Party show how the Party tried to control literature, while extensive files in the Party archives reveal how the system actually operated. It functioned at every stage in the production and diffusion of books – in the authors’ heads as self-censorship, through author-editor negotiations over drafts, by means of readers’ reports, as line-by-line blue-pencilling by the censors themselves, and through the intervention of the Party, especially in the Culture Division of the Central Committee.

After brutal repression in the 1950s and 1960s, authors either emigrated to West Germany or learned to accommodate themselves to the system. A complex process of accommodation and negotiation lay behind the best-known works of the 1980s. By 1987, when the Authors’ Union demanded freedom of the press, the system was falling apart, but it did not collapse until the Wall itself was breached in 1989.

Censors at Work: Communist East Germany (PDF format)

The Panizzi Lectures

Censors at Work: Bourbon France, Imperialist India and Communist East Germany

A series of three lectures by Professor Robert Darnton

MP3 file, 1 hr 7 mins 32 secs, 27.05 MB