PhD ceremony: Mr. P.J. Vogel, 13.15 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen
Title: Wie te laat komt! Het denken en handelen van de leden van het Politbüro en de regering van de DDR met betrekking tot het binnen-en buitenlands beleid gedurende de jaren 1985-1989.
Promotor(s): prof. P.M.E. Volten
After forty years of apparent untouchable sacrosanctity, the Iron Curtain opened up completely in 1989 in less than a few months. Eastern European socialist leadership was certainly aware of increasing erosion and loss of absolute power of the communist parties, but none foresaw the irreversible and total collapse of the communist system. Gorbachev’s perestroika and the call for reforms in the East European societies unleashed social political processes that crashed the very foundations of the communist system, in the end tearing down the Iron Curtain itself. It is interesting whether these processes did change the ways of thinking and acting of decision makers in party and state institutions of the GDR, and whether they had a possibility at all to acquire more insight to tackle the external and internal events more adequately than they did. This question closely interconnects with questions about the type of leadership, institutional surroundings and personal convictions of the leadership involved. In this regard, a scholar like Noll distinguishes conservative from reforming leadership. In his view, both the ideology and personal convictions constituted a straitjacket for the conservative leaders, even to the extent that at a certain point, they apparently had lost all flexibility to anticipate and act adequately in the emerging challenging surroundings.
Peter Vogel’s study endeavours to investigate whether, and if so to what extent mental constructs like ideas (ideological doctrines), culture, world views, sets of values and collective identities of the members of the Politburo and the government of the GDR had a decisive role in the political decision-making processes concerning Gorbachev’s policies of new thinking, the Federal Republic of Germany and the own state and society in the period 1985-1989.
The central question is therefore as follows: What was the role of the mental constructs of the members of the Politburo and the government of the GDR, to what extent did they (and above all, their ideological doctrines and/or belief systems) exert influence on the political decision-making processes regarding GDR’s domestic and foreign policies in the years 1985-1989?
As a theoretical foundation for the hypotheses served the social constructivist theory of Wendt and the neo-institutional theory of Sabatier et al. Both theories presuppose that a strong collective identity within an institution can frustrate any “policy learning” or “policy change.” They also agree that a difference of nuance in the collective identity is possible, but only based on an (internal) identity crisis, caused in its turn by an inconsistency between reality and expectations on the one hand and relevant external events on the other. These agreements are important for this study as a solid foundation of the theses. The methodological approach to decide between a conservative, anti-revisionist and a reforming, revisionist leadership in the Politburo was realized by a comparative test of the consistency of the statements of the coalition Honecker (1985-1988) and those of the coalition Krenz (1989).
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