East German efforts to gain international recognition between 1949 and 1973 were doomed to failure. The lobby committees set up by the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in 55 countries at a cost of millions of euros remained small and impotent. The Dutch Committee for the Recognition of the DDR (Nederlands Comité voor de Erkenning van de DDR), for example, amounted to nothing. These are the findings of research conducted by historian Carel Horstmeier, who will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 20 February. The NATO countries, which included the Netherlands, had little trouble keeping the DDR on the international sideline. It was not until the German Chancellor Willy Brandt opened the door to recognition with his ‘New Eastern Policy’ in December 1972, that the rest of the international community accepted the DDR en masse.
The DDR found itself in international isolation from the moment it was established in 1949. The other eleven communist states were the only countries to offer diplomatic recognition. The East Germans were keen to change this situation and set up committees in various countries to lobby for recognition, organize cultural exchange programmes and interest governments in diplomatic ties with the DDR.
‘In 1955, the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) set up the world’s first friendship committee’ says Horstmeier. ‘It died a quiet death when the CPN decided not to go along with the process of de-Stalinization after Stalin’s death and wanted to distance itself from the DDR. The next DDR committee was not established until 1970, and included members of the PSP (Pacifist Socialist Party) and left-wing students.’ However, it remained a small group of around twenty people, many of whom were never active members. The only well-known name on the list was PSP member Fred van der Spek. Their main activities were publishing a two-monthly magazine, DDR-kenningen, and writing the odd letter to the Minister asking whether the DDR could attend a conference. Horstmeier: ‘To which he would reply: letter received.’
In addition to the Dutch committee, Horstmeier also studied their Belgian and Danish counterparts. Despite being more active than the Dutch, they too accomplished very little. They occasionally managed to persuade a delegation of politicians to visit the DDR and meet the party leader, Walter Ulbricht. But this did nothing to alter the DDR’s diplomatic isolation. The DDR failed in every attempt it made to put pressure on the West-European governments, and the fact that these countries had established a international blockade against the DDR made things all the more problematic. The Netherlands was one of the six NATO countries that played an important part in organizing the blockade, including among the neutral states.
Meanwhile, the millions of euros that the DDR had invested in trying to gain international recognition turned out to be counterproductive, as the East Germans understood nothing of what was going on in the West. Horstmeier: ‘They were their own worst enemy. Their Marxist/Leninist ideology made them suspicious of the West, and they saw threats where they did not exist. For example, when Prince Claus got engaged to Princess Beatrix, they thought that the major West German capitalists were trying to increase their influence on the Netherlands.’
Carel Horstmeier (Amsterdam, 1970) studied German and History at the University of Groningen and the Freie Universität Berlijn. He is a lecturer and departmental secretary in the Department of International Relations & International Organization (IBIO) in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen, and secretary of the Coevorden municipal auditing committee. He will be awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Arts on 20 February, with a thesis entitled Stiefkind der Staatengemeinschaft. Die Anerkennungspolitik der DDR in Westeuropa 1949-1973.
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