Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"Rendezvous with Moscow:" East German Popular Culture and the Soviet Union 1961 – 1989
by Honsberger, Laura Elisabet, Ph.D., New York University, 2014, 419; 3635162
Abstract (Summary)

"'Rendezvous with Moscow:' East German Popular Culture and the Soviet Union, 1961 - 1989" explores transnational cultural exchange and its role in establishing official and popular state legitimacy in the German Democratic Republic. By reconstructing the pervasiveness of the Soviet Union on the cultural terrain of the GDR, "Rendezvous with Moscow" argues that Soviet and East German officials' presentation of the alliance as friendship provided stable imagery for East German cultural authorities to communicate economic and political messages. They deployed the rhetoric of friendship in international negotiations and above all to win popular support for political and economic projects. East German men and women likewise deployed this language to lobby for expanded travel opportunities, consumer products, and increased cultural openness. They used this language to negotiate national narratives in the Cold War world. East German cultural bureaucrats struggled to reconcile their commitment to centralized control of friendship rhetoric with individual, popular interpretations of the German-Soviet partnership, undermining their ability to maintain legitimacy and popular support.

"Rendezvous with Moscow" draws on government documents and television transcripts, material objects and interviews. The opening chapters examine the method and agencies involved in communicating friendship and what German-Soviet friendship implied. Chapter One argues that East Germany's rigid centralization created space for cultural, political, and media organizations to coordinate efforts to popularize friendship. Chapter Two uses a 1963 East German documentary on Soviet history to illustrate the elements that dominated the discourse of friendship including Soviet progress, the translatability of the Soviet project to the GDR, and East Germany's position as the western-most socialist state in Europe. Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution demonstrated this saturation, while subsequent evaluations of the friendship after the festivities and East German responses to the Prague Spring led to calls for entertainment programming with improved mass appeal.

The following chapters explore how officials manipulated the discourse of friendship. Chapter Four explores individual East German interactions with Soviet citizens, including official encounters and tourism. These encounters provided a space for individuals to develop their own interpretations of friendship. Chapter Five examines officials' use of the cultural discourse of friendship to popularize the economic policies of the socialist bloc in the mid 1970s through alternative, socialist ways of "consuming," focused on participation instead of purchase, including game shows, consumer exhibitions, and magazine articles. Chapter Six explores the changing Soviet-German cultural relationship during the 1980s and East German officials' anxious attempts to navigate Soviet reforms. Anxiety culminated in official bans of Soviet cultural products that threatened traditional East German narratives of antifascism. In response, East German citizens deployed official friendship discourse to protest these decisions. As East German citizens proved their fluency in friendship rhetoric, officials struggled more than ever to placate their Soviet ally and reconcile these individual calls with their own narrative.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Nolan, Mary
Commitee: Kotsonis, Yanni, Pence, Katherine, Wolff, Larry, Young, Marilyn
School: New York University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Slavic Studies, Russian history
Keywords: Cold War, Cultural exchange, Friendship, German Democratic Republic, Popular culture, Soviet Union
Publication Number: 3635162
ISBN: 978-1-321-16134-2
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