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Book review: “GDR International Development Policy Involvement. Doctrine and Strategies between Illusions and Reality 1960-1990, The example (South) Africa”

Book review of "GDR International Development Policy Involvement. Doctrine and Strategies between Illusions and Reality 1960-1990, The example (South) Africa", written by Ulrich van der Heyden and published by Lit Verlag in 2013.

Instytut Boyma 07.09.2018

This book was written in English by Ulrich van der Heyden, and published by Lit Publishing House in 2013. It consists of 17 parts including an 11 pages conclusion. The title refers to the issue of the policy of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) policy between 1960 and 1990 with Third World countries (the GDR had diplomatic relations with more than one hundred developing countries). The author (born in 1954), a well-known scholar, is a German historian at the Freie University and the Humboldt University in Berlin. He’s the author of numerous books:  Kolonialmetropole Berlin. Eine Spurensuche (2002), Rote Adler an Afrikas Küste. Die brandenburgisch-preußische Kolonie Großfriedrichsburg in Westafrika (2001), Das Schrifttum der deutschen Missionsgesellschaften als Quelle für die Geschichtsschreibung Südafrikas (1996). In 2013/2014 he was a visiting researcher at the Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies at the University of South Africa (Unisa). The author is a careful observer of the GDR well prepared strategy upon cooperation with Third World countries. The author especially explores the development of GDR relations with African countries (but also with other Third World countries). The author shows how the GDR tried to discredit the Western part of Germany in its policy toward Third World countries. The book is based on an extensive use of official East German texts and statistics. It will be of interest to specialists and students of German historical and East European studies.

The book is comprised of 17 chapters where author explore different aspects of the cooperation between the GDR and Third World countries by presenting the policy of the Socialist Unity Party of GDR which concentrated its forces in political-ideological instructions (by being at least a topical component of a study trip of Third World scholars or interns in the GDR).

The first and the second part of the book are an introduction to the topic. The first one is an introduction to the book. The second part is a summary of the sources which were used by the Author. The Author is also emphasizing on the fact that the GDR kept secret any statistical data which could be used against the country. Therefore it had an impact on the writings of the Author through limited available resources. Many examples provided by the Author are focused on the main countries (Algeria, Angola, Cambodia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Laos, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Syria, Vietnam, Yemen) with which the GDR had important relations.

The introduction to the third chapter is a very good overview of the GDR International Policy in various dimensions. The author presents the general objectives of the GDR development policy which was focused through an anti-imperialist scheme.

The fourth chapter entitled “The Peace Corps of the East – The Friendship Brigades” is dedicated to GDR youth organizations which were dispatched to the Third World. They were tasked in assisting local institutions in the development of some concrete projects (such as repair workshops, linguistic trainings…). In 1963, the GDR created the The Friendship Brigades in response to John Fitzgerald Kennedy Peace Corps founded in 1961. These Friendships Brigades has a double role. They were supposed to support the considered countries in the aftermath of the colonialism. On the other side, these Brigades were also supposed to improve the image of the unknown GDR.

The fifth chapter concerns Third World workers who were employed in GDR and reactions toward their settlements in the GDR. The book contains some original and provocative findings. One example of that is that twenty percent of the Mozambican workers with the best performance were allowed to stay for a further one to five years in the GDR.

The sixth part of the book scrutinizes the effects of the military and security co-operation between the GDR and the Third World. A special emphasize is lead on the MPLA and FRELIMO, two liberation movements respectively in Angola and Mozambique. However the author also argued that the ANC and the SWAPO were the biggest recipients of the solidarity services. The chapter provided also valuable information regarding the trainings of the leaders of these formations in the GDR.

Regarding the seventh, eight, ninth, tenth and eleventh parts, these are totally related to development projects involving the GDR and Third World countries. They explain the ideological foundations of GDR development policy and provide concrete political cases of cooperation in various fields such as Trade and Industry, healthcare and education. In the eight part of the book, the author defends the thesis that since the 1960s, the GDR was totally involved in South African freedom movements (regarding South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe). The author provided also crucial statistical data regarding African students from these regions who were studying in the GDR during the 1980s. The author argued that these young students were supposed to be the next leaders of these countries.

The last five parts are the conclusion, an appendix, an abstract and a list of abbreviations and Tables plus a bibliography mentioning the used sources. The book is based on an extensive research including the examination of a large number of books, research papers, publications focused on the military co-operation of the GDR with Third World countries, case studies. The author underlines that according to him, there are no publications by historians of other countries related to the GDR’Ss African policy.

The author’s research perspective is interesting for the central role of the concept of the GDR role in Africa. The author seems to express some kind of “nostalgia” over the GDR policy in Africa especially when he analyzed the role of the GDR in solidarity services to South African liberation movements. The author also believes that the GDR involvement in these operations determined the image of the Germans in South Africa. The author quotes the South African diplomat Jeremiah Mamabolo who believes that there was no doubt that the GDR was in the forefront of support for the liberation movements.

Even for an experienced reader, the book is a pool of astute statistical documents and observations and comments referring to the research on the foreign policy of the GDR in the Third World. On the other side the author raises some questions that he can answer. It’s of course impossible to mention all elements related to the co-operation between the GDR and Third World countries, however at my humble opinion there is a lack of detailed history regarding relations between both Parties. A chronology of key events would be highly appreciated by beginner’s students in these fields. On the other side the author is able to provide clear syntheses of diverse sources on the relations between the GDR and Third World countries without oversimplifying the history. As a reviewer I would expect also some sources which would be originated from the considered Third World countries (especially countries on which the GDR focused the more. Nevertheless an additional advantage of the publication is its congressional language (including sources), which widens the circle of potential readers. Therefore the book constitutes an interesting reading for those who are interested in the GDR policy in Africa.

Ulrich van der Heyden, GDR International Development Policy Involvement. Doctrine and Strategies between Illusions and Reality 1960-1990, The example (South) Africa, Lit Verlag, Berlin. 2013.  316 pp.

Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North and South Korea. He is an assistant professor at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Author of 7 books, more than 20 academic articles, and over 50 analytical reports on the Korean Peninsula, Poland, and related issues. He conducts lectures at top universities in Poland and abroad.

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