American in Berlin
following is part of a conversation with Professor Dennis
Sweet, Associate Professor of German at Bates Maine, USA.
An American in Berlin
Published in Die Andere Welt, Feb 1991
C.M-S.: What are you doing in
Prof. D.S: The law in the GDR was much more
progressive than in the FRG - for example in connection with the question
of terminating a pregnancy and the equal treatment of homosexuals,
I wanted to check the situation out - to establish whether it was
in the nature of socialism or a question of personalities. With the
changes which have taken place I've had to alter my concept. I'm now
busy making a film on the transitional period in which I've landed.
It deals with what was achieved under socialism, the present-day problems,
and the development of the contradictions which arose in the GDR.
For instance the progressive laws on homosexuality, but being spied
on by the Stasi (State Security), groups attached to the church as,
well as groups friendly towards the SED, and benevolently regarded
by the SED.
I want to establish the basis of the impulses which were sent by scientific
experts in sexuality. There was a series of scientific conferences
- the first in Leipzig (1985), then in Karl-Marx-Stadt (1988) and
the last in Jena. Is it possible that the scientific experts in this
field brought pressure on the party and state? Were tolerance and
integration only questions of science? In the film I will try to find
answers - mostly through interviews with participants.
C.M-S.: What do you regard as
progressive in GDR laws?
Prof. D.S: The abolition of the equivalents
of Paragraph 175. Also, for a moment, it looked as though a homo-marriage,
similar to the Danish model would be introduced. But it didn't come
to that. The de-criminalisation of homosexuality was largely achieved
in 1988/89. (This refers to the age of consent. LEGALLY over 18 homosexual
relations were decriminalised in 1969. DAW) Paedosexuality is another
question all over the world.
The law was logical and sensible, but for me the question is how far
the public was influenced by this. The Germans lived· through
12 years of Hitler's fascism. That has left its mark on many - including
in their attitudes to homosexuality. But how can this be changed ?
The situation is different here from in the west. There homosexuals
take to the streets in enormous numbers. This began in the USA and
spread until in the '70's - with the Gay-Power-Movement, a sort of
mass movement existed which time and again brought homosexuals into
the public consciousness. On the other hand there was the situation
with the explanation and logical argumentation by scientists. Did
it have an influence on public consciousness ? I don't know.
In 1973 during the World Youth festival in Berlin, gays tried to draw
attention to themselves and their problems. They were brutally up
by members of the Free German Youth. During the 1970's people who
tried to organise groups were unsuccessful; the groups were banned.
Only at the beginning of the 1980's was it possible for the first
groups - within the church and in Leipzig - to establish themselves
and be tolerated. The Stasi did nothing to stop it. At the same time
the Stasi received reports about it, letters were opened, telephones
tapped, and Stasi informers infiltrated into the groups - even into
the bed of one of the founder members!
Particularly after the 2nd scientific conference, the state and government
were more at ease (with the topic) and came to the conclusion that
a close scrutiny was no longer necessary. At the first conference
the list of participants and all the speeches had to be submitted
previously to the Stasi. But at the 2nd. in 1988, this was no longer
the case; it was freely accessible to all since it was held in a theatre
in the town. Gays and lesbians could speak up for themselves.
A kind of media campaign began which in practice culminated with Carow's
film "Coming Out" (...) A political movement did not come
into existence - a political organisation formed in Leipzig, the Schwulenverband
in Deutschland (SVD = "Gay Association in Germany". Men
only.), but it is not a mass organisation. The SVD has only a very
small membership. Whether it will provide a political impulse I can't
say. Although I have not checked out all my contacts, especially with
lesbians - I was shocked about the lack of cooperation between gays
(...) Through a group in Jena and Uschi Sillge (Sonntags-Club, Berlin)
I know that they have made great efforts in this direction. We went
thro' such a stage in the USA, but it is long gone. [Gays and lesbians
have learned in the meantime that ] (...) co-operation, at least in
political questions, is essential. That's why parity was built into
my film from the beginning. A film only about men would not be interesting
to an American public, and not taken seriously. That's why the attitude
of Eduard Stapel (SVD, Leipzig) is completely incomprehensible to
me. I see co-operation as absolutely essential. Why should there be
an association only for gay men?
Colin de la Motte-Sherman