Klaus Gysi, 25. 9. 1987, Berlin, East Germany


Location Berlin, East Germany
Date 25. 9. 1987
Length 15:58

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In recent years, many young people in East Germany have been attracted to the Protestant Church for religious reasons, but also social and cultural reasons, do you feel that this might be a problem for the Communist Party here, this might attract young idealistic people away from the party?

No, there is not a problem. Not for the Party and not for the State. And I confess quite frankly, I doesn't remark that there is such a growing influence, better if you put this question to Mr. Stolpe, he will know what is going on in his Church. So far it concerns young members of the Church. But I have to say, which might try to clear some things. We have a constitution in this country, this constitution says that every citizen has the same duties and the same rights. And we are not an atheistic state and we never said this, we are a state of workers and peasants, that's not an atheistic state. We have no atheistic propaganda in this simple form of propaganda against churches and religions. Not at all. Our school is open for everybody and for every child and also our youth organisation. Of course, the membership in our youth organisation is voluntary. So there are some young people who don't go there if they don't want it, and we have young groups in the churches, that is quite clear. What, this is going you see somehow side on side and not one against the other. So…

But still, the main purpose of the party (interruption)

Recently there's been new development in the Lutheran Church here because it has attracted a lot of young people for religious reasons but also because of its concern for issues such as peace or ecology and so on. Don't you feel that if this trend developed this might drive away from the Party some of the young more idealistic East Germans today?

No, I don't feel. You see, firstly I don't remark this growing influence or interest, but perhaps you put this question to Mr… Mr. Stolpe, he must have to know that. But I know that our youth organisation is open for every youth, that means there are of course a big number of Christian youths in this youth organisation. Of course, the membership is voluntary, and there are also other young people who are not member in this organisation and perhaps are interested more in the membership in the churches may, but for the big number that is not a question which is, a question of relevance or something else, not at all. You see we are a state of workers and peasants, that's what we say and that's how we understand ourselves, but not an atheistic state, that is quite another thing. We have a Party who is for the most majority atheistic, that is a Socialist Party in this country, but even there you could be member, as Christian. So

You could be a Christian Marxist Leninist?


You could be a Christian Marxist Leninist?

Yes. You could. I mean, let me now say a Marxist Leninist, that becomes a philosophical question, but that Christian people can be very good Socialists in this country, Socialists in the first row, that is quite sure. Because it is a praxis. We have a Christian party in this country which is a very big party and important party but not only that, if the churches are right, they think they have five million members, Protestant Churches, and other people, my friends think are three millions, well let's take the middle, generally that's right, maybe four million people. So, I have to tell you that those millions of Christian citizens are working and living as every other citizen in this country. That is not a problem, that was not a problem. Let's give a look on the development. In 1945 we had about - I don't know how many Christian people here, but more than ten million, or something like that, 12 million. So we had to build up this country, we had to construct the new towns, we had to march forwards after this completely breakdown. Of course, only with the biggest majority of the population there is no other way, and that's why from the beginning we didn't allow atheistic propaganda. In this country. Because we only say that it's not a question, that is not important for us. For us is important, what are you doing for this new society? Of course, a Socialist society, that is the point. And Christian can be very good Socialists. That is one of the experiences of our development.

And if they can be, but they need not be.

They need not be, but that's not a difference to every other citizen in this country, excuse me, but between a convinced Marxist Leninist, and between very convinced and engaged Christian men, there is a lot of people who are not the one and some are not the other, and they are living very well also, who have the most different ideas about life. No. We have from the beginning no atheistic effort in this country, that means no fight against churches, no fight against religion. Religion is a thing what's going on in the inside of people. You can't do anything with administrative measures. No with repressive measures. It’s a question of the development of the society.

Is it the conclusion now or do you think it's because the administrative methods have not worked?

No, from the beginning we had no, we had no administrative (unclear). 1945 when we had over this territory of the German Democratic Republic, the so-called East Zone, the first orders of the Soviet occupation administration, the first order was to deny all Nazi laws, the second order was to allow the churches without ask permission, making all their religious, cultural, ritual duties. That was the second, the second order. So, I tell that, because people have always the idea that now begins a new period. No. What changed was the success in this development. Where, where, why existed certain difficulties, why? Protestant Church in our country in earlier times, were strongly connected, connected with the upper class, especially the big land-owners in this country and Protestant Church under William II was practically a state church. So, she was from the beginning of the workers' movement in Germany, fighting against the workers' movement, against the Social Democrats, against the trade unions, that I don't talk from communist. So they were completely fighting against the working class, had been a big part of the population and of course, of course connection, contacts between workers movement and workers' parties and the church were very complicated on the beginning of our development.

Of course, this special historical development of the Protestantism in our country is history of our country, made some difficulties specially on the beginning, it was necessary to talk one with the other, to begin to understand what's going on. Because for the Church a new society and especially socialist society of course was a quite surprising thing, they had, they didn't know what to think. But this process is going, was going on very well, even more fast than I ever will have thought so that we have a completely changed situation today. That means of course that also very important for the question of the youth which, which you posed me, you see.

But you said that the Protestant Church is associated with the dominant classes, which have been hostile to the, to the Labour movement and Socialist movement, but then you've celebrated in great splendour the anniversary of Martin Luther, that's quite a conversion, no?

No. No. That is quite normal. Luther was a very big personality in the German history. Luther was a man of the historical progress. He put it forward in a very high way and Germans wouldn't be like they are without Luther, of course not. I mean of course religion in the history has a big importance, why not? Only we recognise Luther from our way of thinking and with our eyes as a big man of progress, not only a man of state and society but also in the thinking of course. But on the other side, he was thinking in religious terms and he was thinking in emotional religious feeling, at least not thinking, feeling. Religious emotions. That's quite normal. That’s the history.

So how do you assess the role of the Church, do you assess it as a positive role, as a stabilising role and then if so why? And what would be the difference let's say in your relationship with the Lutheran Church here, from let's say the Polish authorities’ relationship with the Catholic Church?

This is a lot of questions. Let me see. Firstly we are a country of Protestantism and if you take Socialist countries we are the only country with a big Protestant majority. In all other Socialist countries, you will find the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church and so on and so on. Even there you can't compare one country with the other, because tradition, mentality of the people, historical facts, and all that is such a difference within, in all so different sides, perhaps so different, so different in the different countries that you can't compare. So we have a special problem, and a special chance that is a Protestantism who is somehow always also active in the society. You see? And this was our problem, that the church who in the past was quite like linked with another dominating class, now had to orientate their work on the state of workers and peasants. That was the problem.

So is it that the Church always orients itself towards the state, whatever the state is?

No, the Church is not always oriented just on the state, she is oriented many factors and you can't see the church in the past had a reactionary role, or a progressive role. They had both. There are times where, where a church was very progressive, there are times where a church was very reactivity, but somehow, she was linked with the historical development. And now the new historical development and that's not so easy for them, we understand that. I mean it's a new sort of thinking what's necessary. So we already said that it is necessary to be very patient. And I must tell you we had a big success on this way, it's now going if we take 45, there's are 42 years' time, correctly I had to say the time since the foundation of our Republic, but let's say there's 40 years and something, that is historical observed, in a historical side a very short time. But we think that church and state cannot only live very well together, they can also co-operate. You asked for Luther. We had a Luther jubilee of the state and the society. We had a Luther jubilee of the church. Everybody was respecting the motivation of the other side. Everybody was respecting their own responsibility for what to do on the other side. Everybody was respecting the motives or the means, but everybody co-operated to handle a common thing, in I say also in the organisation area, one with the other. And this model is somehow that's why I mentioned it just now, is somehow a model, for that what we think is how the possibilities between state and church, and in different areas of society.

Klaus Gysi (1912–1999)

Klaus Gysi

Klaus Gysi was born in Neukölln on March 3, 1912; he died in Berlin on March 6, 1999. He was active in the communist resistance to National Socialism, served as Minister of Culture from 1966 to 1973, and was the GDR's State Secretary for Church Affairs from 1979 to 1988.

Klaus Gysi was the son of a doctor and grew up in an upper-middle-class family with a Jewish cosmopolitan background that disapproved of his path to communism from the beginning. After graduating from high school, Gysi studied German and economics in Frankfurt/M., Berlin, Innsbruck and Paris.

Engaged in politics early on, Gysi joined the Communist Workers' Youth at the age of 16. During his studies, he joined the KPD in 1931. For a time he acted as a youth functionary of the CP in Hesse. In 1939 he belonged to the student leadership of the KPD in Paris. According to official information, he was interned in a French camp from 1939 to 1940, but was then able to go into hiding after the invasion of the German Wehrmacht and subsequently worked illegally for the KPD in Germany. After the end of the war, he returned to Berlin in 1945.

In 1946, Gysi joined the SED and worked for various newspapers and publishing houses in the years that followed.

From 1956 to 1964, Gysi worked as an unofficial collaborator for the Ministry of State Security.

From 1963, Gysi was a member of the West Commission of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the SED. From 1966 (from January 12, 1966) to 1973, he was Minister of Culture and thus a member of the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic. He was also a member of the Cultural Commission of the Politburo of the CC of the SED. From 1973 to 1978, Gysi was ambassador to Italy. Subsequently, from December 1978 to 1979, he was secretary general of the official GDR Committee for European Security and Cooperation, which served to prepare the CSCE. From November 1979 until his retirement in 1988, Gysi was state secretary for church affairs. In 1990, he became a member of the PDS.