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Reunification spelled the end of East Germany's development aid

Development aid in communist East Germany went by a somewhat different name - it was labeled 'anti-imperialist solidarity'. Yet when reunification came, most of the East's aid and education projects were abandoned.

Erich Honecker and Fidel Castro

The end of Honecker was the end of German aid to Castro

The so-called "school of friendship" was opened in 1979 as one of communist East Germany’s development projects.

Some 900 pupils from Mozambique were to receive schooling and education in the little town of Stassfurt – the idea was that later they would spread the word of Marx and Engels in their home country.

Custodio Tamele was one of those pupils, who still appreciates his education there today.

"We all were selected at our former school in Mozambique. They were checking our grades to see who would be allowed to come along."

Custódio Tamele

Custodio Tamele remains grateful for the education he got in East Germany

Tamele arrived in the small town in Saxony-Anhalt in 1982. He was twelve years old at the time. After finishing school and a training program as a mechanic he had to go back to Mozambique in 1988.

With its economy faltering, East Germany cancelled many of its programs even before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in 1988 the "school of friendship" was also shut down.

"East Germany was completely bankrupt by the early 1980s", Bonn-based historian Joachim Scholtyseck told Deutsche Welle. That's why development projects like the school of friendship were closed one after the other.

Back in Mozambique, civil war was raging and repatriates did not have an easy return. Many were sent straight to the army.

"We were deported to the barracks straight away", Tamele said. "After we'd spent such a long time in Germany - that was terrible."

Cooperation in the field of education was an important part of East Germany’s development aid.

Overall, some 200 000 people from developing countries went to the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) for extra training and education purposes, as well as some 30 000 young people from Africa, Asia and Latin America who went there to study.

Difficult merger with the West

Repatriating pupils, students and trainees was an issue that was discussed at the "developmental round table" which formed just before German reunification.

Margot Honecker at the school of friendship in Stassfurt

Margot Honecker at the school of friendship in Stassfurt

The body was made up of representatives from both the West German development ministry (BMZ) and their East German counterparts. The goal was to merge both German states' development aid programs.

It was a fine line "not to simply cut off existing relationships", said Ulrich Popp, who participated on behalf of BMZ.

To facilitate repatriation in the home country, the round table's participants launched programs to start up businesses. They also granted loans that would help repatriates re-establish some form of economic base.

The majority of the East’s collaborations were bilateral. There was no underlying development aid concept - East Germany simply reacted to interest voiced by other states or liberation organizations.

In contrast, West Germany's aid program, in its own words, tried to follow the principle of "helping people help themselves."

Officially, East Germany was not helping countries develop – it was displaying "anti-imperialist solidarity".

There was no ministry for development in East Germany, as aid was not primarily about development, but influence and international solidarity.

Marx in Addis Ababa

East Germany was eager to win international recognition, so liberation-movement members from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa were welcome guests in East Berlin.

Sculptor Jo Jastram working on his five meter high Karl Marx monument

The only Karl Marx monument on African soil was set up in Addis Abeba

The first diplomatic representation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization PLO was opened there.

Yet the communist government also supported young states economically by helping them set up basic infrastructure.

Yemen received a power plant, while Egypt, Iraq and Syria were given cement factories. States were also granted loans, and cultural exchange was promoted via exhibitions, scholarships for artists and general visits.

The goal was always the same: supporting the global socialist revolution. That's how the very first and only monument of Karl Marx on African soil came to be inaugurated in Addis Ababa in 1984 - it was a present from East Berlin to military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Aside from government aid, there were also projects initiated by civil society. "Everybody knew the bank account number 444, and all banks would accept donations", said Peter Stobiniski, who was working for the so-called solidarity committee of East Germany at the time.

The committee collected the "solidarity money" and distributed it according to the directives of East Berlin. Mass organizations like the Free German Youth (FDJ) – a kind of socialist scouts group – as well as trade and women's unions helped collect the donations. In the 1970s and 1980s, an annual 200 million Marks were collected, Stobinski said.

New development aid criteria

After reunification, Germany stipulated that aid would only be given to countries with a democratic system. Cuba did not fulfil this criterion – and no longer receives development aid from Germany.

Journalists' solidarity market on Berlin's Alexanderplatz

Civil society initiated solidarity programs

East Germany had mainly collaborated with socialist countries that were considered undemocratic by West Germany. That's why most East German projects were shut down or discontinued.

"East and West had little in common when it came to their respective development policies", historian Joachim Scholtyseck said.

In 1991, reunited Germany set up new criteria for when to allow grants – as an indirect result of the merging of Eastern and Western German development policy. The criteria include adhering to human rights, people's participation in political processes, as well as a market economic system.

Despite the suspension of many East German projects, the relationships that were formed continue to have a lasting effect to this day.

"There are some of us who now belong to Mozambique's elite," said Stassfurt graduate Custodio Tamele. "And I'd say that that is because of the education we got when we were in East Germany."

Report: Franziska Schmidt (nh)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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