Reformation history and political mythology in the German Democratic Republic, 1949-89

R. Walinski-Kiehl

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This study examines the political foundation myths associated specifically with the sixteenth-century Reformation era that the German Democratic Republic constructed in order to legitimate the state and raise socialist consciousness. The article argues that, ultimately, the GDR failed in its bid to incorporate Reformation history into its mythic repertoire because, as the regime progressed, the constructed myths became increasingly ambivalent and contradictory. The 1950s myths were initially consistent and appeared appropriate subjects for demonstrating East Germany's progressive tradition. They focused on radical personalities that GDR citizens could easily recognise as precursors of the new socialist state, such as Thomas Muntzer, the rebel priest. However, by 1989, inconsistencies had emerged in East Germany's portrayal of Muntzer. The disparity between the traditional and the more recent perspectives on Muntzer was indicative of the wider chasms opening up within the GDR between supporters and critics of the regime. Research into GDR perspectives on the Reformation era provides us with a further understanding of Communist domination and its eventual crisis, as well as offering insights into Marxist interpretations of sixteenth-century history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-67
Number of pages25
JournalEuropean History Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2004


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