Guests of the socialist nation? : foreign students and workers in the GDR, 1949-1990
This thesis explores the everyday experiences of foreign contract workers and international students in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from 1949 to 1990. Starting with an overview of immigration policy in the socialist state, it demonstrates that this was influenced by older German police traditions as well as by Soviet practice. Although the state aimed at maximum control of foreigners' lives, its system of control and surveillance was never fully effective. As "subjects of social action", foreign workers and students were capable of recognising the extent and limits of state authority and could use the political, economic and social conditions in the GDR to their own advantage. Many foreigners saw the GDR as an opportunity to secure a better future or to explore social activities frowned upon or unavailable in their home countries. The pursuit of their own sense of identity and economic interests generated a mixed response from the East German public and the authorities. Racism did exist in the GDR but the state consistently denied this, claiming rather that East Germany embodied the principles of proletarian internationalism and solidarity. There was positive interaction between foreigners and East German citizens, demonstrated by the existence of social contact and binational relationships. Viewed with disdain by the general public, the authorities implemented extensive measures to prevent marriages taking place, effectively blocking any progress towards a multicultural society. These restrictive practices, along with the inbuilt shortcomings of the planned economy and the controlled media, served to reinforce popular misconceptions about foreigners, leaving a society ill-equipped to deal with minorities since the collapse of the state in 1989.