Accepted Paper:

Making the news: images of Africa and Africans in East German newsreels  

Author:

Katrin Bahr (Centre College)

Paper short abstract:

Newsreels in the GDR were used to promote political activities in other socialist countries and to inform East German citizens about national and international activities. The paper will show how a monumental ignorance about African culture allowed racially superior attitudes to grow.

Paper long abstract:

Throughout the existence of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), newsreels—including Der Augenzeuge, a weekly newsreel of the Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA), Aktuelle-Kamera, a daily half-hour news program, and DDR-Magazin, a monthly documentary magazine produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—were used to promote the GDR's political activities in other socialist countries and to inform East German citizens about national and international activities. Predictably, a certain number of these newsreels focused on African topics.

The GDR did not consider itself an heir to Germany's colonial past, nor an exploitative imperialist power. On the contrary, it perceived itself as standing side by side in "solidarity" (Solidarität) with its "brother states" (Bruderstaaten) throughout the developing world. In an effort to understand the complex intertwining of these themes, this paper looks at representations of such solidarity with African countries, especially during the period that saw wars of liberation against colonial rulers post-1945.

I argue that East German newsreels were in fact used both to legitimize political and economic activities in Africa, and to gain support from East German citizens for foreign policy. Representations of Africa—marked as an underdeveloped continent—allowed the GDR to present itself as a helpful big brother, to counterbalance West German foreign policy, and to strengthen East German identity under the guise of solidarity within and outside of the GDR. Although the newsreels showed goodwill towards Africans, they also showed a monumental ignorance about African culture, which allowed racially superior attitudes to grow, despite the language of solidarity.

Panel P082
The changing landscape of the global political economy and foreign aid: has the Cold War ended? (Anthropology of International Governance Network)