Degradation Ceremonies Revisited: Organizational and Biographical Ways of Coming to Terms with the Military Past of the GDR

Monday, 16 July 2018
Nina LEONHARD, Bundeswehr Center for Military History and Social Sciences, Germany
When the German Democratic Republic (GDR) acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) on 3 October 1990, the National People’s Army of the GDR (Nationale Volksarmee, NVA) as well ceased to exist. Full command authority over the GDR armed forces passed to the Federal Minister of Defense of the now unified Germany, and the Bundeswehr, the military organization of the Federal Republic of Germany, was called to dissolve the East German armed forces and to integrate parts of its personnel. The paper analyses this politics of integration and its impact on East German soldiers’ biographies. For this, it draws on the findings of a research project based on biographical interviews with former officers of the East German National People’s Army.

The aim of the paper is twofold: On the one hand, by taking up the concept of degradation ceremonies first introduced by Harold Garfinkel (1956), it will explain the logic by which the Bundeswehr organized (and legitimated) the admission of former “enemies” amongst its ranks. On the other hand, the effects of this politics of integration on the individual level are discussed. They show that organizational degradation ceremonies imply the assignment of new social identities by devaluating the past, which also has to be dealt with biographically and thus affects (and alters) biographical narratives.