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Aleksanteri Conference
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Nehring, Holger

The Last Battle of the Cold War: Peace movements and Cold War politics in the 1980s

This paper focuses on the way in which peace movements in Germany, the divided country at the epicentre of the Cold War in Europe, prepared the ground for the end of the Cold War. Thus, it touches on a number of themes of interest to the conference: ‘interactions across boundaries’, behind the scenes and beyond the state’ and ‘reconsidering the Cold War’. While the role of peace movement at the end of the Cold War has been explored before, this paper will develop a novel perspective by highlighting connections across the Iron Curtain in both directions (rather than only from East to West or West to East) and by focusing on the changes the peace movements spurned in key areas of political culture, rather than in governmental policy making.

The last battle of the Cold War in 1980s’ Germany was not waged on battlefields with traditional tanks and weapons, by officers directing armies from command hills. It was fought between and amongst East and West Germans and their governments, when hundreds of thousands of Germans took to the streets and protested against the threat of annihilation posed by the stationing of even more nuclear weapons on German soil and against the militarisation of their societies. Activists and their supporters challenged these central parameters of Cold War politics and developed their own collective imagination. The proposed paper will trace these shifts in a number of key areas: first, the ways in which the space for political activism itself was significantly expanded in both West Germany and the GDR during this period; second, challenges to the logic of communism vs. anti-communism/freedom vs. socialism as the exclusive ideological framework for Cold War politics; third, changes in conceptions of gender roles and citizenship, in particular with regard to the connection between (male) citizenship and conscription; fourth, and fundamentally, the ways in which the movements unveiled the core of the Cold War’s destructionist logic. This will lead to a more nuanced understanding of those political-cultural factors that made the end of the Cold War in Germany possible. It will, too, entail a novel understanding of the nature of the Cold War that engages with and speaks to a number of disciplines. As an all-out nuclear war never occurred, nuclear war could only be imagined, through the military’s combat exercises and government officials’ calculations of the destructive power of nuclear weapons on the one hand; and, through the fears of anti-nuclear-weapons protesters on the other. These simulations and images of nuclear war, and the fears they created, formed the essence of the Cold War. The Cold War in central Europe was, therefore, primarily waged through attacks on people’s imaginations, by trying to make them believe in the logic and ‘rationality’ of nuclear deterrence and in the bipolar ideological opposition between capitalism and communism.

Friday 30 Oct, 13.45-15.45 SESSION5
Panel: Other Voices: Peace and Human Rights' Movements