Classified Environment Data and Environmental Dissidents

It is not surprising that as adverse environmental impacts became increasingly evident, environment data became a potentially explosive issue for the government of the GDR. There was no official assessment of the situation until 1990, when the Environment Report of the GDR was published. Several years prior to that, the Presidium of the Council of Ministers had passed a resolution establishing the confidentiality of environment data. This “Decree Concerning the Acquisition or Processing of Information Regarding the State of the Natural Environment in the GDR and the Safeguarding of Such Information,”[1] issued on November 16, 1982, was followed by a second decree on April 27, 1984. These decrees reflected the rigidity of the political system and the unwillingness of the SED leadership to engage in dialog.

It is equally unsurprising that under conditions such as these an environmental movement of dissidents and independent thinkers sprang up. One of the first independent environmental groups to emerge had its roots in tree-planting campaigns carried out by church youth groups in the town of Schwerin in 1979. Starting in early 1981, this group, centered around Jörn Mothes and Nikolaus Voss, held annual ecology seminars (Schweriner Winterseminare) which until 1983 were the most important platform for organizing and networking in the environmental movement. The church was virtually the only place where an independent ecology movement could develop (Beleites 2007, 185; Gensichen 1994, 2007). A church-sponsored research institute—the Kirchliches Forschungsheim, in Wittenberg—became the organizational center of the movement. It published the first issue of its magazine Letters Providing Direction in the Conflict between Man and Earth in 1981. Starting in 1982, at the initiative of the church, the Kirchliches Forschungsheim hosted an annual gathering of representatives of church-sponsored environmental groups. The Umweltbibliothek (Environment Library) was founded on September 2, 1986, by activists who had previously been part of a church-centered peace and environment group in Berlin-Lichtenberg. The group was given space in the Zionskirche church in Berlin-Mitte and started publishing its Umweltblätter (Environment Papers) the same year it was founded. From 1985 to 1989, there were about 60 to 65 independent environment groups across the country, with a total membership of between 550 and 850 people. They came together to form the Netzwerk Arche (Ark Network) in 1988, and later the Grüne Liga (Green League) in 1990.

One of the principal activities of these groups was to organize regional protests on issues including “coal, chemicals, Waldsterben (forest dieback), highway construction, waste, uranium, nuclear power plants, and large-scale, collectivized farming” (Beleites 2007, 187). The growth of independent environmental groups reflected a failure on the part of the state to attract people to comparable state-sponsored groups, such as those in the Kulturbund. One such institution, the Society for Nature and Environment (Gesellschaft für Natur und Umwelt, GNU) was founded as part of the Kulturbund on May 27, 1980. It was intended to provide a “home” to conservationists as well as environmental activists who were concerned with urban and industrial environmental problems, and it formed working groups to study issues of urban ecology. Kulturbund records for 1987 show 380 urban ecology groups with a total of 7,000 members. The Kulturbund did not accomplish its mission of serving as a home to these groups, however.

The environmental problems described above and the work of those who tackled them—both in the independent environmental movement and in the critical Kulturbund groups—helped to make a “healthy environment” one of the top priorities of the citizens of the GDR in 1989.


Beleites, M. 2007: Die unabhängige Umweltbewegung der DDR. In: Umweltschutz in der DDR – Analysen und Zeitzeugenberichte. Band 3: Beruflicher, ehrenamtlicher und freiwilliger Umweltschutz. München: 179-224.

Gensichen, H.-P. 1994: Das Umweltengagement in den evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR. In: Behrens, H. & Paucke, H.: Umweltgeschichte: Wissenschaft und Praxis. Marburg: 65-83.

Gensichen, H.-P. 2007: Die Beiträge des Wittenberger Forschungsheimes für die kritische Umweltbewegung in der DDR. In: Behrens, H. & Hoffmann, J. (Bearb.): Umweltschutz in der DDR – Analysen und Zeitzeugenberichte. Band 3: Beruflicher, ehrenamtlicher und freiwilliger Umweltschutz. München: 150-177.

[1]     The original German title of this decree (No. 02-67/I.2/82) is Anordnung zur Gewinnung oder Bearbeitung und zum Schutz von Informationen über den Zustand der natürlichen Umwelt in der DDR.—Trans.

Erinnerungen von Zeitzeugen

Literatur zum Weiterlesen

Beleites, M.:

Pechblende. Der Uranbergbau in der DDR und seine Folgen. Hg.: Kirchliches Forschungsheim Wittenberg. Wittenberg 1988.

Gensichen, H.-P.:

Das Umweltengagement in den evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR. In: Behrens, H. & Paucke, H. (Hg.): Umweltgeschichte: Wissenschaft und Praxis. Forum Wissenschaft Studien 27. Marburg 1994: 65-83.

Rüddenklau, W.:

Störenfriede. ddr-opposition 1986-1989. Berlin 1992.

Jordan, C. & Kloth, H.-M.:

Arche Nova. Opposition in der DDR. Das "Grün-Ökologische Netzwerk Arche" 1988-1990. Berlin 1995.