‘Millions of Friends’: Friendship and the Public Sphere in Post-War East Germany

Natalia Jonsson-Skradol

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Jonsson-Skradol, N. (2017) ‘Millions of Friends’: Friendship and the Public Sphere in Post-War East Germany. AMITY: The Journal of Friendship Studies, 4:1, pp. 1-15. doi: 10.5518/AMITY/19

Abstract

The article examines the role that the German-Soviet Friendship Society (Society of Friendship with the Soviet Union) played in the creation of the cultural public sphere in East Germany in the first post-WWII years. The concept and practice of institutionalised friendship are discussed as an alternative to the Western concept of citizenship, whereby unofficial ties between people were supposed to replace any kind of formal affiliation. However, as an institutionalised form of public identification, friendship ended up incorporating major contradictions characteristic of the new order. At the same time, translating utopian aspirations into a series of rather basic bureaucratic measures, the Society of Friendship did create a unique type of public sphere which must be examined on multiple levels. In this article official reports are read together with unofficial correspondence not as mutually exclusive versions of events, but as two sides of the same phenomenon, allowing us to form a more complete picture of what the socialist society was and what it envisioned itself as being.

Keywords: East Germany; Soviet Union; friendship; culture

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