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Julia Ault, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, History

A Different Shade of Green: Environmental Activism under East German Dictatorship, 1980–1990

My project explores the rise of environmental activism in communist East Germany between 1980 and 1990. It seeks to understand the impact of environmental degradation on society, how it contributed to a broader dissatisfaction among segments of the population, and how both activists and the regime responded to those problems. To investigate these questions, this project first examines where and how environmental groups formed and then transitioned from being localized in nature to a nationally-connected, politicized movement. Second, it explores the regime’s attempts to address environmental problems and why they failed. Third, it offers a close analysis of relationships with West German Greens and the nascent environmental movement in Poland to explain how environmental activists networked across borders, shared information, and learned new tactics. Ultimately, this project contends that a philosophical divergence developed between the materialist, production-based communist system and segments of the East German population which developed a post-industrial, post-material worldview. This shift in values reflected growing dissatisfaction among the population and created further legitimacy dilemmas for the East German regime.