University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Cross-Posted from Dissertation Reviews
A review of Between dictatorship and dissent: Ideology, legitimacy, and human rights in East Germany, 1945-1990, by Ned Richardson-Little.
[Editor’s note: Dr. Richardson-Little is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Exeter. His dissertation was awarded the Fritz Stern Prize by the German Historical Institute.]
Ned Richardson-Little’s well-argued and well-researched dissertation challenges the idea that human rights gained importance in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) only after the signing of the Helsinki accords in 1975 – in other words, that the language of human rights was a gift from the West. The problem with this narrative is that it cannot explain why the Socialist Unity Party (SED) signed a document that was so obviously contrary to its own interests. Richardson-Little’s dissertation traces the evolution of the SED’s human rights policies through several stages between 1945 and the 1980s and shows how human rights rhetoric became mobilized by East German citizens as early as 1968. Rather than presenting a narrative of liberal triumphalism from Helsinki to 1989, he demonstrates that human rights discourses existed in the GDR before the 1970s while insisting that these discourses were unstable and contested. Continue reading “The Non-Western Origins of Human Rights in East Germany”