In general, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) did not treat its gay and lesbian citizens very favorably. Although the legal situation was more liberal than in the Federal Republic (West Germany) and other Western European countries, most homosexual East Germans lived in a state of invisibility at best, or suffered direct homophobia at worst, often at the hands of the government. In the mid-1980s, the public and government stance toward homosexuality liberalized slightly, leading to small improvements in the lives of gay East Germans. However, gay East Germans never experienced many of the same freedoms or opportunities that their West German, other Western European, or American counterparts enjoyed. Gay East Germans occupied a difficult position within the socialist ideology of the GDR. In theory, each East German was equal, enjoying universal rights and opportunities, and living free from discrimination. At the same time, however, the smallest building block of the society was the heterosexual, reproductive, married couple: a model into which same-sex desiring people could not fit. This doctrine of supposed equality probably contributed to the fact that homosexuality was decriminalized earlier in the GDR than in the Federal Republic, but it was also used by the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands: the ruling, dictatorial party) as an excuse not to engage further with the specific needs of gay citizens until the mid-1980s. The GDR saw some limited gay activism in the 1970s in the form of the Homosexuelle Interessengemeinschaft Berlin (HIB); however, the group’s activities never really extended outside of East Berlin and did not lead to significant political or social change. More impactful activism occurred in the 1980s under the aegis of the Protestant Church as the only organization in the GDR that operated largely outside of state control. The SED eventually yielded to some of the demands of gay activists—by sanctioning publications and meeting spaces, for example—but did so primarily to draw gay activists out of the protection of Church structures and in order to be able to monitor and control them more easily. There are few East German literary or artistic works that engage with homosexuality, although a number of relevant literary works were published in the 1980s. These contributed to a fledgling discourse around homosexuality, shifting the issue from a taboo topic to one more acceptable for discussion in the public sphere. However, when East German audiences viewed Heiner Carow’s Coming Out in 1989—the first and only East German feature film to depict homosexual relationships—many claimed that it was their first exposure to homosexuality. And, since the GDR ceased to exist as a state fairly abruptly in 1990, one will never know how the trajectory of gay rights activism may have continued.
Jorge I. Domínguez
Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), founded in 1959, have been among the world’s most successful militaries. In the early 1960s, they defended the new revolutionary regime against all adversaries during years when Cuba was invaded at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, faced nuclear Armageddon in 1962, and experienced a civil war that included U.S. support for regime opponents. From 1963 to 1991, the FAR served the worldwide objectives of a small power that sought to behave as if it were a major world power. Cuba deployed combat troops overseas for wars in support of Algeria (1963), Syria (1973), Angola (1975–1991), and Ethiopia (1977–1989). Military advisers and some combat troops served in smaller missions in about two dozen countries the world over. Altogether, nearly 400,000 Cuban troops served overseas. Throughout those years, the FAR also worked significantly to support Cuba’s economy, especially in the 1960s and again since the early 1990s following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Uninterruptedly, officers and troops have been directly engaged in economic planning, management, physical labor, and production. In the mid-1960s, the FAR ran compulsory labor camps that sought to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals and to remedy the alleged socially deviant behavior of these and others, as well. During the Cold War years, the FAR deepened Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union, deterred a U.S. invasion by signaling its cost for U.S. troops, and since the early 1990s developed confidence-building practices collaborating with U.S. military counterparts to prevent an accidental military clash. Following false starts and experimentation, the FAR settled on a model of joint civilian-military governance that has proved durable: the civic soldier. The FAR and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) are closely interpenetrated at all levels and together endeavored to transform Cuban society, economy, and politics while defending state and regime. Under this hybrid approach, military officers govern large swaths of military and civilian life and are held up as paragons for soldiers and civilians, bearers of revolutionary traditions and ideology. Thoroughly politicized military are well educated as professionals in political, economic, managerial, engineering, and military affairs; in the FAR, officers with party rank and training, not outsider political commissars, run the party-in-the-FAR. Their civilian and military roles were fused, especially during the 1960s, yet they endured into the 21st century. Fused roles make it difficult to think of civilian control over the military or military control over civilians. Consequently, political conflict between “military” and “civilians” has been rare and, when it has arisen (often over the need for, and the extent of, military specialization for combat readiness), it has not pitted civilian against military leaders but rather cleaved the leadership of the FAR, the PCC, and the government. Intertwined leaderships facilitate cadre exchanges between military and nonmilitary sectors. The FAR enter their seventh decade smaller, undersupplied absent the Soviet Union, less capable of waging war effectively, and more at risk of instances of corruption through the activities of some of their market enterprises. Yet the FAR remain both an effective institution in a polity that they have helped to stabilize and proud of their accomplishments the world over.