Erich Honecker’s parental home
East Germany under Honecker initially experienced some improvements in its living standards and economic condition as he embraced a program of “consumer socialism”—which saw limited market reforms and some trade with the west (bringing in some much desired consumer goods). There was also recognition for the first time of West Germany, although its people could still not usually pass between the two. Increasingly, East Germany became a police state, with its secret police force, the Stasi, gaining in power and influence throughout the nation. When limited debate on political reforms and civil rights was permitted in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in the 1980s, such talk was prohibited in East Germany. Even when the USSR under President Mikhail Gorbachev began to initiate political and economic reform under his program of perestroika, or “change.” Honecker famously refused to follow, claiming East Germany had already done “its pere-stroika” in the 1970s.
Of all of Gorbachev’s reforms, however, it was the abandonment of the “Brezhnev Doctrine” that had the widest implications. Under the terms of this doctrine, the USSR would intervene in Warsaw Pact coun-tries—as it had done in Czechoslovakia in 1968—to uphold communist rule where necessary. By discarding it, client states were able to discuss and initiate reforms without threat of Soviet military intervention. Poland and Hungary led the way during 1989. In August 1989, Hungary removed its border restrictions, briefly allowing several thousand East Germans to flee over the Hungarian border and then onto Austria and West Germany.
The socialist fraternal kiss or Brotherhood Kiss was a special form of greeting between the statesmen of the so-called Eastern Bloc. It consists of an embrace and a mutual kiss (or kisses) to cheeks or in rarer cases to the mouth.
With this a special connection between Socialist states was to be demonstrated. Both the embrace and the kiss were supposed to be the expression of happiness, fraternity and equality, and were otherwise a transformation of a known ritual and symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The fraternal kiss became famous via Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, who were photographed exercising the ritual. The photograph became widespread and it was subsequently transformed into a graffiti painting on the Berlin Wall; see My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.
The origin of this ritual stems from the Eastern Orthodox Fraternal- or Easter Kiss, which through its entrechment in the rites of the Orthodox Church carried a substantial strength of expression and so found use in daily life.
As a symbol of equality, fraternity and solidarity, the socialist fraternal kiss was the expression of the pathos and enthusiasm of the emergent Workers’ movement between the middle and end of the 19th century. In the years after the October Revolution and the subsequent Communist International, a ritualisation of the so far spontaneous gist succeeded into an official greeting between Communist comrades. The symbolic reinforcement of the feeling of camaraderie also gained success through the fact that many Communists and Socialists had to make long, arduous and dangerous trips to then the isolated Bolshevik Russia. That way the much-experienced international Solidarity found expression in stormy embraces and kisses.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the use such a greeting ritual declined.