Josie McLellan is Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Bristol. Her most recent book, Love In The Time of Communism: Intimacy and Sexuality in the GDR (Cambridge University Press) was awarded the 2011 Fraenkel Prize. As part of the project ‘Dropping Out of Socialism: Alternative Lifestyles in the Eastern Bloc, c. 1960–90’, she is currently working on a number of publications on gay and lesbian communities in East Germany.
The HIB (Homosexuelle Interessengemeinschaft Berlin, or Homosexual Interest Group Berlin), a gay and lesbian rights group, was active in East Berlin in the 1970s. As well as organizing events for up to 200 people, its activists lobbied the East German authorities for official state recognition. The HIB’s roots lay not only in the 1968 decriminalization of homosexuality in the East, but also in the after-effects of the Western ‘1968’, not least the burgeoning gay liberation movement. The HIB’s founders not only had access to Western gay media and films, but also met activists such as Peter Tatchell, who travelled to the GDR in 1973. As a result, the group’s tactics blended Western ideologies and methods (such as film-making and the appropriation of public space) with tried and tested ways of dealing with state socialist authorities (petitioning and the use of socialist rhetoric). This article argues that the 1970s in Eastern Europe saw significant countercultural activity and activism, which should be set against the trend towards privatization often stressed in recent literature. Efforts to politicize the personal and create alternative forms of living were not confined to Western Europe. However, would-be activists in the East faced considerable barriers, not least state intransigence and surveillance.