Katja Hoyer is having a lively book tour. The German-born British historian’s book Beyond the Wall: A History of East Germany, is being pilloried as a whitewash of the German Democratic Republic in an international controversy that the London Times calls “acrimonious.” Reviewers in Germany, where the book was published simultaneously with the British edition (the US edition will be published in October), have attacked Hoyer in personal terms, bringing up the fact that her father was a career officer in the East German National People’s Army and a Communist Party member. One review dismissed her as “the daughter of a system-supporting couple.”
The charge of whitewashing is unfair. Hoyer’s book evenhandedly describes the good and the bad, which is why it carries blurbs (uniquely, I believe) from both the conservative historian Andrew Roberts and the Marxist urbanist Owen Hatherley. The crimes of the Stasi are covered in detail. “It’s all in the book,” shrugs Hoyer in an interview with the Financial Times. “If they want to ignore it, that’s their choice.”
This isn’t the first time this has happened. In 2017, Kristen Ghodsee, a professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, published an op-ed in The New York Times headlined “Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism.” It summarized Ghodsee’s findings as an ethnographer of post-Soviet life, based on interviews and surveys, covering subjects such as overall life satisfaction, economic self-sufficiency, and, yes, sexual pleasure. The online response was brutal. Twitter filled with cheap shots (“Better sex? Was that before or after they were brainwashed, tortured, or murdered?”) from people who showed no interest in the fact that Ghodsee was reporting the firsthand experiences of Communism from people who actually lived through it.