Security policy dominated the public debate in the late 1970s and early 80s, notably nuclear armament and the NATO double-track decision. There was a heated dispute concerning the possible stationing of medium-range ballistic missiles in Europe in case the disarmament negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact failed, an issue that triggered mass protests by the followers of the peace movement. The disagreement between the ruling SPD/FDP coalition over how to address the continued economic and employment crisis was so severe that in September 1982, the coalition disintegrated. Helmut Kohl was elected Chancellor and a conservative-liberal coalition took over. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary General of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1985. Under his leadership, glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) became the defining signs of profound change in the Soviet Union. The framework of the east-west conflict began to shift.
Since the mid 1970s the number of Agency employees had remained constant at around 120. By this time the Agency was dispatching some 800 publications every day. In response to the advent of the information society and the spread of new media, in 1984 the bpb founded its New Media department, began to use teletext and videotext, and installed an IT system in its offices.
The traditional publications such as Externer Link: Das Parlament, the supplement Externer Link: APuZ, Externer Link: Informationen zur politischen Bildung, Externer Link: Schriftenreihe, the Agency's Externer Link: study trips to Israel and its series of specialist conferences and teacher training sessions continued, confirming the continuity of the Agency's work. In 1981 Josef Rommerskirchen, the last of the Agency's founding fathers, departed from his post. Dr Gerd Langguth (CDU) took his seat on the Executive Committee and was succeeded four years later by Wolfgang Maurus (CSU).
The Externer Link: decree of July 8, 1985 incorporated the Ostkolleg as a department into the bpb. The executive committee of the Ostkolleg, which had been responsible for the department's research and education activities, was subsequently dissolved. The bpb's Scientific Advisory Council was extended to include recognised experts in the field of GDR and Eastern European studies who formed a committee within the Council and advised the new Ostkolleg department. In 1987 the appointment process for members of the Externer Link: Board of Trustees of the bpb was changed in accordance with the Externer Link: decree of March 18, 1987. Since then, they have been appointed – upon the recommendation of the parliamentary parties in the Bundestag – directly by the President of the Bundestag and not, as previously, by the Minister of the Interior. This reinforced the independent nature of the Board.
The most significant thematic impulse in the early 1980s came from a mass medium. In January 1979 the television series Holocaust was broadcast on German public TV. The effect on the German population was devastating. Never before had the German population been exposed in such a shockingly direct manner to the Nazis' atrocities. The debate that immediately swept throughout Germany made it painfully obvious how urgent a need there was for more information and dialogue on Germany's past. The show's opening credits and the first live discussion after screening made mention of the fact that viewers could write in to the bpb and order detailed background material, which they did in droves. The bpb funded a study by WDR, a public broadcasting station, that examined the social impact of the TV series. In 1980 the bpb received special funds in the amount of 1.5 million German marks to finance a programme on National Socialism, resistance and the re-establishment of democracy whose primary aim was to investigate National Socialism and its impact on everyday life. It incorporated audiovisual and journalistic elements as well as civic education activities in formal and non-formal settings. The programme also involved a project on memorial sites commemorating the victims of the Nazis' atrocities. In 1987 the bpb published the first volume of an extensive documentary series entitled Externer Link: Gedenkstätten für die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (Memorial sites for the victims of National Socialism).
The political parties raised another fundamental issue during these years, namely the fact that a sizeable number of Germans were turning their backs on party politics and gravitating towards the increasingly attractive civic initiatives and "new social movements" that were seen as advocates for the common cause. Issues such as the arms race, raw material shortages, the relationship between the First and Third World and the use of nuclear power were increasingly being debated by a variety of interest groups in non-parliamentary contexts. In response, the bpb stepped up its efforts to extend its audience beyond its main target groups – teachers, lecturers and other multipliers – and reach out to critical members of civil society, too. However, politicians and experts disagreed as to the remits of the bpb's activities in this field. Many felt that government civic education had a purely state-led interpretation of politics and a strained relationship with problem- and conflict-oriented education.
Other thematic issues that dominated the agenda in the 1980s were the conflict between the industrialised and developing world, unemployment, and the consequences of technical progress, notably the advent of new communication technologies and their impact on social structures, the introduction of measures to promote the responsible use of new media, and the use of new media in civic education. Finally, as Gorbachev took office, the shifting relationship between East and West acquired a new significance.
New activities and services
In 1980 the bpb began to publish an annotated bibliography of civic education, a valuable aid for instructors working in youth and adult education. Previously, reviews of major new publications had only been published in the political literature section of the weekly magazine Externer Link: Das Parlament. This gap was closed by the new annotated bibliographies, which were initially issued quarterly, came out three times a year from 1984 and then annually from 1996 onwards, making it easier to keep track of new literature in this field.
One of the first duties of the bpb had always been to supply educational institutions with suitable audiovisual materials. It acquired the non-commercial rights to TV and film productions that it deemed useful for civic education purposes and made copies available to specialist distributors all over Germany. The bpb's Externer Link: catalogue of AV media was launched in 1989 and contained a full list of all available films. In the 1980s the bpb also began to organise its first cinema seminars and training sessions on AV education, a service that exists to this day.
From the mid 80s onwards the bpb published a series of teaching and learning materials on civic education for instructors working in non-formal education. They were developed in cooperation with civic education organisations and researchers and dealt with the issues of the day. The first four sets focused on equal opportunities, ecology in adult education, human rights, and learning from and with the Third World.
The bpb also designed a set of materials entitled Neue Medien und familiärer Alltag (New media in everyday family life) that contained teaching and learning materials for kindergarten teachers and parents as well as materials for use in the classroom. Another project that was launched during this time involved designing didactic concepts for civic education for use in computer software. Also in the mid 80s, the Agency introduced its teletext programme with information on the Agency itself, its history, aims and purpose, and its range of publications, films and other services.
Demands became louder for the inclusion of cultural aspects in civic education, a debate that eventually led to the first Politik im freien Theater (Politics in independent drama) festival in 1988, which was jointly organised by the bpb and the State Agency for Civic Education in Bremen. Since then the festival has taken place every three years in different cities across Germany.