26 December 2009

Is justice only for those who deserve mercy?

One of the strongest images I remember from the revolutions that swept Eastern Europe 20 years ago was the television pictures of the bloodstained bodies of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena after they were gunned down following a so-called trial in which they were sentenced to death. They were told they had 12 days to appeal but that the sentence would be carried out immediately. Of course they themsleves were responsible one way or another for the deaths of countless Romanians, but is this a reason for such a process devoid of humanity or justice? It was certainly a jolt back to reality after the dreams of the peaceful revoution in East Germany and the velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Over on the BBC Web site, Nick Thorpe, a long-standing Budapest-based eastern Europe watcher has an interview with General Victor Stanculescu who says the executions were both "just and necessary": "If we had left it to the people of Bucharest, they would have lynched them in the street." Still 20 years later much remains unexplained about the events in Romania, one of the indicators being that the general himself has recently begun a 15-year prison sentence for aggravated manslaughter - charges he has always denied - after being found guilty of ordering troops to open fire on the crowds in the western Romanian city of Timisoara earlier in December and which was one of the events that led to the revolution later that month.

The TimesOnline has an interview with one of the soldiers who carried out the killing of the Ceauşescus, but be warned, it makes for very grisly and unpleasant reading. The TimesOnline article also quotes the prosecutor against the Ceauşescus as saying: "I have been one of those who, as a lawyer, would have liked to oppose the death sentence, because it is inhuman. But we are not talking about people."

19 December 2009

Towards post-Cold War Europe

On 19 and 20 December 1989, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited Dresden in East Germany, where he was greeted by tens of thousands of East Germans, chanting "Helmut, Helmut". Three weeks before, on 28 November in a speech to the Bundestag, Kohl had proposed what was billed as a "ten-point plan to German unity". Looking at the text, however, unification itself was less the driving force than an ultimate aspiration, and the specific proposals for a "contractual community" between the two German states, its vision of a pan-European process, and placing the idea of confederation at the centre of the German unification discourse, in fact appeared to draw on ideas from Gorbachev and alternative security commissions (and evidence has emerged that like other developments from autumn 1989, the 10 point plan emerged as the result of a communication misunderstanding between Moscow and Bonn). Irrespective of what the fine print said, however, the 10 point plan was in fact widely perceived as Bonn placing unification on the political agenda.

On the other side of the damaged, but still existing Berlin Wall, an appeal published by intellectuals, artists and civic rights activists, "For our country", urged support for the continued independent existence of the GDR, as a "socialist alternative" to the Federal Republic. the appeal is reported to have been signed by more than a million GDR citizens. Though initiated by civic rights activists, the propagating of the appeal by Egon Krenz and the SED fatallytaintedthe document, while by the beginning of December, the document's moral appeal for alternative ethical values based on the GDR was fatally undermined by the revelations at the beginning of December not only of widespread corruption but even more so by an apparently secret arms trade.

Kohl's visit to Dresden in December marked a turning point. The reason for the hastily arranged visit appears to have had less to do with solidarity with East Germans than the fact that French President Francois Mitterrand had announced a state visit to the GDR for 20 December (the first state visit by one of the three Western powers responsible for Germany). Kohl avoided East Berlin for protocol reasons, instead visiting GDR Prime Minister Hans Modrow's power base of Dresden. For Kohl, his reception in Dresden appears to have convinced him to dump his step-by-step ten-point-plan and instead increase the pressure for unification.

For its part, Mitterrand's state visit to the GDR has often been interpreted as an attempt to block unification by shoring up the GDR, but it's real purpose seems to have been more to try and influence the shape that German unity would take, while also serving as a reminder that the two German states were not sovereign in this regard. Taken together the visits of Kohl and Mitterrand also marked the turning point: no longer were they mere observers of what was happening in the GDR, but the time had come for the autumn revolution of the GDR to be subsumed into a wider struggle for the future of post-Cold War Europe.

17 December 2009

Coming home ...

Jane's diary, 17 December 1989, dateline Brussels
The train was late leaving Cologne and arriving in Brussels, but Steve was there, we went back to his flat in St Josse, drank Champagne and went to bed. In the morning we woke up to hear that Andrei Sakharov had died, suddenly. Amazingly, things seem to be starting in Romania but what will happen ... unbelievable to think that a change might take place there too.

In the evening we went to the Brussels Labour Party Christmas Party, very yummy food, and "terribly" nice and civilised. Full of journalists. It was strange to step back into middle-class British (Euro) culture. Steve in his Guardian sweatshirt was not dressed for the occasion, but it was fun. Then I gave him my diary to read and we stayed up talking about all that had happened in the GDR over the last three months while I was there.

And finally the next day ... he baked me pizza, as I knew he would, it was good and very much a coming home feel. We sat and chatted to his landlord, Jean Pierre and his partner Brigitte. It was hard to speak French, very hard work for me. After three months caught up in a whirl of change, it is strange to think that being here in Brussels is a reality as well.

16 December 2009

The End of Holy Disorder?

The Evangelical Church in Central Germany has officially closed its 20th anniverary year Holy Disorder to mark the peaceful revolution of 1989, with the statement below. But this blog will continue:
The Protestant Church in East Germany still has a reason to be grateful for the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989 in the GDR. It is a sign of the workings of God's Spirit and about which we were surprised - surpassing all human reason and probability.

In the autumn of 1989 people were drawn from the churches into the streets and squares. The prayers for peace contributed to make the revolution non-violent. Many people - Christians and non-Christians - saw a church that was alive. It created an open space. People were able to speak up and demand changes for their country.

In many congregations and grassroots groups and individual Christians were engaged in the decade before the revolution and in the autumn of 1989 encouraged and organized prayers for peace. They stood up in an ecumenical community for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. They had to be prepared to be persecuted by the state,and many were persecuted. However, many did not allow themselves to be intimidated and deliberately violated state regulations. They drew attention to the dictatorial conditions.

The Protestant Church in Central Germany praises the brave and consistent action by people in parishes and grassroots groups. This commitment invigorated both society and the church.

This remembrance and gratitude means that we in our Protestant Church also critically reflect on our own role.

On several occasions grassroots groups in the church has to confront church leaders. We recognise today that they were not always considered as a natural part of our church. At the same time we thank those in the church who supported these groups. The arguments about openness and political interference of the church repeatedly helped to determine the relationship of the church to the GDR state.

In the Protestant church, in the synod, the ecumenical assemblies and grassroots groups, people realised that they were citizens. They lived out democracy. After autumn 1989, these experiences helped develop a democratic culture in state and society.

We encourage all Christians and citizens even today to work for justice, peace and integrity of creation. The issues of life and survival today require a bold and consistent commitment. The experiences from autumn 1989 help this.

We need to continue our critical reflection about autumn 1989 and the two decades that follows even after the anniversary year and the campaign 1989-2009 Holy Disorder. Before us is the path of our church in the conciliar process. We see many people inside and outside our church with unresolved frustrations and unanswered expectations. We hope that we can make a contribution that can lead to an open and healing discussion. From this can grown an encouragement to our commitment now.

14 December 2009

Helplessness and resignation?

Jane's diary, 14 December 1989, written in the train from Cologne to Brussels

What a crazy few days, writing Christmas post, washing, buying, packing ... 10 December was international human rights day, Friedrich Schorlemmer received the Ossietzky prize on behalf of Demokratischer Aufbruch. In Czechoslovakia, the Communist Party is now in a minority in the new government, Husak's final act as president was to swear in the new ministers, some who have been in jail until as little as a fortnight ago. Change seems even faster there than here in the GDR. Dubcek or Havel for president? All the shops were open in Wittenberg this afternoon, a Sunday, the 2nd advent, a cold clear day with yellow winter sunshine and a Father Christmas being driven in a horse and trap along the main street throwing out sweets to children.

I was full of cold for my last few days in Wittenberg. On the Sunday I made it to church. The church was cold and the sermon somehow missed the mark but the BBC Radio 4 service was coming from the United States and I was back in time to hear Barbara Harris finishing her sermon and then celebrating the Eucharist, the first woman to be elected a bishop in the US Epsicopal Church. That was special.

I got an exit visa in Wittenberg but when I got to the border in Berlin the border guards couldn't tell me whether or not my new entry visa was there. I crossed into the West with two of the other students who like me were in Berlin for a meeting with students from our sister seminary from West Germany, Soest. The other two went off to get their church Begrüssungsgeld from West Berlin (hard currencyto which otherwise East Germans had no legal access). The people there wanted to give me some too - quite seriously. Very odd!!! Then we set off on the 54 Bus for Spandau, which I knew very well from the gap year that I had spent working in a church-run children's home at the Johannesstift there. It was strange seeing the Christmas market in Spandau gain, just as it had been eight years ago, and the kitsch almost worse then the stuff in Wittenberg. Then out to an evening with the Soest lot at a Pizzeria at Savignyplatz in West Berlin where red wine was consumed. I stayed over in West Berlin.

The next morning back to the border, where, amazingly a visa was waiting for me - and free of charge!! But the Polish visa office in East Berlin was closed - I needed to a get Polish visa for a trip our group was to make to Poland in the New Year. Then to the church headquarters in Augustrasse still a little worse for wear from the night before. I managed to make it back to the Soest meeting at the Auferstehungsgemeinde. I found myself in one group suddenly feeling like an easterner in a strange sort of way, chafing against the wishy-washy western liberalism. The crux of the question is not whether the we feel the "experiment" of socialism in the GDR should go on, but what are we willing to give up, we privileged Westerners and the answer is, "not a lot".

Earlier in the day at the foreigner's registration office at the police in East Berlin, I interpreted for a very sweet but rather clueless Australian who kept trying to pay in the wrong currency. This then led the overworked woman behind the counter to extend my residence permit until June 1989 - in my hungover state I didn't notice, but later in the evening the border guards didn't seem to mind too much, "just make sure that you get round to registering properly"!

Berlin was so wet and disgusting that I simply wanted out and away. On the train I thought back again to the German question, our sense of helplessness and resignation, no new ideas in the face of its inevitability and the lure of the Deutschmark. Whatever happened to "We're staying here!" On the train the guard noticed my ticket had been bought in GDR Marks in East Berlin and didn't ask me to pay the supplement for the InterCity train, it's strange being a token GDR citizen.

12 December 2009

Ten years before the changes ..

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the decision at the NATO meeting at which the western Alliance agreed its "dual track decision" which threatened the deployment of additional nuclear arms from 1983 onwards in the event that the stationing of SS-20 missiles had not stopped by that time. This was both a symptom and a cause of the tension between East and West. In the GDR this was reflected in the militarisation of education and that would find another episode later in December 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up an unpopular government having difficulties in stemming an insurgency. To mark the anniversary, a conference has been held in Rome on “The Euromissiles Crisis and the End of the Cold War". Among other things, the conference has attempted to:
explore the impact of the crisis on the evolution of the Cold War as a whole, and possibly on its winding down. Did the deployment of the missiles, as the so-called Reagan victory school has been arguing, really contribute to the Soviet strategic defeat and to the Western “victory”, thanks to its superior economic, political, and strategic cohesion? Did it facilitate the emergence of those factors which would help overcome the East-West division throughout all European societies, by promoting a new level of civic awareness, raising a new consciousness across Europe of the dangers of the Cold War, and indirectly linking for the first time Western peace activists with Eastern dissent? Or did it actually prolong the Cold War, as some other historians have argued, by forcing upon an already dying bipolar international system a new round of rearmament and military expenditures that actually helped –at least for a few years– the survival of the Soviet system by offering the Soviet leaders a pretext to mobilize its last resources and call its public opinion to arms to defend the motherland against this renewed imperialist challenge?
In other words, the Euromissiles crisis has to be seen in the wider context of the militarisation of East-West relations that followed the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. In the German Democratic Republic, this was reflected in an increasing internal militarisation of society through which the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) sought to reinforce control over public life, witnessed for example in the 1978 decision on pre-military education in schools. At the same time, the SED used the discourse of peace (understood as opposition to Western military policies such as the US plans for a Neutron Bomb) as an ideological justification for such internal militarisation.

The effect of the twin-track decision of December 1979 could be seen, at one level, as creating a new justification for this dialectic of peace rhetoric and internal militarisation. Equally, if not more important, however, was that the decision spawned a new type of transnational social protest. This helped to promote a collective movement identity both ‘temporally’, by allowing individual protest events to be perceived as components of a longer lasting action, and ‘transversally’, by helping those who were engaged to feel linked ‘by ties of solidarity and ideal communion with protagonists of other analogous mobilisations’ (Della Porta/Diani 1999: 8). This transnational social protest transcended narrowly political opposition to previous political campaigns for disarmament, reaching out to previously unmobilised sectors of society.

In the GDR, opposition to the internal militarisation of society had come not least from within churches, and not least because of the existence of a cadre of Protestant pastors with a strong anti-militarist attitude due to their personal refusal to carry arms in the National People's Army. The transnational social protest movement created by the 1979 "twin track" decision offered a wider framework within which campaigns against militarisation of GDR society could be placed, and for more thoroughgoing political demands. At the same time, this mobilisation represented an ideological challenge to the SED's use of the discourse of peace, and created a basis for links between opposition to militarisation and other forms of dissent. An important factor in this development of political dissent was the attempt by activists in the GDR to build links with movements in other European countries, both to the West, as with the "personal peace treaties" between GDR and Dutch peace activists, and to the East, as in the contacts between GDR peace activists and political dissent in Czechoslovakia.

Far from the 1987 Treaty of Washington marking an end in the GDR of the political crisis unleashed by the twin-track decision, the period from January 1988 to October 1989 was marked by a new stage in political mobilisation in the GDR and attempts by the SED not seen in previous years to suppress such dissent. This culminated in the 1989 "peaceful revolution" which drew both on the protest repertoires developed in opposition to the militarisation f society and the political demands that grew out of the transnational social protest movement unleashed by the Euromissiles decision.

Reference: Della Porta, D. and M. Diani 1999, Social Movements, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

11 December 2009

A new broom for Gregor Gysi ...

This is the front page from 11 December 1989 of Neues Deutschland - the central organ of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) - except that the special party congress has just decided that the party should not be called the SED any more. The new broom is for the newly-elected party chair Gregor Gysi to clean up what the newspaper calls the party's "Stalinist ideas and structures". The front page articles summarises Gregor Gysi, lawyer and son of the former GDR state secretary for church affairs - as appealing for hard work to save "our country and our party". The special congress was called as the collapse of the GDR continued amid ever new revelations of corruption. Gysi was elected by 95.32 percent of votes from delegates (a pretty respectable score for a "post-Stalinist" politician) who then continued to debate whether the as yet-without-a-name party should continue to exist or be dissolved. ND reports:
Opposing resolutions proposing the continuance or the dissolution of the party led to the debates being suspended, meetings of the district delegations and the acting presidium, and then to the next session of the party congress being beld in closed session. In this fateful hour Hans Modrow [the GDR prime minister] appeals for the parts'y capacity to act to be maintained. Then - according to delegates - there were several votes ... The "Report about the discussion on the first days of the extraordinary party congress" was presented on behalf of the drafting committee by Lothar Bisky. In this document to be presented for discussion at the basis of the party, delegates stated it is their duty "in the name of the party to apologise profoundly to the people that the former leadership of the SED has brough out country to this crisis that threatens its very existence".
The party congress was adjourned for a week to meet again in Berlin. But today's Die Linke party is a direct descendant of that fateful decision in Berlin. Today Gregor Gysi is the chairperson of the parliamentary group of Die Linke, and Lothar Bisky is chairperson of the party.

9 December 2009

Watergate in the GDR ...

Jane's diary, dateline Wittenberg, 9 December 1989
So much is happening, it's almost impossible to keep up. Honecker's under arrest, among many others. Krenz has gone - it was very obvious in Modrow's visit to Moscow and Gorbi - "oh yes, I almost forgot, I've brought the head of state with me". Stasi buildings all over the GDR are being stormed, most things seem to have been burned, shredded or otherwise disposed of.

Schorlemmer was heckled for the first time at the prayers for renewal, speaking on the theme of the "Vaterland". In front of the masses it's almost impossible to speak of Zweistaatlichkeit, a two-state-solution. Friedrich ended with the Olof Palme idea of a demilitarised independent Germany. Unity not reunification. The consensus now seems to be that reunification will come, the major problem being the timetable.

The SED extraordinary general party congress has decided to change the party's name and have elected Gregor Gysi as leader. No new name as yet, just not the old one. From 1 January, visa regulations and exchange regulations for West Germans and West Berliners are to be lifted - some are pushing for this to come into force from 23 December in time for Christmas.

More and more corruption is coming to light. Schalk-Golodkowsi has given himself up in West Berlin. His lawyer Vogel has also been arrested but (I think) set free. Some seem to think he knows far too much to be prosecuted - he could cause other heads to roll and not just on this side of the border. It's like living through a much more lively version of Watergate.

7 December 2009

The round table that was square ...

On 7 December representatives of the new citizens' movements and political parties - and the SED, the former block parties, and societal organizations converged on the Dietrich Bonhoeffer House for the first meeting of the GDR Round Table. An example of the implosion faced by the GDR was the resignation the previous day of Egon Krenz as chairperson of the Council of State of the GDR.

In the meditation room of the Moravian community in Berlin, the representatives of the new and of the old political forces gathered around a set of square tables for a meeting being convened by representatives of the Federation of Protestant Churches, the Roman Catholic Church and the Council of Christian Churches (AGCK) - the impetus for such a round table however had come from the citizens' movements, especially from Demokratie Jetzt, which had maintained strong contacts to Poland and had observed how the Round Rable there had led to the first semi-free elections. The first meeting of the GDR Round Table called for new elections, a new constitution and the disbandment of the Ministry of State Security - the Stasi - renamed "Amt für Nationale Sicherheit" (or "Office for National Security"). Civic Rights activist Konrad Weiss notes:
The idea for a round table came from the citizens' movement Democracy Now some of whose founders had long-standing contact with the Polish Solidarity. Ludwig Mehlhorn and Stefan Bickhardt knew of their concept of the round table and analysed it. Their proposal, to attempt something similar in the GDR, was picked up and accepted by Democracy Now and soon after by the other citizens' movements. The SED, that in the face of mass demonstrations and the increasing self-assurance of the East Germans had to accept that its power was waning, also accepted the proposal and was read to talk. Neues Deutschland tried to suggest to its readers that the "leading" party until then had also proposed the Round Table. But no one believed the "Central Organ" any more.

When the Round Table met for the first time, despite the polite tone, it was basically bitter political rivals that were sitting opposite each other. On the one side, the comrades from the SED and from the allied block parties and organizations, which were increasingly seeking to distance themselves from the "leading" force. On the other side sat the civil rights activists and dissidents, and the newly formed Social Democratic Party. The round table was moderated by representatives of the churches. The motives why people took part may have been very different. But we were all united in wanting to avoid the process of change leading to bloodshed.
Alongside the Central Round Table there were round tables set up at local and district level, often playing an important role in the transfer of power. The Central Round Table played a central role in preparing for the first democratic elections, that took place in March 1990, and in pressing for the dismantling of the Stasi. The idea of drawing up a new constitution for adoption by the GDR got overtaken by the moves after the March election for the rapid incorporation of the GDR into the Federal Republic. Nevertheless, the construction of the Round Table meant that the new political forces were not negotiating directly with the government or the parliament, but only indirectly. Weiss notes:
Our willingness to engage in dialogue - probably the most used and abused slogan of those days - led also to a number of serious mistakes ... Our all-important power, non-violence, was also our weakness. While we were at the round table struggling for reforms and the democratization of the GDR, the cadres with long experience out of site built up their new organizations, channeled money into safe places and formed enterprises with other comrades that now feeds their war chest. Particularly sensitive areas, such as the media were simply infiltrated. While we built up our organizations and our parties at the kitchen table, sometimes without a single phone, the PDS had all the access they needed to lines and computers. Many problems with which we wrestle in the reunified Germany, result from our former timidity.
Nevertheless, the Round Table in Berlin and the many other round tables throughout the GDR achieved much:
They were genuine schools of democracy, as has often been said. People who until then had been told they should not express themselves and who had been punished for any democratic initiative, now took over responsibility and made suggestions for numerous ideas and proposals. For three monnths, the Round Table was both legislature and executive. It prepared many things that were then implemented as laws by the freely-elected Volkskammer. For example, in an amazingly short period of time a media law and an environmental protection law were drawn up. That was only possible because in the previous years opposition groups in the underground had envisioned and discussed many of these things.
The German Broadcasting Archive has an extract from the press conference after the forst meeting of the Round Table. More here from the House of German History.

[Photo from http://www.jugendopposition.de/index.php?id=215]

4 December 2009

Dismantling the Stasi ...

Today marks the 20th anniversary in Erfurt of the first occupation of a regional Stasi headquarters in the GDR. To mark the anniversary there is a time of remembrance at the former headquarters, a commemoration in the regional parliament, an academic symposium and a service of worship, under the theme, " ... and the truth shall set you free".

In his new book, Wo bleibt die Freiheit, Heino Falcke, then the Protestant dean of Erfirt, remembers the events of that day:
My wife belonged to the group, "Women for Change". The chair of the group, a doctor, phoned us on the morning of the 4 December, "There are containers being driven away from the Stasi on the Andreasstrasse and the chimney is pumping out black smoke. They are getting rid of the files. Get together who you can and block the gates." We phoned around and drove with our Wartburg to the Stasi. I blocked the entrance with the car and my wife went to the main door, where a number of women had already gathered. The group that quickly got bigger decided they should stop each of the cars. My wife, who had quickly been elected to be the spokesperson, managed to push her way through to the head of the Stasi, Major Josef Schwarz. She demanded that he end the destruction of the files. Meanwhile more and more people were pushing their way into the Stasi offices. The major demanded that my wife put a stop to this so that his people could carry on with their work. "But that's exactly what we want to stop," she replied. In the meantime the chair of the group, who had phoned us in the morning, arrived with three military attorneys , occupied the building under their supervision, and sealed the archives. This was the first occupation of a Stasi HQ and the risks were difficult to calculate ...

I had in the meantime gone to a meeting, from which I thought that I should on no account be absent. Soon after our arrival at the Stasi offices a big truck from the city council had driven past, and the driver had asked me what we were doing. When I told him he said, "Move your car away, I can block the gates better than you." I walked over to my wife and asked her if she thought she would be alright. She said of course, so I drove on to my meeting. She was right, but I still shake my head when I think about what I did. This episode casts a light on the character of the revolution. One of the protagonists described it as a "revolution in free time" or a "after-work revolution", because business just carried on as usual.

3 December 2009

Things keep moving on ...

Jane's diary, Wittenberg, 3 December 1989
Last night we "celebrated" Advent. Suddenly Christmas is around the corner. The candlelit living room and appalling singing, and then a reading of Schleiermacher's Weihnachtsgeschichte. All rather German.
Meanwhile things are moving on apapce. Mittag, Tisch and Müller (from Erfurt) have all been arrested. The central committee and the Politbüro have both resigned - Krenz is still Staatschef but everyone is waiting for him to be toppled, arrested or something. Let's hope Hans Modrow can continue to walk home each night and carry some kind of trust with him. Honecker, Tisch, Mielke et al have all been expelled from the SED. Meanwhile Schalck-Golodkowski has disappeaed to another country (unknown) and let this be known via his lawyer Wolfgang Vogel.
All kinds of shady and immoral deals are coming to light - an arms cache has been found near Rostock, deals with South America and no doubt all kinds of currency scandals. It's incredible. In Czechoslovakia the Kampfgruppen - the worker's "defence" units - have been dissolved.

2 December 2009

The father of the Ampelmann dies ...

News reached Dr B today of the death of Karl Peglau, the designer of the East German red and green traffic light people, which have now become a symbol of united Berlin. Here's the story:
Peglau was asked by an East Berlin traffic commission to come up with a new concept for traffic lights in an effort to stem the growing number of accidents on the city's streets ... Peglau believed that traffic could be better managed if pedestrian and vehicle traffic were controlled by different signals, and set about creating the little human stop and go figures now known as the Ampelmännchen. Although they did not receive much attention at the time, the figures became cult objects over the years, primarily for their cuteness. Their friendly quality was no accident; Peglau gave them a stocky build, button noses, perky hats, and jaunty poses so that they would radiate what Peglau called "an aura of cosiness and human warmth" that would resonate emotionally with pedestrians. Peglau's design also took practical considerations into account. The sturdy figures' large surface area made them easily discernible in low visibility conditions, and the red Ampelmännchen's outstretched arms resemble a horizontal barricade while his green partner's wide stride suggests an arrow.
After unification, the continued existence of the Ampelmännchen was threatened by being replaced by the ubiquitous Euromann the new style trafiic light figure from the West:
As authorities began replacing defective East-Ampelmännchen, designer Markus Heckhausen began collecting the discarded glass signals and turning them into lamps, which became a hotly desired fashion accessory and garnered the movement to save the Ampelmännchen substantial media coverage.
In an essay in German Politics (3/1997) Mark Duckenfield and Noel Calhoun explore how the eastern Ampelmann came to be saved from being wound down like other east German relics. It was initially the CDU economics minister in Saxony who recommended the continued use of the eastern Ampelmann in 1995, as, "the use of these figures helps us maintain a Saxony identity". The factory that produced the traffic lights - in GDR times called VEB Signaltechnik - was also located in saxony as it happened. Saxony-Anhalt then followed suit as eventually did Berlin, despite inital resistance, following a campaign by the Committee to Save the Ampelmännchen, which as Duckenfield and Calhoun point out, was an unusual organization; "it is more of an advertising campaign than a political group". The Berlin traffic bureaucracy was initally puzzle by the end of the "one Berlin, one traffic light policy" - although this policy has since been reborn with the eastern Ampelmann becoming standard issue across the city, East and West. At the same time, the continued existence of the Ampelmann, accorring to the article's authors, also serves to act as a positive sign of integration of the east:
... entirely untainted by the negative aspects of GDR life[, d]esigned for children, the short and stocky Ampelmann evokes an uncontroverisal, apolitical affection. It is not associated with the erros, crimes and disasterous public policies of the GDR. [It] serves both as a pleasant reminder of a less complicated past and a symbol of resistance to mindless western standardisation.
Credits: photos from http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/__PR/GIC/2009/12/01__Peglau__PM.html.
Mark Duckenfield and Noel Calhoun, 'Invasion of the Western Ampelmännchen', German Politics 6: 3, December 1997, pp.54-69. The full article can be found here in pdf format.

December is Advent ...

Jane's diary, Wittenberg, 2 December 1989
What an amazing first day of Advent. The GDR sent official apologies to Czechoslovakia for the part it played in the 1968 invasion. The Volkskammer got rid of the article 1 of the constitution - no more "leading role" for the SED. Gorbachev went to the Vatican and had an audience with the Pope; and Wolf Biermann played his first concert in 13 years in the GDR- amazing!! He was utterly magice, had us in creases of laughter and then near to tears with his lyrics and talk.

30 November 2009

Back to Reformation in Wittenberg ...

October ended on this blog with the first extract from Jane's diary of Reformation and Revolution in Wittenberg on the anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. In the meantime the site of the New York Times is carrying an article - In Wittenberg, cries for new Reformation on date of old one - written from Wittenberg on 31 October 1989 by Serge Schmemann.

It was difficult to imagine what Martin Luther, lying in his tomb under the cold stone floor, might have thought of the throng that packed every medieval inch of the castle church on the anniversary of the day in 1517 when he tacked his 95 theses to the door and so began the Reformation.

That the church was packed on Reformation Day was actually something of a coincidence, although it was briefly noted by the pastor and some participants. It was also Tuesday evening, and for the last three weeks the people of Wittenberg have gathered in the castle church in rapidly growing numbers to take part in the new grass-roots movement for change.

More than 3,000 jammed into the church on this drizzly evening, and an equal number stood on the cobbled court outside to listen on loudspeakers to the demands, announcements and prayers that have become the daily fare of the latest Eastern European land swept up by the winds of change.

Schmemann has written his own book-length account of the collapse of communism here.

29 November 2009

The quiet before the storm ?

Jane's diary, Wittenberg, 29 November 1989
It is cold. Last night, the church was full for the prayers for renewal but not as full as we have become used to. Afterwards they went "on a walk" to the local headquarters of the Stasi, now renamed National Security or something. This morning Frau. B talked of ministers clearing their desks and whether they come across decisions they would rather un-take. Perhaps this pre-Christmas calm is just the stillness before the next round of wild events. Meanwhile things move on apace in Czechoslovakia - a petition is being planned here if the GDR government does send official apologies to the Czechs and the Slovaks for the happenings of 1968 ...

Meanwhile, of course the theory that there are only 25 people in the world rools on. Daniel Cattau, for whom I was interpreting a few days ago, and Stephen worked together on the press desk at the Lutheran World Federation assembly in Budapest in 1984.

28 November 2009

Dealing with the past, looking to the future ...

Twenty years ago today in Brussels I bought a copy of the Frankfurter Rundschau, and turning to the back of the first section found the whole page taken up with a paper by Heino Falcke. It was an address given by Falcke at the opening of the Friedensdekade in Erfurt in November 1989. It's difficult to explain now just how exciting it was to read the paper in which Falcke was already looking at how to deal with the past in order to reach the future. In the turbulent times since the previous month, Falcke's voice had not been heard outside the GDR. Here he returned to the themes of his 1972 address to the synod of the Protestant church federation - "Christ liberates - therefore the church for others" - but reinterprets and applies them to the new situation facing the GDR.

By the middle of November 1989 it was clear that the landscape in East Germany and indeed in eastern Europe as a whole was facing fundamental change. The first non-communist government had taken power in Poland, in Hungary the ruling Hungarian Social Workers Party was reinventing itself as being in the vanguard of change which had seen new political parties being founded, in Czechoslovakia the Communist Party had imploded, and in East Germany the opening of the borders was beginning to change the parameters of political debate. The new prime minister Hans Modrow spoke of forming a "contractual community" with the Federal Republic while the SED was still elaborating plans on how to regain the political initiative.

What is striking about Falcke's text from November 1989 - reprinted in his recent book "Wo bleibt die Freiheit?" (see picture) is how the starting point for his address is the insight of Latin American liberation theology:
In Latin American and South American Christianity the Bible has been re-discovered as the book of the liberation of the people through God. There, there is a theology of liberation. We need a theology of liberation for our situation, to tell is who Christ is actually is for us in today's struggle of our country for freedom.
Against this background, Falcke uses the central perspective of his 1972 address to elaborate the need for a new "socialism from below" and for "an alternative to capitalism that advocates more just structures in the world".

Falcke sketches out the alternative facing the GDR. On the one hand there is the SED's attempt to "preserve the status quo through reforms". On the one hand, the need for "reforms linked to a forward strategy" to deal with a fundamental conflict in society, the "birth defect" of socialism in the GDR, that it was implemented from above without support from society:
This birth defect led to the chronic distrust of the government towards the people, the spying by the Stasi, total control through the apparatus, political and ideological domination, the paralysis of free initiative and the suffocation of all spontaneity [...]. The forward strategy draws from this analysis support the conclusion that the birth defect of socialism can be resolved only through a democratic rebirth that comes from the people. Only if this rebirth comes from the people, can "socialism from above and from outside" become a "socialism from below and our own socialism": only then can socialism become socialism, for socialism from above is a contradiction in terms.
Only through democratic renewal from below "can socialism start to really exist in the GDR". The SED could have a leading role, asserted Falcke, only by receiving democratic legitimation through multi party elections. "When GDR citizens can say, 'You in the Federal Republic recieved democracy as a gift, we have had to struggle for ours', then there would be a genuine political basis for the GDR to remain as a state which can tolerate open borders."

The choices that face the GDR also face the world as a whole. The freedom provided by Christ - an echo of Falcke's 1972 address - sets out four tasks for the future: dealing openly and freely with the guilt and responsibility of the past; dealing with power freely, critically and in a way that sets limits; non-voiolent changes; and sustainable lifestyles.

In this last section, Falcke picks up the issue of the need for socialism to offer an alternative to the "capitalist affluence", criticising the new action programme of the SED which calls for consumer goods of high value and processed foods:
We really need an alternative to capitalism that will defend more just structures in the world. That's a difficult thing to do because we need ecinomic help from the West. But we have to make an attempt, at least to maintain a certain independence and self-reliance vis-a-vis the western economic powers.
If socialism means anything, Falcke asserted, then it is ‘certainly a society in which people seek to act not without each other and against each other, for with another and for one another:

Will this received majority support in the GDR? Since we want a democratic socialism we have to ask what has majority support. Can we generate a majority for genuine solidarity with the Third World in the GDR's foreign trade? For higher investments in technologies that protect the environment? I'm not sure. Are we not still in the grip of idols called economic effectiveness and and the increase of consumption? Then the self-liberation of the people will not be a genuine liberation, but only a move from an uncomfortable cell into a rather more comfortable cell in the same prison.

The word "socialism" has fallen into such discredit that it may be better not to use it, Falcke said. Nevertheless, "We need to keep the word 'Socialism' - to which I know no alternative - open and mutable for new forms and content. Socialism is not a description of a system, it is a description ot a path to follow."

27 November 2009

How long will rebuilding trust take?

Jane's diary: 27 November 1989, Wittenberg
A quiet and peaceful day. I sat at my desk most of the day sorting out post and trying to get a grip on all the preparations before going home in a fortnight. The other students are coming back to Wittenberg for the next 10 day module. The Berliners are late. Four of us have sat here and discussed the world while feasting on salad, bread, curry and fried rice. Four women trying to sort out the problem of dealing with the past of the last 40 years. The way all the power structures encourage people to abuse power over the people below them in the hierarchy and how you become aware of this as soon as you go to school.

All seemed to agree that so much has gone on in the past 40 years it could easily take another to deal with it all. We talked about the 1956 revolution in Hungary and the show trials there. Here people like Walter Janka were tried in secret, the role of people like Mielke, Hager and co. was then very important. Questions about what went on really couldn't been forgotten, it would be all too easy to do that said Frau B. The layers of corruption really need to be peeled back so that the structures which were operating then can be seen.

We compared the fragmented opposition here to that in Czechoslovakia where Charter 77 had been around for such a long time. Here there are no Vaclav Havels or Dubceks and already the power playing in and between the various groups is emerging and it doesn't bode well for the future. Frau B's brother in law has just sent in his resignation from New Forum, another one of us has been considering doing likewise for over a month.

This is all now "normality": the past 40 years beforehand were what was "unreal" yet they too were everyday life and reality. All the new citizens' movements have at least had the positive effect of breaking people out of their lethargy.

26 November 2009

Thinking about those who have gone before

Jane's diary, dateline 26 November 1989, Wittenberg (Totensonntag)
Today is Totensonntag, the Sunday to commemorate those who have died. Outside is is snowing, blowing up quite a blizzard. Strange to think that at the beginning of the month I was still walking around bare-legged. Mild autumn has changed to a bitter winter as quickly as the political changes.

Wittenberg looks pretty in the snow, even more mediaeval than it is. At the last demonstration at the Marktplatz it was so foggy you couldn't see from side to the other, Luther's and Melanchthon's statutes were lit up and the loudspeakers were on as usual - it seemed as though the statues themselves were speaking. With all the fog, the icy weather and the voices seemingly speaking out of nowhere, Birgit said she falt as though she was living through a Shakespeare play. They discussed making Friedrich Schorlemmer an honourary citizen of the town.

Apparently on the television the other night (the first live talk show broadcast on GDR television!) Schorlemmer said, "I have been turned from an enemy of the state to a partner". It was interesting to interpret for his interview with Daniel Cattau today, I'm not sure about the picture he likes to paint of himself - certainly he is very literary and well-read and heavily influenced by Tillich, Brecht and so on, but it all seems so very slightly pretentious. One of seven children who needs a crowd! I feel he painted a rather rosy picture of the role of the church in the future and how it will be able to continue its prophetic role.

It's been a time of coincidences for me - first bumping into Keith Forecast last week who had been at Mansfield just the previous evening. And then turning round in the restaurant in West Berlin and seeing our family friends, Theo and Sigrid. Yesterday Daniel arrived in Wittenberg, writing for a US Lutheran paper, a few years ago he interviewed Jan Womer at Mansfield.

I've got used to the idea I was in West Berlin last weekend. But that clear sunshine and fast pace of life seems a time away from the muffled snowy streets of Wittenberg today. I thought about Steve, I wanted to sort out the existential questions to do with getting married and living together, he was preoccupied with the great political happenings. Of course we sat down and tried to sort it all out but there was so little time and so much to say. I have this need for certinty and Steve is so much more sanguine. In just over a fortnight I shall be packing to go home for Christmas. Time is really racing by.

Briefly today I thought of my dead ancestors - rumbustious Stanley Hawley, impeccably turned out, a man who in middle age (he never really seemed "old" to me) showed great patience and love to his two grandchildren. He died carefully and tidily, all his affairs sorted out, his house clean and tidy, during one week's holiday three years ago. I miss him dearly, his love of life, his palpable enjoyment of parties and celebrations, his ability to get on with different generations. It was right that his funeral was a party in the garden on a late summer day.

He and my grandmother Elsie Bennett played a big role in babysitting us and being around in our lives. They had already made a mark on the town we lived in through their involvement in music and shows. My grandmother's wide and very pretty simile, her competitive spirit playing cribbage - even beating my dad at scrabble - but most of all her beautiful soprano voice, rich soaring and so easy on the ears - "the gentle, the gentle sounding lute". I was 16 when she died, the early morning 'phone call came and I felt relief for her and for us all, as well as loss. It had taken a long time.

Martin Stranz my German grandfather was born in 1890, a completely different world. His death shocked me, and shook me early on Saturday morning. I wept in my father's arms and felt gult, "but I had only just begun to love him". He represents all that is intellectual but also a love of the good things in life - his brother-in-law in his will left him red wine to pour into his soup! Part of the money I have used to come here came from the money he gave us, his proud socialism and pacifism came from real experience. I wish I had been able to hold an adult conversation with him. Perhaps my interest in Germany comes as a result of dealing with his death. He was 85 when he died and had lived through two world wars. Despite his age, all of us where unprepared for his death, suddenly on holiday in Cromer after a good meal with friends, Probably he insisted on paying the bill. He only allowed us to celebrate his 85th birthday if he could pay.

Kate Guttmann his wife I only knew from a picture where I am sitting on her bed, she lived to see her first grandchild. She was very unkindly referred to as the Schlange - the snake - or the Hexe - the witch - by her children. From my other grandmother's one meeting with her it sounds as if she was the quiet one in a family of extroverts. The weeks that my grandfather was in Sachsenhausen concentration camp must have been difficult for her. She worried about illegally smuggling her wedding ring out of Germany when they left. Probably she found the move to Britain more difficult that the others. A sensitive, artistic woman. Perhaps we may call a daughter Kate.

I think of you as I write this Stave. Tears are streaming down my face as I do my Trauerarbeit, my mourning, as the Germans like to call it. Death has treated me more kindly than you and not taking my family away from me unexpectedly. I shall stop now and sort out my ever untidy desk - it seems to travel from country to country with me.

A Mighty Fortress Indeed ...

On 26 November, Jane was interpreting for Daniel Cattau, a US journalist, in Wittenberg. This article from the Los Angeles Times was one of the articles he wrote about his visit:

A Mighty Fortress Indeed - East Germany: As pariahs in a communist society, churches developed an independent niche--and nurtured a civil reformation.


Daniel Cattau, former director of the Lutheran Council News Bureau in New York, was recently in East Germany. (Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1989)

The Castle Church in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517, was refurbished in 1983, the 500th anniversary of the reformer's birth. Near the top of the tall, white church tower is now a gold band inscribed, Ein Feste Berg ist Unsere Gott-- the first words to the battle hymn of the Reformation, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

When the local leaders of the Socialist Unity (Communist) Party saw this impressive statement of faith, they asked church leaders what words from Luther might be appropriate for their building. The church leaders suggested the beginning of the hymn's second stanza: "No strength of ours can match His might."

This story accurately depicts the role of the East German Protestant churches in socialism: quiet opposition with a clear distinction between what belongs to the church and what to the state.

For the most part, the church's role in toppling the monolithic Communist rule has been ignored in the litany of other factors: Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost , Hungary's decision to open its border, the great numbers of East Germans fleeing to the West, the opening of the Berlin Wall and the country's woeful economic, educational and ecological situation.

But in talks I've had with dozens of East Germans, it was clear that the church played--and continues to play--a critical role in the reformation of society. In an interview at the Luther House in Wittenberg, Friedrich Schorlemmer, a theologian and leading spokesman for the Democratic Awakening, drew a parallel between the Reformation and the current upheaval.

"Luther said the church is only the church when it always reforms itself, and lets itself be reformed," said Schorlemmer, who has already been transformed from an enemy of the state into a media star. "Socialism is only socialism if it's capable of being renewed."

After World War II and the division of Germany, church membership in heavily Protestant East Germany declined from more than 80% of the population to about 30% today. The government thought it had dealt a fatal blow by enforcing strict church-state separation, eliminating state funding and teaching only Marxism and Leninism in schools. Added to that was a heavy dose of oppression.

The severing of church-state ties, however, was a blessing for the three territorial Lutheran and five united Lutheran and Reformed churches that comprise a loose, 5-million-member Federation of Evangelical Churches.

Until the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the East German churches had close ties with the wealthier, state-supported churches in the Federal Republic. In 1968, these formal ties were severed and the East German churches, after a long period of confrontation, moved toward being a church in socialism--but, as its leaders point out, not a church of socialism.

Remarkably, the church had found a niche in society by the late 1970s that was to grow into a full-scale spiritual and political movement a decade later: It was a "free room," as the Germans say, where church and non-church people could discuss issues rarely brought up outside the home.

It began with peace groups discussing East-West tensions and the redeployment of missiles in the two Germanys, and grew to discussions of human rights and social justice, the environment, military service, freedom of travel, press freedom and free elections. The church also played a key role in uncovering vote-rigging in last May's local elections, encouraging people to stay in East Germany and spawning many of the leaders of the opposition parties and groups.

In 1982 the Nicholas Church and later the Thomas Church in Leipzig began what looked, at first, to be innocuous Monday-night prayer services; it was after these services that 200,000 took to the street in October. These prayer services and demonstrations were soon replicated throughout the land of Luther, Bach, Schiller and Goethe.

"There was no other free room in society," for opposition groups, said Gerhard Thomas, editor of The Church, a newspaper of the Berlin-Brandenburg Evangelical Church. "The revolution was so peaceful from the side of the demonstrators--that was the spirit of the church. The spirit of the revolution was the spirit of the church."

In Wittenberg, a small university town in Luther's day but now a quasi-industrial city of 50,000 people, townspeople complained in the local paper that the demonstrators had left a mess in the Market Place in front of Luther's statue: Wax from prayer vigil candles covered the stones on the street.

Albrecht Steinwachs, a local pastor, gave perhaps the best testimony to the role of the church when he wrote in response, "I would rather see 1,000 drops of candle wax on the Market Place than one drop of blood."

25 November 2009

What's happening in Czechoslovakia and Romania ..?

Jane's diary
Dateline: Saturday 25 November 1989
Time is racing past. Our ten days module at the Predigerseminar is over. It began with everyone piling into our room and swapping stories of crossing the border or wall. The best story was the friend of one of the students who came out of the Berliner Ensemble bar fairly drunk and heard that the borders were open and decided to go to the Wall to argue with people and get them to go back, only to find himself swept along with everyone else and so completely gobsmacked that he spent most of the weekend pi**ed. For Berliners the open border adds a dimension which should always have been there but wasn't. As Karsten says, every says "here" but no one seems to know where "here" is. East or West? or East and West.
For our friends in West Berlin where he is a West German and she an East German the whole thing has been completely exhausting as well as totally exhilarating. Their flat was full of visitors from the East, all of us piled in for that first night - completely crazy.

Meanwhile events in Czechoslovakia have looked very ominous over the past 10 days but last night the central committee resigned en bloc and today half a million demonstrators in Prague. Dubcek spoke and was introduced as the county's future president - 20 years too late. Vaclav Havel will speak on television tonight, uncensored. It's all utterly amazing and wonderful, so sad and tragic that state brutality preceeded it to such an extent. Dissidents are being released and a coalition government proposed.

Back here Krenz is saying that free elections are not likely until the end of next year. I think it would be crazy to have parliamentary elections next May, much better to re-run the local elections of this year so that at least the new groups get experience at the municipal level.

Events in Romania seem still to be well behind those elesewhere in the Eastern bloc. It's awful to think of the culture that has been wiped out and this will continue if change doesn't come. All we can do is pray and hope the change will spread there too in this November of revolution and "Wende". Back here one of the students discovered swastikas on his wall in Görlitz and now that the press is "free" more and more reports of Poles being stopped at the border smuggling food. There's a real hatred of Russians and Poles developing here. We discussed this as we prepare to go to Poland in January. In a fortnight at a meeting with our counterparts from West Germany we will talk about Neo-Nazi tendencies in young people.

Putting Berlin back together again ...

Between November 1989 and October 1990 Berlin shifted gear from being a divided city on the front line of the East-West divide to becoming again a city in which people could move freely between the eastern and western sectors. Jane is blogging about about how even in November 1989, Berliners no longer knew what they meant when they said "here" - West Berlin? East Berlin? or the one Berlin? A latent disorientation that persists even 20 years later. But politics and culture is one thing, but what of the real work of restitching the city together - the water pipes, telephone lines, underground trains.

On BBC radio, Rosie Goldsmith has tried to do more than scratch the surface of the upheaval Berlin faced. She has gone underground, searching out the men and women involved in reunifying the city below street level, examining how the tubes, telephone, water and electricity systems of east and west were reconnected after the fall of the Wall.

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, the world saw images of ecstatic Berliners celebrating a new freedom of movement across their city. But after the jubilation had died down, council chiefs were faced with a task without precedent in any city in the world. Public transport in the two halves of the city was in chaos and the main arteries of Berlin became clogged with polluting Trabants; using the telephone was an infuriating experience; utility companies faced similar problems trying to bring together two systems which had developed completely separately.

The programme is available as a stream here until 30 November.

20 November 2009

Over the Wall and back again

Jane's diary: Wittenberg, 20.11.1989
What a weekend! I was so tense on Thursday, the train to Berlin was late and I had to work hard to keep calm. Then to the foreigners' registration office at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. Finally after a bit of to-do the man at the office gave me an exit and re-entry visa meaning I could go to West Berlin and come back to the GDR. I tried to phone West Berlin and it just wouldn't work. All lines engaged. It's been like that for days I reckon.

Walking along Friedrichstrasse towards Checkpoint Charlie I bumped into Christa Gengel (ecumenical officer of the Evangelical Church of the Union) and Keith Forecast (moderator of the United Reformed Church general assembly). Quite a ridiculous coincidence, the previous evening he had been preaching in Mansfield Chapel (in Oxford where I did my theology studies) and they had said, 'Of course you won't see Jane but if you do, tell her we miss her and give her our love'. Suddenly I felt a pang of homesickness for them all, miles away from German Sachlichkeit.

It was interesting to speak about the current situation with Christa Grengel. The woman who works with Christa looks well and relaxed, opening the borders really has opened people up. But Christa Grengel seems rather pessimistic about the way ahead - things are going too quickly, the church had proposed the gradual opening of the border and not the current free for all.

Were there any native Berliners in East Berlin at all? Everyone I tried to ask the way was Polish or Russian or from outside Berlin. Very odd.

Finally, after my interrupted evening I crossed at Friedrichstrasse, much quieter than earlier. So strange, the whole atmosphere was so different, much more friendly. It was so incredible to be on the S Bahn to Bahnhof Zoo in West Berlin. Then on to our friend Horst's where Stephen had arrived as well as other visitors from the GDR.

West Berlin was like I have never known it - but then it's never been like this. What an incredible atmosphere. All along the Wall people have their hammers and chisels and are making holes in it, taking chunks away to sell to the Americans - now the West Berlin police are doing their best to protect the wall. At Potsdamer Platz - what used to be the heart of an undivided Berlin, a new crossing point has been made, the Wall simply torn down. Nearby British solidiers are doling out free tea and coffee (a very British form of deterrence), with the East German border guards looking on.

A truly amazing weekend but at the end I had to walk back into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie by myself. Stephen came with me to the border and went through first but the border guards still wouldn't let him into the GDR. He came back out and said they had been much more friendly than the last time he had been refused entry but their records still said that he was "unwanted" in East Germany. So through the dark streets of East Berlin with tears on my cheeks to take the train back to Wittenberg.

18 November 2009

Swords into ploughshares and 30 years of the Friedensdekade

Today is the peculiarly German Protestant festival called the day of repentance and prayer, at the same time it marks the end and culmination of the Friedensdekade, the churches' Ten days for Peace campaign, and the 30th year in which the campaign has taken place. The Friedensdekade deserves a place on the Holy Disorder blog in that it played a significant role in generating an indepedent peace movement in the GDR not least through the slogan "Swords into Ploughshares", which became one of the elements that fed into the "peaceful revolution".

The history of the Friedensdekade goes back to October 1979 when the Swedish Christian youth council proposed at a meeting of the Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe in Hirschluch in the GDR, that a day for peace should be organized by European churches. Picked up Berlin-Brandenburg and particularly by the Saxony youth pastor Harald Bretschneider this idea led to the first Friedensdekade being marked in the GDR from 9 to 19 November 1980, under the theme "Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen" (Make peace without weapons). The symbol of the event was a picture of the sculpture outside the United Nations in New York of a sword being hammered into a ploughshare that had been donated by the Soviet Union. The 10 days was also intended to coincide with similiar actions in the Federal Republic. In 1981, fabric bookmarks and a fabric patch with the "swords into ploughshares" motif were produced by the church (fabric production did not require special permission from the state), which led to the symbol being quickly adopted as a sign for independent peace activities, much to to displeasure of the state, which harrassed young people wearing the patch. Despite official church advice after such confrontations that young people should forego wearing the patch, the sculpture remained a smbol of the movement, as when in 1983 at the Wittenberg Kirchentag, Friedrich Schorlemmer organised a blacksmith to turn a swords into a ploughshare (as shown here in a panel from the exhibition in berlin about the peaceful revolution). The Friedensdekade remained one of the most important catalysts for the peace movement in the GDR, which itself contributed to the prayers for peace that became a focus during the peaceful revolution.

(Acknowledgements to Anke Silomon for her book Schwerter zu Pflugscharen und die DDR In English see the book by John Sandford, The Sword and the Ploughshare.)

17 November 2009

A new East German government in office

Twenty years ago today, the new GDR prime minister Hans Modrow (SED) presented his cabinet to the Volkskammer. In his governmental declaration he announced reform of the political system, the economy, education and administration. The aim is a "new socialist society". He proposes developing relations with West Germany to form a "contractual community" (Vertragsgemeinschaft) while rejecting unification of the two German states. Meanwhile the GDR interior ministry announced the registration os 154 new political groups. Meanwhile in more than 25 towns and cities there are demonstrations againsgt the SED's monopoly of power, a sign that the peaceful revolution is still continuing. (Source: epd)

'Europe in the year 2000'

No, the title's right but before you ask if I have gone into reverse gear, this is the headline from a feature in The Independent by Robert Cottrell published on 30 October 1989 - after the protests had started in the GDR but before the opening of the Berlin Wall.

Cottrell tried to imagine how the changes of 1989 would look ten years later, and the result is the somewhat indistinct map at the top of this post. At the centre of the map is a united "Confederation of Germany". The Baltic States are independent and together with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, a federation of Croatia and Slovenia, "Greater Serbia" and Turkey are associate European Community members (all but Greater Serbia and Turkey with their currencies pegged to the DM). The Soviet Union has disappeared, to be replaced in Europe by Russia and Ukraine. In western Europe, the Nordic countries and Austria joined the EC in the mid-1990s, after the "Delors Convention" moved the currencies of European Monetary System onto fixed parities supervised by a European System of Central Banks (in effect, national currencies have become non-decimal divisions of a single European currency) leaving only Switzerland "truly immune to the charms of monetary union, and [which] prospered mightily as Europe's sole remaining tax haven". Belgian has more or less ceased to be a unitary state and instead is a federation of Flanders and Wallonia.

Cottrell's imagination - from before the opening of the Berlin Wall - saw a revolution in Romania, and the flight of the Ceausescus; a move to a German Confederation in 1995 (still a hopelessly ambitious timetable according to some of Cottrell's contemporaries from 1989); the break up of Yugoslavia into a federation of Croatia and Slovenia, and a Greater Serbia; and - even - the restitution of Transylvania to Hungary. The Baltic states become "miracle economies", flooded with foreign investment and technology, akin to the "Asian tigers"; Poland is a source for cheap labour; while the biggest loser is "Russia" itself, the exhaustion of whose Communist Party led to an apparently unsuccessful military coup, with a United Front government surviving on aid from the West terrified by its arsenal of military weapons (remember this was envisioning Europe in 2000 and Cottrell might not have been so far of the mark). Germany's "armed neutrality" and the withdrawal of US troops (presumably the Soviet troops have also been pulled back) effectively end NATO's battlefield role, though NATO provides nonetheless "a useful diplomatic forum".

True, he does not predict the break up of Czechoslovakia, nor the wars that accompanied the break up of Yugoslavia, but from the fictional perspective of 2000, Cottrell writes:
LONDON - 31 December 1999. The end of a momentous decade. The commentators who spoke of the "death of history" in the 1990s had to concede its resurrection in the 1990s: not as a struggle between ideologies, but as a struggle for identity. Atavism re-entered the mainstream of Europe's politics.
Behind all this "futurology"Cottrell's point is that it is the European Community that would be the true magnet of the reshaping of Europe and the central point of a post-1989 settlement:
Can we fix upon an event, a date at which the "old" Europe began subverting the new? It might, for instance, have been the birth 20 years ago [in 1980] of Polish Solidarity, later to mount the first successful challenge to a Soviet satellite government; or the demands for independence by the Baltic states; or the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev to East Berlin in 1989, the spark which set the fire under the old guard of the Socialist Unity Party and thus cleared the way towards the German Confederation. But these were the punctuation marks rather than the message itself. It would be truer, if less picturesque, to see the weaknesses of the post-war settlement as having been inherent in its creation ... To the extent that the European Community was conceived as a yoke around the German neck, pulling it into line with its more placid neighbours, it failed: the relationship has been almost precisely reversed. But in other ways the EC has proved a much greater success than its founding six might have imagined.
Cottrell's article was published just as I was involved in preparations for a seminar in late November 1989 on the future of European security, the parameters of which were shifting as each day passed. It's a reminder of the need to think of the wider political picture as well as the internal protests and revolts in that hot autumn of 1989.

16 November 2009

Was 1989 good for humanity?

Over on the Guardian Comment is Free/Belief site, Ulrich Duchrow has posted an answer to the question, "Was 1989 good for humanity?" He notes how the prayers for peace in East German churches were also linked to the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation launched by the World Council of Churches. It was good, Duchrow writes, for people to experience that self-liberation is possible when a system has lost its legitimacy. However, the people lost control in the process of transformation. In East Germany, capital and the West German political institutions took over. His conclusion:
So 1989 can only be seen as good for humanity in the future if the people of the world learn from the "peaceful revolution" that they have the power of self-liberation from an oppressive and destructive system. If they interpret this year as the victory of the west they allow capitalism to continue to destroy humanity, the earth and eventually itself. There are signs of that learning. One of them is the World Social Forum and its sub-events at regional, national and local levels. Here people train to develop a co-operative solidarity economy (geared at satisfying real needs of people instead of the greed of property owners), models for money as public good and co-operative banks, serving the real economy instead of speculative accumulation, as well as direct and participatory in addition to representative democracy. The World Council of Churches, its member churches (unfortunately, less so in Europe) and the grassroots ecumenical movement form part of this process by working for AGAPE (Alternative Globalisation Addressing People and Earth) and just peace.

He ends by quoting Heino Falcke: "The art of Christian hope is to work persistently for making possible the necessary."

Trying to find a way into the future

Jane's diary: Wittenberg, 16 November 1989

I'm completely wound up. I am waiting to travel to Berlin. I'm waiting for a phone call at midday from Steve. For two days I've been like this, moods swinging back and forth. I've had to completely reorganize everything to get to Berlin. I was at the police station this morning. I can get out of the GDR, but, unlike the East Germans, I can't get back in again, because I only have a single-entry visa. Steve: what are we going to do if we can't meet? I really think I shall crack. It's three months since we got engaged. Dear God, I hope this madcap plan works out ...

So much has happened but I feel in such a whirl - totally emotionalised. I want to laugh and cry and scream. The atmosphere is changing a bit. I'm not quite sure if all these groups are going to keep up the momentum, now the wall is down, at least psychologically. The prayers for renewal on Tuesday were still full at both churches - suddenly now that the crisis point is for the time being over, people are are suddenly able to pray, not just for themselves as has been the case in past weeks.

Suddenly we remembered that Romania exists. We lit a candle for the person facing the death penalty there. We sent a telegram to the Embassy. People prayed for the schools, for the environment, for not too much greed for western money. One of the students had found swastikas sprayed on the walls in Görlitz - we prayed for the fascists. The emotion was really very different at the service, not so tense or brittle. In some ways that was a shame, the tears didn't prickle behind my eyes, my voice didn't break with emotion. Perhaps a certain amount of normalisation would be good. A time to reassess, think hard, give thanks for all that has happened and try and see a way into the future.

The Bürgermeister has resigned, at the demonstration later in the square they gave his deputy a hard time. The new Bürgermeister will be elected today. As a result of standing up for so long in very cold churches and then sitting in a Trabant for over an hour my back is in all sorts of mess. Very painful. I drank a glass of wine with two of the women in Wittenberg. We listened to Mahler's 4th symphony and tried to sort out our feelings and worries about the incredible almost miraculous events of the weekend. When will the price reform come? Feelings are very ambivalent. Everyone wants to be able to exchange GDR money for western money but will it still be possible to afford bread at home? Things are going to get worse before they get better, that's for sure. Oh dear, that sounds so Thatcherite and smug.

15 November 2009

Thorns in the side

Posted by Jane (from the Stranzblog) :

I first heard the passage below being read aloud in the chapel in the Predigerseminar in 1989. In the midst of the huge political upheaval of East Germany's peaceful revolution, Gabriele who led that morning's "Andacht" simply let the text speak for itself.

I was surprised and pleased to find it again the other day at the beginning to Stephen Cottrell's splendid little book "Hit the Ground Kneeling". I'm not sure I've come across it in any of our Sunday lectionaries, which is a shame. I have used it in some youth work and training sessions with elders though.

Reading it through again now I wonder about whether bramble or thorn bush would be my favoured translation and I must go and check whether the Hebrew word is the same as the bush which burned and was not consumed in Exodus and whether the Septuagint translation for thornbush is then picked up in the gospel term for crown of thorns. This is how linguists think I suppose - even when they have a bus to catch and must write fast!

None of the other trees wanted to give anything up in order to sway over the other trees - not the olive its oil, not the fig its sweet fruit, not the vine its glorious juice and wine. So the thorn bush, the bramble, accepts. The thornbush is an uncomfortable symbol of humility in the Bible, it is about a different kind of leadership. Today reading this text I was struck rather by the way the supposedly greater trees don't want to take up office, they want to hold onto their current roles and riches and place in the scheme of things and not chance the risk or humility of leadership. Them holding on to their power and riches and roles makes the leadership role of the brambly thorn bush yet more difficult. Easier to be a celebrity than a leader? Easier to hold on to riches than follow vocation?
A fascinating and powerful parable which is deeply prophetic.

The parable and prophecy of the trees in Judges 9

The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
“Reign over us.”
The olive tree answered them,
“Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honoured,
and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the fig tree,
“You come and reign over us.”
But the fig tree answered them,
“Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the vine,
“You come and reign over us.”
But the vine said to them,
“Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?”
So all the trees said to the bramble,
“You come and reign over us.”
And the bramble said to the trees,
“If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

13 November 2009

Into the promised land or into the desert?

This is a crosspost from the Stranzblog
As I think back to the end of the GDR 20 years ago a theme I return to is that of the promised land or the desert. In large part this is because of an encounter with a lecture by Jürgen Ebach early in my time in Wittenberg. About a week before the GDR was due to celebrate its 40th anniversary in early October, Ebach was on a tour of some churches in the GDR, speaking in particular to ministers, theology students and church workers. He spoke passionately about developing a theology that takes failure seriously - sometimes those who fail are the greater heroes (I remember being rather surprised at the time that he mentioned Scott of the Antarctic in this respect - probably because I assumed it was a story not much known outside Britain). Moses who receives the promise of the promised land never actually gets to live there and only glimpses it from afar before death.

It is only now though that I realise how very carefully thought out Ebach's lectures were and also how deeply pastoral. It would not have occurred to him or to any of us that the Berlin wall would no longer be there 6 weeks later. So underpinning what he was saying was a deep commitment to using the biblical texts about the 40 years in the desert leading to the promised land as a resource for reflection and resistance for the context of the churches in the GDR - perhaps for the next forty years. Are you so sure that you have been in the desert for 40 years? Are you sure that you are not only now leaving Egypt?
I can see now that he was trying to encourage the leaders of the church in local situations to continue to dialogue with biblical texts and let them speak to their situations. In a way he was saying, your struggle is going to go on, how are you going to help the faithful wrestle with the fact that after 40 years there was no promised land - and although I have often thought about and returned to his lectures it is only now that I can sense this layer in the insights he was sharing.
So was the opening of the wall the promised land? I can remember being a bystander as people voted for the first time in March 1990 and then again twice more that same year - the enthusiasm already beginning to wane.
So I wonder ... if Jürgen Ebach revisited his lectures today what would he try to say to the tiny minority churches in the former GDR? Are we all in the promised land or are we in the desert? Is state communism more or less of a desert than social market economies? Is capitalism the only promised land available? Where is the wicked Pharaoh we are fleeing from - even though we also yearn to be back in those fleshpots of the past when faced with the rigors of desert living?
Meanwhile I can't help thinking how very clever the CDU was with its horrible election slogan of Wohlstand für Alle - it really tapped in to desires for the future and offered quite a greedy promise. Of course the biblical land of promise is not one where all have good incomes but rather one in which the basic necessities of all can potentially be met. A land in which there will be pasture enough for you to milk the sheep and pollen enough for you to harvest honey. God won't be raining the manna and quails down from heaven. It's actually the promise of a semi-nomadic lifestyle in a slightly less difficult environment rather than a completely nomadic existence in a mainly hostile environment! Trying to sell that in your political programme may be rather dififcult.
Posted by Jane

12 November 2009

Retribution or accountability?

Jane's diary, dateline 12 November 1989:

Three SED district officials committed suicide yesterday. I worry about Schadenfreude. Hunting down the guilty ones as if none of the rest of us are guilty - have the CDU, LDPD, NDPD (the block parties linked to the SED) done nothing over these years. Are they going to get away without having to confess? I wonder how many people would not have been involved in corruption in some form or another.

Two of the new central committee members have already had to resign - Cottbus and Halle in SED districts voted them out of office at their respective local levels and they've had to go. The reasons aren't all that clear but Boehme (district SED secretary in Halle) may have been voted out because of the appalling violence in Halle on 9 October. It still isn't out in the open whether he or the Stasi chief gave the order "to clear the centre" ( very euphemistic expression). People are now saying the Stasi should be sent to the factories. All that listening in to, watching and frightening people doesn't bear thinking about.

Yesterday I was in Jüterbog to interpret for two Americans from the United Church of Christ. Jüterbog is small has four very enormous and very beautiful old churches, one now converted into a library. It was an old Handelstadt and has similar architecture to my beloved Hansastädte. This area of Brandenburg is called Fläming - rolling countryside and woods. The name and the architecture indicating the Dutch connection. I'm extremely cross I have allowed myself to be talked into this although it has been interesting in all kinds of ways ...

More amazing pictures from Berlin. The West Berlin police and the East German Grenztruppen working together. More jubilation and of course all the litter and rubbish, bottles, paper plates.

In Jütterbog as all overt the GDR the State Bank and the police were open all day on Saturday and Sunday to cope with the queues of people. The Reichsbahn has laid on extra trains, in Leipzig they ran out of tickets for people travelling to Berlin. Each year GDR people can change 5 Marks at 1 to 1 for 15 DM. This is nothing. Can the government really afford to make the currency convertible, rampant inflation is sure to follow. The new economic proposals seem to suggest some kind of price reform. When? How quickly the next change.

On AK2 (the East German television news) the strange sight of the head of the police advising people to leave their cars on the edge of Berlin and to try to avoid the overcrowded crossing points. "Unless you have to go over now, then don't. Please believe me this new law will last so try to be patient". Wierd! Then an interview - a real interview - with Krenz about reunification. Basically he said this is Herr Kohl's problem and not mine, The GDR constitution is very clear on this issue. Whether Kohl should consider sorting out the Basic law is another matter and on which I cannot decide and which is not a GDR matter.

Interpreting for the Americans again this morning in small village churches. Thankfully a fairly straightforward sermon in easy language - I was surprised at how easily it all went. I was very thankful for the French onion soup at lunchtime, I got very cold in the first church where we preached. Winter has finally arrived, frost this morning and a real November mist, damp cold getting through to your bones. Somehow it had seemed as though the summer would last for ever but maybe the greenhouse effect isn't bad enough yet for that.

My feminist anger is dying down a bit now but if I get called "Fräulein" once again I might just boil over.