27 May 2009

The 'Sinatra doctrine' and the Gorbachev factor

Archie Brown, author of The Gorbachev Factor (and no relation to Dr B. of course), has a fascinating article over on Comment is Free reminding us that just over 20 years ago, on 25 May 1989, the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies had its opening session, and that unlike previous Soviet legislatures, a majority of the members had been chosen in competitive elections:
Much journalistic anniversary coverage this year will focus on the events that made for the most dramatic pictures – mass demonstrations in central European cities and, above all, east and west Germans dancing on the wall which had divided Berlin since 1961. Yet, the most important changes, the ones which made the transformation of Eastern Europe possible, took place elsewhere – in Moscow.
Archie Brown largely discounts the idea that reform was forced upon Gorbachev by pressure from outside or the dire economic situation inside the Soviet Union - ascribing a voluntarism to Gorbachev and a small circle of top policy makers:
As a result, decisions in Moscow not only played the decisive role in the spread of communism in Eastern Europe in the 1940s, they were just as crucial in facilitating the end of communist rule in Europe 40 years later.
Already in December 1988 at the United Nations, Brown notes, Mikhail Gorbachev had spoken of "the binding nature of the freedom of choice" of system for the people of every country. That applied, Gorbachev stated, both to socialist and to capitalist countries.

Yet what Brown does not note is the way in which this "freedom of choice" was having some perverse effects. Hungary had announced the dismantling of its section of the Iron Curtain with Austria (though this did not mean, of course, freedom of movement across the border) while in Poland, Jaruzelski had agreed to semi-free elections resulting in a de-facto non-communist government. Yet in the GDR, as epd notes on its splendid day-by-day account of the revolutionary year 1989, the police in Leipzig were continuing to seal off the streets around the Nikolaikirche to prevent protests after peace prayers. By ditching the Brezhnev doctrine for the Sinatra doctrine (the eastern European countries can do it, "their way"), Gorbachev was effectively saying that it was up to the local communist parties to decide what to do. In Poland, the party decided to seek a great national consensus, while the Hungarian party tried to reinvent itself as the avant garde for reform. In the GDR, however, the Socialist Unity Party oscillated between cracking down on dissent at home and a limited East-West opening up, as witnessed by the Berlin Philharmonic on 30 May 1989 giving its first concert in East Berlin since the building of the wall.

Arguably, it was the dialectic between Gorbachev's policy making in Moscow and the way in which relations between the state and the peoples would play out in eastern Europe that provided the template for the events of autumn 1989.

24 May 2009

Mensch, wer bist Du?

The Federal Republic of Germany celebrated its 60th anniversary on 23 May - the day after it marked 60 years since the promulgation of the Basic Law - just two of the dates in this year of anniversaries. But this year also marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic and 20 years since the peaceful revolution, and by coincidence I found myself watching Das Leben der Anderen on DVD.

I first saw the film just over two years ago at the Filmtheater am Friedrichshain - it was a strange experience - the cinema was about 200 metres from where I lived when I was in East Berlin from 1983 to 1984, and the action starts in autumn 1984. Despite the need for a Willing Suspension of Disbelief about elements of the plot - maybe even or especially the central element of a Stasi officer being turned by listening in to the bugging devices in the apartment of an East Berlin writer - there were many details and atmospheric elements that took me back to that time. The exiled GDR singer Wolf Biermann has written about the film's factual inaccuracies and atmospheric truth. Irrespective of the details, it was an odd experience of time shift coming out of the cinema and walking down the darkened streets to the tram stop that I used countless times when I was actually living in East Berlin. (I later discovered that the interior of the apartment of the artist Georg Dreyman was filmed in Hufelandstraße 22 - 250 metres from the cinema where I saw the film and maybe as far again to Georgenkirchstrasse 69.)

Watching the film again I was struck less by the GDR memorabilia, and the contradictions of the plot to the central issue raised by the film, "what does it mean to be good?". At Dreyman's 40th birthday the artist is given the music score of a piano Sonata, "Sonate vom Guten Menschen" (The Sonata of Good Persons), by his friend Albert Jerska, a theatre director who has been prevented from working for seven years by the authorities, while Dreyman officially continues to enjoy the esteem of an officially recognised artist. The piece of music's title alludes to Brecht's, "Der gute Mensch von Sezuan", the story of a prostitute struggles to lead a life that is "good" (according to the terms of the morality that is taught by the gods and to which her fellow citizensf 'Szechwan' pay lip service), without allowing herself to be abused and trod upon.

When Jerska finally from despair commits suicide, Dreyman takes the sonata and plays it with the Stasi officer listening in. Dreyman then decides to write an exposure of the high East German suicide rate to be smuggled to the West German magazine Der Spiegel. (One of the many historical ironies is that the building of the state statistics office, the "staatliche Zentralverwaltung für Statistik", which was keeping the suicide rates secret, now houses the Federal Commission for the Archives of the Stasi, which is opening the files of the secret police.)

As Dreyman furiously types away at his manuscript, a song by the GDR band Bayon, "Stell dich mitten in den Regen", with words by the post Second World War poet and writer Wolfgang Borchert , with the final verse, "Place yourself in the middle of the fire, believe in its monstrosity, in the red wine of the heart, and try to be good." So the message of the film is actually a timeless one, one that transcends the GDR - what does it mean to be good, and who is good? It's a question that - with a little poetic licence - is raised by the Kirchentag - but not, "Mensch, wo bist du?" but "Mensch, wer bist Du?'"(not "Mortal, where are you?" but "Mortal, who are you?")

21 May 2009

A rebel for peace against the raging world

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the final day of the European Ecumenical Assembly, "Peace with Justice for the whole Creation", in Basel (the assembly logo is by the Swiss artist Hans Erni). Here is an article that I wrote in 1989 about the Basel Assembly, and published in REFORM, the magazine of the United Reformed Church.

Stephen Brown traces the quiet persistence of Heino Falcke

A rebel for peace against the raging world

Heino Falcke is Provost in the small town of Erfurt, in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) - East Germany. Just turned 60, softly spoken and with a shy smile, he does not appear at first glance the rebel that he is.

‘Churches in Europe should support a democratic ecological socialism capable of creating just economic relations between North and South,’ he said during the Basel Ecumenical Assembly in May, a remark which led to raised eyebrows from English Anglicans and Western European Catholics.

Falcke is no stranger to controversy, however. A keynote speech he gave Synod of the GDR’s Protestant Churches in 1972 led to sharp criticism from theto the state authorities. His demand for an open, democratic and free socialism in the GDR sounded too much like the ‘socialism with a human face’ in Czechoslovakia that had been crushed by Warsaw Pact tanks just four years previously.

Falcke, who gave the opening sermon at the Basel Assembly, is respected in the ecumenical movement and one of the ‘spiritual parents’ of the World Council of Churches’ programme for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, of which the Basel Assembly is part.

Six years ago, at the WCC Assembly in Vancouver, he spoke at a packed press conference of the demand that the GDR delegates would be putting to the Assembly to reject the ‘development, possession and use of weapons of mass destruction’. He said then, ‘The Assembly theme ‘Jesus Christ - the Life of the world’ is a summons to us to repent of our bondage to the powers of death and turn to the life which Jesus Christ gives, in order to serve the life of our fellow creatures.’

With detente between East and West in tatters in 1983 and with the superpowers ready to deploy new nuclear weapons in Europe, he called on the Assembly to con-sider ‘whether the time is now ripe for a universal church council for peace, of the sort that Dietrich Bonhoeffer considered mandatory 50 years ago in face of the threat of the Second World War’.

Bonhoeffer, the German theologian executed during the Second World War for his role in the resistance to Hitler, had warned an ecumenical conference on Church and Society in 1934 that only a single ecumenical council of the Church of Christ could speak out so that the world would have to hear, ‘because the Church of Christ has taken the weapons from the hands of their sons, forbidden war and pro-claimed the peace of Christ against the raging world’.

The idea of an ecumenical council met opposition particularly from Orthodox Churches because of their theological understanding of the significance of councils in the life of the Church. And Christians from the southern hemisphere were concerned that ‘the issue of peace will be separated from the issue of justice, making peace primarily a North Atlantic concern’, as the South African church leader Allan Boesak put it in a keynote address to the Vancouver Assembly.

‘Nuclear’ no, hunger yes

Boesak recounted how an African delegate had said ‘in my village, the people will not understand the word ‘nuclear’ but they will understand everything about hunger and poverty’.
In the end, the Vancouver Assembly’s call for a ‘conciliar process of mutual commitment (covenant) to justice, peace and the integrity of creation’, reflected a somewhat uneasy compromise between these concerns. ‘The threats to justice, peace and the integrity of creation can no longer be named as three different threats,’ says the WCC. ‘The Churches must unite in response.’

Falcke says that he is ‘very happy’ with what has been achieved since Vancouver and with the extent to which this ecumen-ical ‘process’ has been taken up by the European Churches at the Basel Ecumenical Assembly. ‘At the same time I am sorry that this call has found so little resonance in the Two-Thirds World,’ he says.

The climax of the ecumenical process is to be a world convocation in Seoul, Korea, next year, which will include members of the Roman Catholic as well as Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox Churches. Falcke has his doubts, however, whether convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation with just over 300 delegates will really be able to speak to the world with authority. He suggests that the Seoul meeting should see its task as speaking to the Churches rather than the outside world - a step along the way rather than its end.

In Falcke’s own country, as least, the process of preparing for the conferences in Basel and Seoul has led to unprecedented cooperation between the Roman Catholic, Protestant and smaller Free Churches. ‘All 19 Churches have agreed to the rejection of the spirit, logic and practice of deterrence,’ a demand that was first made by the Protestants in the middle of the ‘80s, he says.
The three meetings of the GDR’s own Ecumenical Assembly have tackled questions of global justice, peace and ecology. At the same time, they have raised issues of justice, peace and ecology within the GDR - the question of dependence on nuclear power, or the premilitary education that school students have to undertake - contributing, perhaps, to that open and democratic society that Falcke called for 17 years ago.

(Photo from the MDR with links to a broadcast about Falcke to mark his 80th birthday)

20 May 2009

1989-2009 The East European Revolutions in Perspective

debatte - a journal of contemporary central and eastern Europe- is organizing a conference in London in October 2009 on the East European Revolutions in Perspective. More details here.

19 May 2009

What was the GDR?

A week before Germany elects a new president, the Social Democratic Party's candidate Gesine Schwan has stirred up a hornets nest by refusing to describe the German Democratic Republic as an "unjust" state, as this would imply that, as Der Spiegel reports on its English-language site, "everything that happened in that state was unjust. I wouldn't go that far when it comes to East Germany." Der Speigel notes that the suspicion is that Schwan is making a bid for votes from the left-wing Die Linke party, which was formed by a union of dissident Social Democrats from the West and the Party of Democratic Socialism from the East (which itself is descended from the former East German ruling Socialist Unity Party). But now some of her SPD allies are considering not voting for her in the Parliamentary Assembly that choses the president. SPD Stephan Hilsberg (one of the small group of people who founded the Social Democratic Party in East Germany in autumn 1989) says he is reconsidering who he will vote for as Schwan's remarks seem like making the GDR seem less awful gthan it really was.

16 May 2009

The 20th Anniversary of the 1989 Revolution - Essay Competition

The Centre for East German Studies at the University of Reading is launching an undergraduate essay competition on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 1989 revolution in the GDR. The competition is supported by the German Academic Exchange Service, the German Embassy and the journal German Life and Letters.

Undergraduates from any discipline are invited to submit an essay on the events of 1989 in the GDR and their links to developments in Europe. Students may either write about a particular event or person from that time, or present a more general account of changes and developments.
The essay should be 2000 - 3000 words long and be written in English. A jury of experts from German Studies, History and Politics will choose the three best essays and invite their authors to an awards ceremony hosted by the German Embassy in London on December 2, 2009. The prizes will be worth £250, £150 and £100, and the best essays will be published.
Essays should be submitted by 25 September 2009 to:
The Centre for East German Studies, Department of German Studies
University of Reading, Whiteknights. PO Box 218, Reading RG6 6AA

15 May 2009

Remembering Basel

The Conference of European Churches has just released a statement to mark the 20th anniversary of the European Ecumenical Assembly, "Peace with Justice", in Basel. With 700 delegates, the Basel meeting was the first large-scale gathering of Europe's main Christian churches since the 16th-century Reformation (the picture shows the co-presidents Cardinal Martini and (then) Metropolitan Alexei lighting the candle at the opening event).

Equally importantly, it was not (primarily) doctrine that drew them together but the need to respond together to the imperatives of justice, peace and safeguarding creation. The assembly was part of the Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation launched by the World Council of Churches at its Vancouver assembly in 1983 (the following year the newly-elected WCC central committee member Margot Kässmann proposed there should be regional assemblies to prepare for a global world conference on the JPIC theme) but the Basel assembly became a symbol of an Iron Curtain that was beginning to crumble. A month before it assembly opened, Poland's then-communist rulers announced the legalization of the opposition trade union movement, Solidarity. Shortly afterwards, Hungary started dismantling its section of the Iron Curtain on the border to Austria.

"In 1989, Europe was changing," said the Venerable Colin Williams, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, in the CEC statement. "In Basel, the churches, with their determination to work together for a renewed commitment to peace and justice, not only caught the mood of the times, but also helped create the atmosphere for change and renewal."

In what was seen as an unprecedented move, East Germany allowed 24 independent peace and human rights activists to attend the workshop, most of whom had also been active in East Germany's Ecumenical Assembly that was organized in the run-up to Basel. Less than six months later, many of these activists had become leaders in what was dubbed East Germany's peaceful revolution. This led to the collapse of the territory's communist regime, and, ultimately to German unification in 1990.

"In no church assembly before or since Basel has the ecumenical agenda been so affected by and linked to the dynamic of political changes in Europe," said Joachim Garstecki, a Catholic theologian who served as an advisor on peace issues to East Germany's Protestant churches, and who traveled with the 24 activists to the Swiss city (see Episcopal Life's pick up of an ENI story).

The assembly was marked by lights on the Rhine, prefiguring the candles that would come to prominence in autumn 1989.

10 May 2009

A year of anniversaries

This is not just the 20th anniversary of the revolutions in eastern Europe, but also the 90th anniversary of the Weimar constitution - and also, the 90th anniversary of the Bauhaus, the avant-garde art and design institution closed down by the Nazis, the 60th anniversary (on 22 May) of the Basic Law, the de-facto constitution of West Germany promulgated in 1949 (it's also the 60th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic but that seems to be being passed over). Then it's also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn, born into a notable Jewish family that later converted to Protestantism, but whose music and personality was disowned and banned de-facto by the Nazis. Each of these anniversaries in some sense offers an opportunity for reflection, if not soul searching, on the past and its meaning for today. This year of course also marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

One of the things that struck me when I arrived in East Germany in 1983 was the significance of anniversaries - I arrived as the preparations for the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther were in full swing. The communist Socialist Unity Party (SED) having previously denounced Luther as a lackey of the princes now re-discovered objectively progressive role in history. At the same time the SED was also marking the 150th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx. Such anniversaries played an important role in correcting or reaffirming the official ideological view - later on the SED would even try to appropriate Bismark for the workers' and peasants' state. In the old Federal Republic, as well, anniversaries unleashed intellectual and political controversy about the significance of the past, as with the Historikerstreit that followed the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Meanwhile, the centre for contemporary history in Leipzig warns that "history can lead to insights and create consciousness".

9 May 2009

Chinese Christians call on world to remember 4 June

The German Protestant news agency epd has reported that Chinese Christians have launched an appeal to remember the victims of the 1989 suppression of the student demonstrations in Beijing, and for those responsible to face justice. They are calling for prayers and intercessions between 12 May, the first anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan and 4 June, when the Beijing protests were suppressed in 1989. Signatories include Yu Jie und Wang Yi in the PRC.

On 25 May, the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig is to remember the Chinese protests, in its weekly peace prayers, which this year are following the events of 1989. The effect of the 1989 protests could be felt around the world. In Basel, where churches from throughout Europe were gathering at the European Ecumenical Assembly, "Peace with Justice", one of the participants was heard to say, "Look at Beijing. What would happen if this was happening on Alexanderplatz" in East Berlin?. Less that six months later, the people of East Germany had taken to the streets in their thousands, Alexanderplatz had been the centre of the biggest demonstration the GDR had seen, and the Berlin Wall had begun to fall. In neighbouring Czechoslovakia the communist regime was toppled by protests led by dissidents around Vaclav Havel.

The British current affairs magazine New Statesman (sic) has called 1989 "The Year of the Crowd". "
There were the rebellious crowds massing in the great cities of central and eastern Europe, their collective and heroic agitation for change precipitating the breach in November of the Berlin Wall. There were the crowds of courageous students, workers’ groups and democracy campaigners in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, their aspirations so murderously suppressed by state dictatorship," writes editor Jason Cowley.

Lighting up a cathedral with East German demands for change

The Evangelical Church in Central Germany has posted these photos by Harald Krieg of the light sculpture at Magdeburg Cathedral in which texts from the Ecumenical Assembly in East Germany were projected on this 800 year old building. Magdeburg hosted the second session of the Ecumenical Assembly, in which participants made unprecedented call for change - the separation of the state and the Communist Party, secret ballots for elections, freedom for art and culture, the right to form independent associations. These texts would prove to be an inspiration for the citizens' movements and political parties formed at the time of the peaceful revolution. The light sculpture followed a similar event in Erfurt where extracts from the texts were projected onto the former communist-run local district headquarters, now part of the regional parliament for Thüringen.

8 May 2009

How the End of East Germany Began

The English language site of Der Spiegel magazine has an article about the protests that emerged in East Germany from the rigged elections of May 1989. It quotes a report from Spiegel about the protests after after the elections:

Making free use of their batons, security forces went after a few hundred demonstrators who had gathered in central Leipzig on the evening of election day and on the Monday following. More than 100 demonstrators were arrested.
Journalists from West Germany were not allowed into the city. East German media
ignored the protests, reporting instead on the 'celebratory mood across the

Last night former East German civic rights activists gathered on Alexanderplatz to mark the start of the open air exhibition about the end of the GDR:
Surrounded by photos and documents that will be on display on the square
for the next six months, East German folk hero Wolf Biermann took to the stage.
In 1976, Biermann was stripped of his East German citizenship for the political
songs he wrote that were viciously critical of the SED leadership. On Thursday,
he sang some of those songs and reminded the crowd that political freedom is far
from inevitable. "Even in 1989, my political fantasy was not nearly enough to
imagine that the East German regime would ever collapse," he said. He went on to
describe watching the Nov. 4, 1989 mass gathering on Alexanderplatz on West
German television. "I was envious," he said.

7 May 2009

Open air exhibition about the peaceful revolution

To mark the 20th anniversary of the electoral fraud, an open air exhibition about the peaceful revolution has been inaugurated today on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, with 200 metres of images. It will run until 14 November. Alexanderplatz is where the hige demonstration took place on 4 November 1989 calling for change and renewal in the GDR (l.). The project is the idea of the Robert Havemann Society, named after the dissident East German physicist. According to the society, the exhbition "shows how, beginning with a few people, oppositional activities became a people's movement. More and more people struggled against hopelessness, breakdown and stalemate in society, calling for freedom to travel and free elections. Citizens movements and political parties were founded. Hundreds of thousands went courageously onto the streets. The rulers of the GDR were helpless. The exhibition documents this exciting time and wishes to promote a discussion about the result.

From 'paper folding' to free elections

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fraudulent local elections in East Germany in 1989 that mark the beginning of the end of the GDR (or should that be the end of the beginning of the end of the GDR??) which mobilised activists throughout the republic to go to polling stations, make unofficial tallies of the results and compare these to the officially published results. The picture shows Egon Krenz announcing the results next to an image of peace prayers to protest against the elections, and a newscaster on the election results programme.

Of course, few people believed that the 99% score for the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and its allies really represented the people's will, but for the first time in recent history there were people willing to say so and to bring forward the proof. There were always regional variations in voting of course, but hardly ever, if at all, did the official version of popular acclamation fall below 90%. There was also sometimes a macabre delight in "poor" poll results. I can remember watching the 1984 "results programme" in the Bohemian quarter of Prenzlauer Berg when my friends were delighted that the district again scored the lowest official turnout and the lowest number of "yes" votes for the official candidates. Five years later, there was increasing discontent about the facade of elections that transcended the usual circles of known activists. Even members of the Christian Democratic Union and the Liberal Democratic Party - two of the "block parties" allied to the SED and that followed its dictates - began to get agitated about the elections and the way they were organized (of course even if they had published the real results the SED would have had a huge victory, but the concern was to ensure that it received a triumphalistic result).

Hans Michael Kloth in his book, "Vom 'Zettelfalten' zum freien Wählen", (From 'paper folding' to free elections) hes set down the nine-months chronology from these rigged elections to the free parliamentary elections of March 1990. The title refers to the fact that in GDR times voters were simply expected to take the list of candidates, fold it in half, and place it in the urn, without even going to the voting booth.

The Evangelical Church in Central Germany as part of its "Holy Disorder" campaign, has taken a different path by opening a blog site for people to share their recollections of the1989 elections and their significance for the popular protests. Christoph Kähler, then a theology professor in Leipzig, and now a bishop, describes the elections as being unlike anything he had experienced before. Instead of slightly anxiously taking the ballot form and demonstratively going into a polling booth, as at previous polls, there was now a queue of people who were waiting for an opportunity to exercise their right, constitutionally-guaranteed but in practice ignored, of taking part in a secret ballot. Other people didn't bother waiting but sat at tables taking a pencil to the preordained list of candidates. Kähler's wife went to the count to try and keep a tally of no votes - "the almost 100% approval that appeared in the newspapers the next day was so obviously fake that it brought the political dissatisfaction with this system of lies to a new high point".

Christian Dietrich describes the fraudulent elections as marking the beginning of the role of the Leipzig peace prayers as a ritualised space for protest. With fellow students in February 1989 he decided to form an "Initiative for the Democratic Renewal of Society" to call for the SED to be de-elected (this Stasi document includes information about these efforts). Hearing that he was being searched for by the security forces he left Leipzig shortly before the elections and went back to his home town of Jena, where a protest demonstration on the eve of the elections was being broken up by police. The day after the elections (a Sunday) protesters gathered in the Leipzig Nikolaikirche for the peace prayers. Rows of police surrounded the church to prevent a demonstration forming that would march to the centre of the city. But there were other views too. Sinnie writes that she regularly took part in the "paper folding" exercise - although she was unhappy about many things she approved of the GDR's peace policy, and the fact that East German soldiers did not serve abroad. Since unification, she writes, all the parties are the same and you have just as little influence on what they do. She no longer votes as a protest against the Bundeswehr taking part in foreign missions: "Now I'm very curious to see if my contribution, which departs from the party line, will be placed in this forum."

6 May 2009

Negotiated Revolutions

Sitting in the cafeteria of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva yesterday I was discussing the parallels between South Africa and East Germany, and mentioned that the other symbolic transition to democracy taking place was in Chile, where in December 1989 an election marked the end not only of the Pinochet area but can also be seen drawing a line under the era of military dictatorships in Latin America that ruled from the mid-1960s to the 1980s. George Lawson in his book, "Negotiated Revolutions", has focussed on the parallels - and differences between South Africa, Chile and, if not the GDR then the Czech Republic. His conclusion is that:
Over upcoming years, we will see whether negotiated revolutions traverse the recalitrant line between idealism and realism, avoiding the perils of an overly optimistic, naive altruism on the one hand, and the crudeness of a raw struglle for power on the other. That is both the ultimate question and the fundamental challenge to come.
Still, I wonder whether "negotiated revolution" is an adequate category for describing the East German (or Czech) experience. True, there was a Round Table bringing together both the "old" and the "new" forces - but was it a revolution that was negotiated, or a revolution that led to negotiations? And if so, what sort of negotiations? Georgina Waylen, in "Engendering Transitions" has focussed on the role of women's organizing in the breakdown of non-democratic regimes - again she makes comparisons between South Africa, East Germany and Chile. Using empirical material drawn from eight case study countries in East Central Europe and Latin America as well as South Africa, she explores the gendered constraints and opportunities provided by processes of democratisation and economic restructuring. Her conclusion is:
To be most effective the newly important political arena and the transition itself has to be relatively accessible to women actors. From our case studies it appers that pacted and relatively drawn out transitions with negitiation processes are more likely to be accessible to women actors. Powerful participants in those negotaitions, particularly within the opposition, have to be open to gender concerns and feminists have to be already present or have access to those arenas.

4 May 2009


Endgame (Endspiel) by Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk is the title of one of the many books released this year to mark the 20th anniversary of the GDR's peaceful revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kowalczuk, a researcher at the office of the Federal Commissioner for the archives of the former GDR state security service, traces the events in the GDR from mid-1988 to the first free elections in the GDR in March 1990. Endgame is also the title of a feature-length drama shown on Channel 4 this evening about a series of secret meetings (taking place at the time the GDR was imploding) organized by Michael Young, then director of communications for Consolidated Goldfield, that helped pave the way for the end of apartheid in South Africa. This juxtaposition is a reminder of how the changes in Germany at the end of the 1980s need to be seen against the background of a wider epochal change. My own memory of how these two movements are interlinked is that on the day of the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert, held in Wembley Stadium on 11 June 1988, I was at a meeting of the German-German working group of European Nuclear Disarmament, where we had one eye on the TV and another on our discussions. The mood in the GDR was sombre - a crackdown on dissent had led to activists being involuntarily exiled from East Germany, there were growing protests against state censorship. Less than 18 months later the South African theologian John de Gruchy was in New York where he watched the growing popular protests in the GDR in September 1989, an experience he described in 1997 at the Leipzig Kirchentag:
Unter den Meldungen der Woche gab es damals zwei, die unmittelbar nacheinander gesendet wurden. Die erste zeigte Fernsehfilme der Protestversammlungen in Leipzig und die Flucht ostdeutscher Bürger über die Grenze in die Tschechoslowakei; die zweite zeigte die Eskalation der Protestmärsche gegen Apartheid in Kapstadt, meiner Heimatstadt ... [Wir] wußten..., daß dies für die Apartheid der Anfang vom Ende bedeutete. Darüber hinaus spürten wir, daß die dramatischen Ereignisse in Osteuropa in einem geschichtlichen Zusammenhang mit den Geschehnissen in unserem Land standen. Und das sollte sich bewahrheiten. Denn ohne den Zusammenbruch der Mauer in Berlin im Jahr 1989 wäre es unwahrscheinlich, daß die Wende in Südafrika zu dem damaligen Zeitpunkt stattgefunden hätte.
In his book Christianity and Democracy he has reflected on the parallels (and differences) between the transition in the two countries.

2 May 2009

The 'voice' of protest and the 'exit' of emigration

I noted earlier today that there has been a fierce argument about whether it was those seeking to emigrate from the GDR that provided the final push that knocked over the house of cards, or the tens of thousands of demonstrators who took peacefully to the street to demand changes. This was also something that was the focus of a discussion with a friend originally from West Germany but who now lives in the East, and an East German who was heavily involved in supporting the critical groups within the church. My friend from West Germany reported that the West German media had focussed on the would-be-emigrants, while my friend from the East said that while many factors were involved it was impossible to overlook the role of the peaceful demonstrations.
One of the academic tools used to analyse the discrepancy has been the triad - Exit, Voice and Loyalty - by Albert O. Hirschman, originally drawn up to analyse the way that consumers react to a decline in, say, the quality of goods or declining organizations - exit (switching custom elsewhere) or voice (demanding that things get better). Loyalty to the organization in question is a variable that can moderate the choice of exit (making it less likely) especially if brand loyalty is strong and the barriers to exit high. Exit, Voice and Loyalty was published in 1970 but the basic approach seems to have immediate relevance to the situation in East Germany in 1989 - and Hirschman himself produced an essay in 1993 applying his anaysis to the GDR (Exit, Voice, and the Fate of the German Democratic Republic: An Essay in Conceptual History, in: World Politics, 45(2): 173-202).

The US sociologist Steven Pfaff has gone further with a book length study "Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East-Germany", based on empirical research in Leipzig and Saxony. Up to a certain level, argues Pfaff, mass exit can stimulate the voice of protest, but that beyond that point, it weakens it by taking out of the situation the activists and other key individuals involved in protest: "... a repressive equilibrium creates a false sense of security for rulers. In East Germany, where both exit and voice options were long blocked by a consolidated hard-line regime, no widespread exercise of voice could be expected. But neutralization might have posed a threat. Poorly performing organizations are generally corrected only when exit or voice demonstrates the need for reform and empowers actors to make the necessary changes." (Source p.26)

The 'iron curtain' started coming down

20 years ago today, Hungary announced the beginning of the removal of the border fence that separated it from Austria. This certainly didn´t mean that people from other Eastern European countries would be able to pass freely to its Western neighbour but more than anything else it is what catalysed tens of thousands of East Germans to go to Hungary for their summer holiday with the hope of reaching West Germany via Austria. Was it this mass wave of emigration that brought about the collapse of communism in East Germany, rather than the peaceful revolution? Or was there what the Marxists might call a "dialectical" relationship between the exit of emigration and the voice of protest? This issue is still highly debated among political scientists and historians - as well as those who themselves were part of these events ...

1 May 2009


Today is the 1st May and walking to the station in Erfurt I passed the trade union demonstration for International Workers´Day. 20 years ago, the May Day demonstration would have been used as a manfestation of support for the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). I once went on such a demonstration (out of curiosity) myself back in 1984 when I was a student in East Berlin. The university departments were all expected to turn out as a sign of their support for (or regimentation by?) the SED - even the theology department was expected to be there. However, when I arrived at the appropriately named "Street of the Paris Commune" where the demonstration was to start, although the lecturers were present en masse, hardly a student was to be seen. Of course, the only career open to a theology student was a career in the church, but for other students not to be seen to turn out could be held against you ...

(Photo to come once I have an opportunity to transfer photos over)

Think Globally, Act Locally - or the other way round?

At the meeting at the Augustinerkloster last night, Heino Falcke (r.) explained how the Conciliar Process linked the local and the global. The Ecumenical Assembly in the GDR focussed on the global problems of justice, peace and creation in the context of the GDR. It was a case of "Thinking Globally, but Acting Locally". The "local" was linked to the revolutionary movements in eastern Europe that led to the overcoming of the Iron Curtain. That is in the past, and a matter for historians. But the other side of the coin is still very much alive and relevant - how do we deal with globalisation in the face of the climate crisis, the continued proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the international financial crisis? German unification meant not only that the GDR became part of the Federal Republic but also the processes of globalisation - and here the statements of the Ecumenical Assembly are still relevant, perhaps even more so. The letter to the children began, Falcke noted, "The earth on which we live is threatened".

If 20 years ago what made the texts of the Ecumenical Assembly so powerful was the local relevance of the global issues, maybe now it's necesary to look at things the other way round - not so much "Think Globally, Act Locally" - but "Think locally, Act Globally."

East German 'revolution' remembered in church campaign

Ecumenical News International has this article:
Erfurt, Germany (ENI). Christians in eastern Germany have launched a campaign to mark the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution that overthrew communism, with a light sculpture shone onto the walls of the regional parliament building in Erfurt.

Read more here.