7 June 2009

The 'peaceful revolution' or the 'revolution of non-violence'

The musings on the history of civil disobedience in the 20th century made me think again about describing the events of 1989 in East Germany as a "peaceful revolution". Peaceful revolution may conjure up images of an ordered transition of power, and yet it was a revolution in which those who were camapigning for change faced the full force and violence - both open and covert - of the state. It's true that what has become to be seen as the turning point of autumn 1989 - the mass demonstration in Leipzig on 9 October - passed off peaecfully. Yet, in September and early October, the GDR police and security forces set about protesters with violence using truncheons, and batons and physical force. And even after the fall of Honecker and the opening of the Berlin Wall, the covert violence of the state continued, despite new freedoms of expression and of movement. As Walter Suss points out, a proposal drawn up on 4 December 1989 by the higher echelons of the now rebaptised Office for National Security postulated the continued surveillance and actions to repulse the "unconstitutional" activities of movements and associations, and using all available possibilities to prevent the "misuse" of churches by such forces. It was the non-violent action to occupy the offices of the state security apparatus that neutralised such attempts to roll back the revolution. Maybe rather than speaking of a "peaceful revolution", it would be better to speak of a "revolution of non-violence" to underline it was a revolution using non-violent methods, rather than an ordered change that faced no real opposition.


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