29 July 2009

Church resources to mark the peaceful revolution

The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has just published online resources (in German) for marking the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolution in the GDR (HTML format and PDF format). It includes a long account by Pastor Christian Führer of the peace prayers in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig which on 9 October 1989 marked the decisive turning point in the popular protests and the reaction of the SED. The EKD is encouraging peace prayers on 9 October this year to mark the anniversary. At the same time it has been announced that Bishop Wolfgang Huber, the chair of the EKD Council, has been invited to be the speaker at the official celebrations on 2 October to mark the 19th anniversary of German unity - on the church as precursor of the peaceful revolution. The theme of the celebration to take place in Saarbrücken is "experience Europe" to which French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been invited to take part alongside German President Horst Köhler and Chancellor Angela Merkel ... Hm, of all these great and good people only Merkel has any direct experience of the peaceful revolution that made German unity possible.

26 July 2009

The cross of trees

Today the Protestant Church in Central Germany celebrated the second of two radio services to mark the peaceful revolution of 1989. This one came from Ifta, a 1200 resident village that will be 750 years old in 2010, and which lay in the former border strip west of Eisenach. Following the sealing of the border between East and West Germany in 1953 - eight years before the building of the Berlin Wall - only those with a special permit had access to the 5-kilometre-wide border strip. In 1990 people from East and West planted a Baumkreuz - a crossing with one row of trees running along the east-west highway and the other along the former "death strip". Each year a BAUMKREUZ community meets. The sermon was preached by Ralf-Uwe Beck, the pres offiicer of the church who was himself born in Ifta. "People in 1989 discovered that they were citizens who were able to speak for themselves. They went out of the churches with candles in their hands and onto the street for justice, peace and integrity of creation."

22 July 2009

The slow changes to 1989 ...

25 years ago today the Lutheran World Federation assembly opened in Budapest. It was the first time that an assembly of the LWF had been held in eastern Europe, and that in a country where there was still a simmering dispute about 1956 and the place of Lajos Ordass, a former president of the Lutheran Church in Hungary rehabilitated in 1956 and then removed again in 1958. The leadership of the church then transferred to Zoltan Kaldy, who through his Theology of Diakonia tried to find a modus videndi with the state. At the assembly, Kaldy was challenged by a letter from a Hungarian pastor, Zoltan Doka, who called into question the theology of Kaldy. Kaldy was nevertheless elected as the LWF president. What dies all this say about church-state relations and did it move forward to 1989 or stand in the way of change?

9 July 2009

1989 - Protesters condemn election manipulation and China repression
09.07. 1989: At the closing ceremony of the Leipzig Kirchentag, which gathered about 40,000 people, representatives of church alternative base groups demonstrated against the manipulation of the GDR elections and the suppression of the democracy movement in China. About 500 people then march two kilometres to the Petruskirche calling for more democracy and openness in the GDR. After a service if intercessions at the Kreuzkirche in Dresden, GDR security forces detain several dozen participants, both immediately after the service and in the days that follow. They were interrogated and received fines - epd.

8 July 2009

'The Signs of the Times'

The German Protestant monthly Zeitzeichen has published a special issue on the East German church, 20 years after the peaceful revolution - some of the articles are on free access, others are for subscribers only. I'll be coming back to some of the articles in future posts, but for the moment it's worth noting that Zeitzeichen itself is a product of an East - West fusion. Its roots go back to 1947 when the magazine Die Zeichen der Zeit ("The Signs of the Times") was started in the then Soviet Zone of Occupation as a journal for church workers. Jens Bulisch has written a history of the journal from its founding in 1947 to German unification in 1990 within the context of GDR policy towards Protestant media. In fact ZdZ managed to survive German unification for several years before merging with the West German periodical, Lutherische Monatshefte, and then with the Evangelische Kommentare - the original idea to call the product of these mergers "Zeichen der Zeit" floundered on the fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses already had a publication with this title ... hence Zeitzeichen.

7 July 2009

'The people of the east have turned into nomads'

The New York Times has a report from Hoyerswerda, in eastern Germany, where the population has dropped below 40,000 people from more than 70,000 in 1989. The city government is tearing down apartment buildings to try to keep up with the plunge in population. In a city that once had 21,000 apartments, 7,500 have been torn down and 2,000 more are scheduled for demolition, the newspaper reports. The report adds:
And the population decline is about to get much worse, as a result of a demographic time bomb known by the innocuous-sounding name “the kink,” which followed the end of Communism. The birth rate collapsed in the former East Germany in those early, uncertain years so completely that the drop is comparable only to times of war, according to Reiner Klingholz, director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. “For a number of years East Germans just stopped having children,” Dr. Klingholz said.

Andrea Zirzow, 46, remembers the seeing the block of flats built that she lived in with her children, “I was happy when we moved into the newest buildings in the city, as though we’d won the lottery.” Now, Zirzow and her husband live outside of town. Her son Felix, 22, followed his sister to Karlsruhe, where he works for Siemens. She said, “The people of the east have turned into nomads.”
07.07.1989: Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev distances himself from the so-called Brezhnev doctrine of November 1968 and says that each socialist state can decide for themselves how to develop. Several Leipzig base groups issue a joint declaration criticising the violence of state organs against peaceful demonstrators - epd.

6 July 2009

Impressions from the Wende period

The Leipzig photographer Martin Naumann has put together a set of postcards of images - Wende-Tage-Impressionen - from the Wende period which are taken from his book Wende-Tagebuch - both published by Militzke and available online. This is one of Naumann's photos from the period. MDR has a photo gallery here.
06.07.1989 - the opening of a four-day Kirchentag in in Leipzig, at which the social and political conflicts in the GDR were thematised as well as demands for political change. At the same time, alternative groups opened an "alternative Kirchentag" to protest at the exclusion of critical groups from the main event. The governments in Bonn and East Berlin signed an environment agreement for the clean up of the Elbe and a reduction in the air pollution in the GDR - epd.

3 July 2009

New internet portal for the peaceful revolution

The Federal Foundation for the Investigation of the SED Dictatorship has a launched a new internet portal (in German) - Zeitzeugen 89¦90 - that promotes contacts with the eyewitnesses and actors of the peaceful revolution, and including a calendar of events "On this Day", 20 years ago.

2 July 2009

Eastern Germans see GDR in positive terms - survey

Meanwhile, as Hungary looks back to the symbolic opening of the Iron Curtain with mixed feelings, a majority of eastern Germans see the German Democratic Republic in mostly positive terms, according to a news story on the Web site of the Protestant Church in Central Germany. Forty-nine per cent of those questioned agreed that there were "more good sides than bad to the GDR". Another eight percent said people had lived happier and better lives than now. Altogether 1208 people in eastern and western Germany were surveyed. The federal commissioner for eastern Germany, Wolfgang Teifensee, said the survey showed that "we must not relax when it comes to dealing with the history of the GDR". Eastern Germans were also more sceptical about the extent to which the hopes of the peaceful revolution had been realised. Western Germans were much more positive in their assessment about the achievements of German unity.

1 July 2009

Hungary remembers opening of Iron Curtain with mixed feelings

ENI has posted this article about the weekend commemoration of the symbolic cutting of the Iron Curtain by the foreign ministers of Hungary and Austria. Of course, the 1989 event was PR - Hungary continued to police the border and GDR citizens visiting Hungary were still not allowed to pass through the Hungarian border in a westerly direction. The picture is of an East German Trabant - which for a few weeks in autumn 1989 became the rather unlikely symbol of freedom of movement between East and West. ENI also quotes from this statement by the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe on "Europe and the churches 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain", in which the CPCE noted that between 2004 and 2007 most central and eastern European countries had joined the European Union.
"However, not all the promises of the new freedom in Europe have been fulfilled," stated the church grouping, which gathers more than 100 Lutheran, Reformed, United, Methodist and other Protestant churches. "On the one hand are gratitude and joy at liberation from systematic and violent oppression and the positive experiences in growing together," it said. "On the other side, anxiety is growing about the great economic and social differences in Europe and a persistent mental division into 'East and 'West'."