25 September 2009

East Germany - A Catholic Revolution?

Academics and others have been disputing for almost 20 years whether the events in the GDR in autumn 1989 can be characterised a "Protestant Revolution". Now, in a speech to mark the 20th anniversary this year of the opening of the Berlin Wall, the leader of the German (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has pointed to the role of the Catholic Church:
With the distance of 20 years, we can see that the various developments that came together on 9 November 1989 had begun much earlier. At a whole series of stages we encounter Pope John Paul II. Mikhail Gorbachev even wrote in his memoirs, "Everything that has happened in recent years in Eastern Europe would not have been possible without this Pope." Here I need only recall the first visit of Pope John Paul II in his Polish homeland in 1979, On the eve of Pentecost, he prayed: "Send forth your Spirit! And renew the face of the earth! This earth!“ Then, at the Victory Square in Warsaw, the Pope gave confidence to his compatriots, encouraged them to commit themselves to freedom and human rights, and with his prayer set in train a movement of "Solidarity" that could not be stopped even by violence and martial law.
Zollitsch is certainly right in this anniversary year with his reminder of the significance of the events in central and eastern Europe - particularly in Poland - for what happened in the GDR, events that are sometimes obscured by a focus on 9 November and the Berlin Wall. This was not just (or not even) a German-German affair. At a later point in his speech Zollitsch refers to the role of the churches in what he terms the "German Revolution":
It is correct to say that at its origins the German Revolution of 1989/90 was not a Christian revolution. But neither should one ignore that the churches opened their doors as the crisis of 1989 arrived, as the oppositional groups first were at the peace prayers in the church and then went onto the demonstrations on the streets
The Protestant church had the advantage of being the bigger sister, and being better able to offer appropriate rooms and was all in all more generous when it came to offers church premises for non-religious events. But it is indisputable that both churches offered space and protection as the opposition in the GDR needed institutional support and personal help. In their attempts to achieve freedom and civic rights, the opposition looked to the churches, the people sought the presence of the church and their hopes were not disappointed. The courageous examples were contagious. This explains why a surprisingly large number of GDR Catholics, who because of political abstinence reaching back decades were largely immune to such developments, seized the opportunity to get involved in promoting freedom and unity, and to take on political responsibility, beginning with moderating the Round Table to standing as candidates in the elections that soon followed.
So it wasn't a Catholic revolution after all, but what is interesting in the cautious attempt to deal with the role of the Catholic Church in the GDR, noting that its policy of "political abstinence" had meant that Catholics were less likely to get involved, and that the Catholic Church was less likely to offer premises to non-religious events, by which is meant political gatherings for civic rights activists. Its a far cry from the statements shortly after the political changes of 1989, when the Protestant church was being criticised as too cosy with the GDR authorities and the Catholic Church being presented as a model of resistance.

Here is an extract from the H-Net review of Herbert Heinecke's book. Konfession und Politik in der DDR: Das Wechselverhältnis von Kirche und Staat im Vergleich zwischen evangelischer und katholischer Kirche:

While both churches adopted initially confrontational postures toward the establishment of SED rule, differences in their own histories and traditions, social positions and self-understandings led them to respond very differently to changing circumstances in the GDR. These differences became especially clear after the mid-to-late-1950s, when the relaxation of state anti-church activities made room for more nuanced church-state relations. They culminated in the late 1980s in the central role played by the Protestant churches in the emergence of East German civil society at a time when the Catholic church was still only beginning to come to terms with its place in the GDR.

:: Hat tip to Anli Serfontein for the speech

24 September 2009

What does a world without walls look like?

That's the question posed by Rise&Fall, a mobile art installation and dance event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall. The exhibition features modern digital artwork interpreting the theme 'bringing down walls/breaking down barriers' (both literally and symbolically) and music performed by Turkish-German DJ/Producer, DJ Ipek Ipekcioglu (www.djipek.com). Events take place from 4 November to 1 December in New York, Miami, Boston, Washington, DC and Los Angeles. There's still time until 30 September for artwork submissions. Art from 11 countries relating to the theme 'breaking down barriers' has already been submitted. Artists, from amateur to professional, are invited to submit digital versions of their art produced in a full range of mediums along with a short description of what 'bringing down walls' means to them - either as directly related to the Berlin Wall or on a more symbolic, personal, cultural or social level.

The picture here comes from the Rise&Fall Web site: http://www.rise-fall.com/news_post.php?id_art=54

23 September 2009

The Trabbi is back ...

The Trabant - the car that made a Skoda look like a luxury limousine - is back! 20 years after photos went round the world showing lines of Trabants queuing to get to the West, a former Volkswagen engineer is to unveil plans at the Frankfurt Motor Show to create a new eco-friendly Trabant. Actually it never went away as these photos taken this year in Jena and Budapest make clear.

Here's Chris Milton's report:

It’s being developed by an unlikely combination of specialist car manufacturer IndiKar, the former Volkswagen designer Nils Poschwatta and the leading miniatures manufacturer, Herpa.

But is there anything to differentiate the Trabant from its competitors?

Well, styling to start with. The Trabant has always had an uncanny resemblance to its western counterpart, the Mini and this new electric Trabant is far more pleasing on the eye that BMW’s take ... Then there’s the innovative solar roof. Many electric cars carry an additional 12V battery in order to power SatNav, heating and other low-voltage “necessities.” Not the Trabant. These will all be powered by its solar roof and, quite bluntly, if there isn’t enough sun then your air-con won’t work. Who needs air-con when it’s cloudy anyway?

Hm! Methinks the timing has something to do with the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall. Here's a photo of the new Trabant from the Web site of Indikar, one of the companies behind the project:

Strangely enough in this part of France we had a house up the road that used to have two Trabants in its front garden.

Photos of old Trabant (c) Stephen Brown.

P.S Here's a Wiki "Trabant" fact: In medieval German Trabant meant foot soldier or personal guard, [1] and here's one last photo of a Trabant this time from Jena in May 2009.

21 September 2009

Opposition forms in East Germany

Twenty years ago: The opposition group "New Forum" filed for official recognition in East Germany and a Synod of the Protestent Church in East Germany issued a resolution calling for democratic reforms including a multiparty system, freedom to travel and freedom of the press.

From The New York Times, 20 September 1989:
By SERGE SCHMEMANN, Special to The New York Times

The largest of several new groups formed to campaign for change in East Germany announced today that it had applied to field candidates in parliamentary elections next May as the first countrywide opposition organization.

Barbel Bohley, a founding member of the group, the New Forum, said it had filed formal applications to run candidates in 11 of 14 electoral districts. Miss Bohley said she was skeptical that the Government would even reply, ''but we have to do it.''

The Government has refused in the past to sanction independent groups, and the Communist authorities have shown little inclination in recent weeks to make any concessions to opponents at home or abroad. More

Hat Tip to Freedom without Walls


"Ostzeit: Stories from a Vanished Country"

The New Statesman (sic) reports on this photographic exhibition organized by the Sibylle Bergemann, Ute and Werner Mahler and Harald Hauswald, four of the most well known east German photographers, and founders of the OSTKREUZ agency, at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin to lead into a review of the issues of memorialising German history. Writer Dave Rimmer notes in his article:
The latest memorial controversy concerns a monument to German unity intended for a site near the former Palast der Republik. The government promised €15m and an open competition was announced - but out of 400 designs submitted, not one has been deemed suitable. Now, as debate rages between greens and conservatives, Ossis and Wessis, there is to be a second, invitation-only competition. Berlin, it seems, is just not ready for a monument to unity. In fact, despite all the projects designed to bind it back together - such as the commercial cluster around Potsdamer Platz and the new central station - Berlin is still a divided city.
Details of the book to go with the exhbition are available here.


19 September 2009

A new Wall to mark 20 years since the opening of the Berlin Wall

The German Embassy in Washington has set up a special Facebook page to mark 1989:
The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago marked the beginning of a new era in history. It was the end of the Cold War, the beginning of a fully united Europe and proof that peaceful change is possible, even in the moment when it seems most unlikely.
Among the usual Facebook type things it includes a discussion on the role of leaders in peaceful change, and a chronology on the Facebook "Wall" of the opening Berlin Wall in November 1989:

18 September 2009

"My dear Christian friends in East Berlin"

These were the words spoken by the US civil rights activist Martin Luther King when he preached in the Marienkirche when he visited East Berlin in 1964, on one of the most tense days in the divided city since the building of the Wall in 1961. Chrismon, the German Protestant monthly magazine, has an article on its Web site about how King arrived in an American limousine without notice at Checkpoint Charley, and was eventually let in after half an hour by a stunned border guard after he was able to prove his identity with an American Express card (his passport was being held by the US authorities in West Berlin to prevent him crossing into the East) was back at the hotel, presumably). Shortly before King's visit to East Berlin, East German police had exchanged fire at the wall with the West Berlin police and US military as a heavily wounded 21 year old reached the West. King who was in West Berlin to address a commemoration ceremony for the John F Kenndy at the Waldbühne had hurred to the scene of the event.

In East Berlin King addressed a Marienkirche full to overflowing - the doors were closed 2 hours before the start of the service, news of which had spread only by word of mouth. The crowds who couldn't squeeze in were urged to go to the nearby Sophienkirche were a second service was arranged at short notice. Georg Meusel, a peace activist in GDR times who now coordinates the Martin-Luther-King Centre in Werdau, recalls in Freitag how King spoke of the civil rights movement in the United States, Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent resistance that inspired the US activists, "who would prefer to go to jail with dignity than live with humiliation and without equality". King ended his sermon with the words, "In this faith we can hew a stone of hope from the mountain of despair ... In this faith we will work together, pray together, stand up together for freedom in the certainty that we will be free at last". Meusel commented:

Although neither Martin Luther King nor his audience imagined the events in the GDR in 1989, a minority in the peace and civic rights groups and in the churches in the following years internalised the message of non-violent conflict resolution.
King's visit to East Berlin was on 13 September 1964. 25 years later, a group of civic rights activists in the GDR met to announce the formation of "Demokratie Jetzt", just one of the actions of non-violent resistance during autumn 1989. An event to mark this anniversary was held on 13 September 2009.

Michael Haspel, the director of the Evangelical Academy in Thüringen, has produced a study that compares the role of the Protestant churches in the GDR and the black churches in the US civil rights movement: Politischer Protestantismus und gesellschaftliche Transformation. This is a summary of an article by Haspel in the Forschungsjournal Neue Soziale Bewegungen:
The Protestant churches in the German Democratic Republic and the Black churches in the civil rights movement in the United States are two among very few examples for non-fundamentalist Protestant churches which were decisively involved in processes of social transformation. In both cases it was paramount that the churches were developed institutions with substantial resources at hand in order to play an important role in the respective social movements. In order to explain why the churches were willing to commit their resources for the sake of the social movements, in this analysis it is argued that a decisive development in the mode of theological reflection took place. In both cases theological contextualisation in the given situation was the presupposition for the involvement of the churches in the social movements.
(Photo: Chrismon)

16 September 2009

Honouring a forerunner of the peaceful revolution

The Council of Churches in the Netherlands has awarded its ecumenical prize for 2009 to Heino Falcke (press release here), for many years the dean of Erfurt and a voice in the GDR churches urging change in the GDR, and one of the key initiators of the Conciliar Process forJustice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. Falcke first came to wide prominence in 1972 with an address to the synod of the Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR in which he said the church would be a "church for others" in that it would take the side of the oppressed and offer a space for critical debate and free speech. "In the promise of Christ," Falcke stated in a phrase that angered the Community authorities, "we will tirelessly remind our society of our committed hope for a socialism that can be changed for the better."

To mark the award there is a ceremony in Utrecht on 2 October that will fcous on the conciliar process as a precursor of the peaceful revolution: "Even after German unification, Falcke has reflected critically on the position of the Church. He was thus a source of inspiration for many, even in the Netherlands." More details here.

This is the link to an article about Falcke that I wrote in 1989 before the peaceful revolution. And this is a link to an article (in English) by Falcke about the Conciliar Process in the GDR.

13 September 2009

French perspectives on 1989

Over the past few days, here in Ferney Voltaire we've become aware of how the French media is looking towards the events of 1989. It started when Le Monde ran an article entitled "The Entente Cordial against History" drawing on declassified British government documents to show how Francois Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher shared a joint suspicion of German reunification in 1989. Then the local newspaper shop had copies of two magazine specials to mark the anniversary - Le Monde's own Liberté a l'Est and Télérama's Le mur de Berlin: 20 ans après. The format of the two magazines is similar and they both use Raymand Depardon's famous image (left) - Le Monde on the cover and Telerama as part of a photoessay. The content is different, however - Le Monde reprints many of its eye witness reports, while Telerama has new content, including profiles of Marianne Birthler (the guardian of the Stasi archives) and Vera Lengsfeld (peace activist now CDU member of parliament), and a counter-current review of Das Leben der Anderen. But what is common to both publications, as in athe article from Le Monde that opened this post, is what seems to be a distinctive French take on the events of autumn 1989. In Germany there is a continuing debate as to whether the key date is 9 October (when the massed forces of Leipzig citizens braved a possible "Chinese solution" to demand change) or 9 November, with the opening of the Berlin Wall as the key step towards German unity. There is no such agonizing with the French perspective in these publications - it is 9 November, but unlike in Germany, seen as an event of epochal geopolitical change, a perspective lacking from some German publications that have marked the anniversary. That's not to say that the reawakening of civil society in eastern Europe is ignored by the French publications, rather that 9 November 1989 is seen as the day when everything changed.* A third of Telerama is taken up with the "shock waves" created by the event: the brak up of the Balkans, "Sarajevo in a thousand pieces", and "Un bilan globalement mitigé" ... for the period 1989 to 2001 which it calls the "interwar period" (l'entre deux guerres) ...
*Hubert Vedrine who was then an advisor to Mitterrand and later a French foreign minister in his interview with Telerama asserts that the key date was not 9 November 1989 but the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 - "Fin du monde bipolar ... entrée dans un monde global". Much to argue about there ...

12 September 2009

End Game

The end of the second week of September 1989 marked the beginning of the end of the SED's hegemony in the GDR. The month had begun with the Monday prayers at the Nikolaikirche restarting, but this time with western journalists in Leipzig for the Trade Fair recording and capturing the demonstration that followed the prayers calling for freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom to express opinions. On 10 September, "Neues Forum", published its founding appeal, signed by 20 civic activists from throughout the GDR - Bärbel Bohley, Katja Havemann, Rolf Henrich, Sebastian Pflugbeil, Jens Reich and Hans-Jochen Tschiche. The same day, Hungary opened its borders to emigrants from the GDR. On 12 September another group, "Demokratie Jetzt", published its founding appeal, "Einmischung in die eigenen Angelegenheiten". This would be followed by the founding of other groups and parties such as Demokratischer Aufbruch and the Social Democratic Party, for which Markus Meckel, Martin Gutzeit, Arndt Noack and Manfred Böhme were now distributing flyers. The End Game had begun.

End Game is also the title of a book by historian Ilko-Sascha Kowalczuk that charts the Revolution from 1989 in the GDR. Kowalczuk, who works for the Federal Commission for the archives of the State Security Ministry of the GDR, has certainly based his book on thorough historical research, but the result is not a book for researchers and experts but anyone who wants a readable account of the causes and consequences of autumn 1989 in the GDR. While stressing the role of factors such as Gorbachev's coming to power, Kowalczuck's focus is on East German society itself, the mismanagement of the SED and the resistance of social forces. Here is his passage about the founding appeal of "Demokratie Jetzt" on 12 September 1989:
The 12 signatories ... called for the formation of the "Citizen's Movement Democracy Now" ... This was the first reference to a "citizen's movement" (Bürgerbewegung), a concept that would influence the events that followed. The appended, "Theses for a democratic reconstruction in the GDR", were similar to those in the call to found the SDP, but were less radical and orientated more to basis than parliamentary democracy. Three points distinguished the appeal from that of New Forum: First, all the signatories came from Berlin or neighbouring Brandenburg; second, it spoke of the continuing the "socialist revolution" to make it viable for the future. That was liable to irritate given that the appeal and the theses were diametrically opposed to theht that of the GDR. Third, the signatories called upon, "the Germans in the Federal Republic to work for a reconstruction of their own society to make possible a new unity of the German people in the household of the European peoples. Both German states should be willing to reform themselves for the sake of unity."
Endspiel can be can be from Amazon Germany - €24.90 - or in a special edition from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. for €6.00.

6 September 2009

Nikolaikirche ... open for all

On 4 September 1989 the "Monday Prayers" restarted at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig after the summer break. Coindientally the Leipzig Fair was taking place and as was the custom western journalists found it relatively easy to gain accreditation and , more importantly, as per custom ,received permission to report from and to film anywhere in Leipzig. The role of the western media in directing attention on the GDR's second city in the hot autumn of 1989 has perhaps not received the attention that it deserves. About 1000 people took part in the peace pryaers and about 800 joined a demonstration with slogans such as "freedom of assembly, freedom of association", "for an open land with free people", which the Stasi rapidly tried to break up. All this was captured by western television. Another demonstration of would-be-emigrants gathered before Leipzig main station. afterwards towards the Leipzig main station. Two days later at a meeting to coincide with the Leipzig fair, Superintendent Christof Ziemer called for a process of renewal for society. The course was set for a snowball of protest that would culminate on 9 October, and one that was being observed far from Leipzig.