7 October 2009

60 years of the GDR

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, which was founded just a few days after the People's Republic of China. Yet while the PRC is a power that is getting ever more important, the GDR ceased to exost in 1990. I first visted the GDR in 1979, the year of its 30th anniversary. Part of an official delegation from the British Youth Council we were shown the forward looking optimistic side of the GDR. Five years later I was a student in East Berlin with friends who were active in peace and human rights groups. In 1989 I was banned from the GDR - even after the opening of the Berlin Wall - and in 2009 I had the great privilege to take part in a symposium with Heino Falcke, one of the precursors of the peaceful revolution. Christoph Dieckmann, a journalist coming from east Germany, once said, "The GDR is a time, not a place".

The 40th anniversary is largely remembered for the civic rights protests that marked the event (and which sets the stage for the opening of Goodbye, Lenin) and the phrase Mikhail Gorbacehv is supposed to have uttered to the leaders of the GDR, "Life punishes thosewho arrive too late".

This is an extract from Time magazine about the 1989 anniversary:

The timing of Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to East Germany could not have been more awkward. On the 40th anniversary of the country's founding as a separate socialist state, the government in East Berlin found itself utterly humiliated. Like storm-besieged dikes, the borders of the country had sprung one leak after another, and thousands of refugees were pouring out. The routine anniversary visit threatened to turn into another diplomatic nightmare for the Soviet President, fraught with the kind of tensions and prodemocracy demonstrations that marred his trip to China last spring. It was Gorbachev's message of change, after all, that had largely inspired the freedom flight.


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