8 October 2009

The 'peaceful' revolution

Speaking of a 'peaceful' revolution may give the idea of a soft, calm transition from an old regime to institutions based on the rule of law. Yet as this article from The New York Times in 1989 makes clear the autumn uprising in the GDR was a movement in which protesters and demonstrators had to be ready to take on the overt and covert violence of the state:

East Berlin ended its 40th anniversary celebrations tonight with clashes between demonstrators demanding change and police troops. Callers to Western news reporters told of other demonstrations, in Leipzig, Potsdam, Halle and other East German cities, but initial details were sketchy. The clashes in East Berlin began under a display of fireworks that lit up the night sky, underscoring the contrast between the state-ordered festivities and the crisis shaped by the flight of more than 45,000 citizens this summer. With the flight curtailed by the closing of the Czechoslovak border earlier this week, the focus of popular frustration seemed to shift to the streets. Large demonstrations and outbursts of violence were reported earlier this week in Leipzig and Dresden. In East Berlin, what began as a clutch of about 100 demonstrators mingling with crowd of holiday-makers at a fair set up on the vast Alexander Square turned into a march of thousands through the center of the city, first toward the Palace of the Republic, where President Mikhail S. Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and other visiting Communist chiefs were attending a gala reception, and then through the dark, cobbled streets of the working-class Prenzlauerberg district. Thousands of police officers, plainclothes security forces and volunteer militia ringed the marchers, estimated at about 5,000, and drove them down the side streets of Prenzlauerberg, where the police periodically charged seized individual protesters.

The scene is immortalised at the beginning of the film Goodbye Lenin where Alex's mother, Christiane, who is on her way to the festivities to mark 40 years of the GDR suffers a near fatal heart attack as she sees her son being grabbed by police and taken away in a police lorry.


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