7 January 2010

Looking to a New Year

For the GDR, 1990 began as though the country had a massive collective hangover after the events of the previous autumn. Looking back three months it seemed scarcely possible to assimilate the changes that had taken place. On 1 October, Honecker was still in power preparing for GDR anniversary celebrations to reinforce the message that policies would not change. The GDR had been leaking people to the West via Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and citizens were beginning to take to the streets not knowing whether the state's rulers would react with the Chinese solution. From there event followed event, each one more unimaginable and seemingly far fetched than the other. The amazement at the opening of the borders on 9 November. (BBC journalist Kurt Barling's account of being dispatched to Berlin the day after to film a documentary on the role of the Protestant church captures something of the crazy, almost dreamlike state in which not only the GDR but seasoned journalists in a berlin hotel bar found themselves, Charles Wheeler, Brian Hanrahan, Olenka Frenkiel among them exchanging stories of the bizarre things that had happened over the previous 48 hours.) The legalisation of new political parties was followed by the Round Table discussions to prepare the transition and free elections. Jane's diary from autumn 1989 has captured something of that topsy-turvy world that moved from fear to hope and back again - and in reverse.

The mood in January had changed, now it was a question of looking to the future and trying to make sense of what would happen next: would the old SED be able to reinvent itself and put itself at the vanguard of changes? Though in many districts the Stasi headquarters had been occupied, in Berlin the agency under the new name of the Office for National Security was continuing its work? What role would West Germany play? And what perspective would there be for convergence and eventual unity between the two German states? Would the GDR suffer an economic collapse, spurring even more people to cross the now open border to the West? Who would assume responsibility and how .... And what about Eastern Europe? From Warsaw and Berlin to Prague and Budapest, Bucharest and even Sofia, the eastern part of the continent had been reshaped. Was this an opportunity to find a new world order bringing in the Soviet Union, or would Moscow find pushed to the edge as the eastern part of the continent "came home" to Europe?

The first three months of 1990 were to prove decisive for the shaping of Europe and the new world order, and in this decisions taken in the GDR would play a key role.


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