3 October 2010

The end ... or the beginning?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of German unity in 1990, and maybe the opportunity for a penultimate post on Holy Disorder. Just 361 days after the GDR marked its 40th anniversary, the GDR had become history - no longer a place, but an era. The 361 days between 7 October 1989 and 3 October 1990 marked not only the disappearance of the German communist half-state but reshaped Europe and the world. Did the unification of Germany mark the "end" of the autumn revolution of 1989? In summer 1990 I sat in a small church near the Polish-German border at which the pastor recalled the biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites out of the captivity of Egypt, and how they waited 40 years before arriving in the promised land of milk and honey. Many people, he said, saw the 40 years of the GDR as the lost time of the desert from which they were now being released into the promised land. But what, he said, if the events of 1989 and 1990 did not mark the arrival in the promised land, but rather only the flight from the captivity of Egypt that would be followed by 40 years in the desert? What do we say today, 20 years after the unification of Germany as a European state?

This blog began as a set of reflections on the Holy Disorder campaign of the Protestant Church in Central Germany. One of the first posts came from Leipzig, the scene of the "turning point" on 9 October when thousands of people took to the street to demand change, many of them coming from prayers for peace in the city's churches. It coincided with the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of the Ecumenical Assembly for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, and which made unprecedented demands for change. To mark the 20th anniversary of German unity, we are posting the English (provisional) translation of an address by Heino Falcke, one of those at the forefront of the Ecumenical Assembly. The address was about how the Central Germany Kirchentag (a church congress that was part of the Holy Disorder campaign) in autumn 2009 should remember the events 20 years earlier. Were they events of the past to be discussed with historical distance, or are they events which still have a significance today?

1. How does a Kirchentag remember autumn 1989? There is one great difficulty about making a historical date the theme of a Kirchentag. A Kirchentag is part of the general remembrance of an event, but remembrance is always also fashioned by contemporary interests, that a Kirchentag needs to examine critically. But this is of interest only to a very limited proportion of potential participants. A Kirchentag is always focussed on contemporary challenges, issues, fears and hopes. If it addresses these issues, then the autumn revolution of 1989 appear more or less only a backdrop. There needs to be consideration therefore not only about the content of the sessions, but also their style. Against this background, the Kirchentag needs also to be certain that it has specific viewpoint through which the Christian community sees its history: It sees the events of 20 years ago as an event in our dealings with God and in the light of the biblical witness, looks back to discover what God has to say through these events to us today. Such a perspective therefore links yesterday, today and tomorrow. It avoids subjective-individualistic historical amnesia as well as an instrumentalization of history for self-legitimisation.

2. The political upheaval in the GDR and Eastern Europe is first of all a reason for gratitude and praise to God. Seen historically, autumn 1989 was a revolution, implosion and improvisation. The surprising nature of the events for all those who were involved (the "Wow!" factor), is a sign and a pointer (of course, not a proof) that we do not hold history in our hands and execute its laws (such as in "historical materialism "), but that our history is in the hands of God. The prayers for peace - as they were organized and understood by participants - were themselves a testimony to this truth of faith. This perspective does not prevents self-glory, a dispute of vanities and the instrumentalisation of the event for political interests. It also raises the question of how we as Christians and churches deal with history. We have to avoid subjectivist and individualistic historical amnesia as well as a presumption that we can sit "in judgement" over the globalized world.

3. What gratitude means is different for the individual, for our people and for the church. We can all offer gratitude:
- that the highly risky East-West conflict came to an end without violence, and that the revolutions in Eastern Europe mostly took place non-violently;
- that after the division that resulted from the war, we Germans were granted unification with the consent of all those nations that had been deeply affected by the German war guilt.
- that despite the failures of churches and Christians, and despite all tribulation and temptation, God's Spirit was active in the church, God's Spirit aroused faith, proved to be strength, guidance and consolation, and encouraged brave and faithful witness of life, true life in the midst of false - not only among Christians - and that it so became possible for Christian groups and communities to be part of the self-emancipation of the people in autumn 1989 from the very beginning.

4. In the Judeo-Christian perspective, gratitude includes accepting and confessing one's own failure. It is more difficult for us to be as one in this perspective than it is for us to be as one in our gratitude, but both are indispensable for the future of the church. So discussions about this issue are particularly important at the Kirchentag. We need to remember, for example, the conflicts between the socially-critical-groups and the church leadership, especially but not only in Thuringia, and over the East German experience of the process of accession to the Federal Republic, whose assessment ranges from "the meltdown of German unity" (Uwe Müller) to the apologetics of success (Richard Schroeder) .

It is important to consider what types of events at the Kirchentag are most appropriate for gratitude and for confessing sin and guilt. Should not it be forms of liturgy, that give space to recounting and lamentation, reconciliation of memories, celebrations of the liberation, Gloria and Kyrie? Remembering with gratitude and self-critical understanding before God sheds light on our path today.

5. How do we see the path the church is taking today against the background of autumn 1989? Are we, after the shock of realising that we are a minority, on the way to becoming a church that not only promotes mission, but is mission, as the churches in the GDR in the 1960s once learned from the ecumenical movement? Through its public witness the church became the focus of political life in autumn 1989, when it was a question of the wellbeing and woes of human beings. Where is the church today when it comes to the welfare and woes of the people, now that it has the possibility of exercising all sorts of public witness? How does the church, which once understood itself as a "church within socialism", and in the meantime has debated what was true and false about that idea, now live out its presence in the society of the united Germany.

What does the "critical solidarity" that the churches in the GDR tried to live out, mean for a church that sees itself as a "Church of Freedom"? How do Christians and churches that come from the "unitary society " of the "Socialist Unity Party" learn to live in a pluralistic, multicultural and multireligious society?

6. The autumn revolution of 1989 was - at least in its early stages - shaped by the self-emancipation of the people. The people shifted from being an object of politics to its subject. People overcame the division of their lives into a public, assimilated, part, and a private oppositional existence. They became whole people in their active participation, "We are the people!" was the first slogan of the eastern European citizens spring (T.G. Ash), and marked the burgeoning of the East European democracy out of civil society. This memory needs to provoke a discussion at the Kirchentag on the democratic culture of our society today and about which how to find an impetus to strengthen it in the "Citizens 'spring'" of autumn 1989.

7. The substance and objectives of the freedom unleashed in and through the initiatives and groups in the early autumn of 1989 corresponded to the themes of the groups: peace, environment, more democracy in the GDR and greater justice for the third world. The civic freedoms, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and of demonstrations were freedoms that we appropriated and that became controversial, they were not the substance over which one disputed.

After the political upheaval, the peace, environment and third world groups were subsumed under the term of "civil rights activists" and so caught in the opposition that placed "freedom versus socialism". The substantive policy objectives were repressed, or dismissed as politically irrelevant illusions or utopianism.

The way in which the Kirchentag remembers autumn 1989 must go back further and ask about the substance and objectives of the awakening of freedom. This is not only for historical but also for contemporary reasons. Freedom becomes a reality in life itself and as a socio-political reality as a freedom-from and freedom-for, and thus as a freedom which is linked to values, ethical standards, human criteria, political objectives.

8. The starting point for the Christian and church-motivated protagonists of the autumn revolution, who gathered in the "Ecumenical Assembly of Churches for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation" was a scenario of global crisis. The escalation of weapon systems, economic injustice and environmental degradation intensified into a crisis syndrome, which the Christian oikoumene answered in 1983 through the "Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation".

The Christian oikoumene in the GDR, together with the socially-critical groups, confronted the brake on reforms in the GDR that increased in the 1980s, and placed this in the context of global problems and from this perspective formulated a programme for social change in the GDR. Those at the forefront of this programme were already aware of globalization as the context of political action. But this awareness was related only in an asynchronous fashion to the majority awareness of the GDR population. In the process of German unification, it was forced into the background, first by the happiness and still more by the stress of everyday life in unification. Only through the events of recent years, has public consciousness become aware of globalization as an issue that affects and challenges us:

-World peace - through international terrorism and the foreign missions of the Bundeswehr.

-The world economy - through increasing poverty even in rich countries, unemployment, crisis of the international financial market.

-The world environmental problem - through climate change and resource depletion.

The point of departure of the autumn revolution of 1989 had a more global perspective than the debate about unification that followed. The dispute between those who see the autumn revolution fulfilled in the status quo of German unification, and those who idealise the status quo ante in "socialist provincialism", falls short of the impetus of autumn 1989, which catapulted us into the globalized world with its great dangers and gave us the immense task of trying to shape it. For this task the three preferential options for the poor, for non-violence and for the preservation of creation, which were expressed the Ecumenical Assembly and were received by all East German churches are still of primary relevance.

It's not about some people saying self-righteously: we knew all that and said so at the time. Nor about others saying: what we have is not what we intended or wanted, it was so pleasant in socialist provincialism behind the Wall, let's try and go back to that.

Rather that the first group says. Now we understand the responsibility that we have now grown into through our own self-emancipation. When we cried, "We are the people", this included without us realising it, "We are citizens of the world." And the other group says: It's a good thing that we have the unity that we then wanted to postpone so that we could change the system instead of simply exchanging one system for another. A change of system is not possible in a dictatorship, but only in a democracy with free debate and discussion. A third group: Yes, unity had to come quickly, but we slid into neo-liberal globalization practices and other deficiencies. Can we in this way reconcile the memories of the those who then argued with each other?

9. There is one feature of the autumn revolution that is generally held up as an example: its non-violence. We now know that this was also made possible by the implosion and weakness of the SED regime. Nevertheless, alongside the examples of August 1968 in Prague and the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 it is a clear signal whose contemporary significance needs to be remembered today. The Kirchentag needs to set up a working group to examine the experiences, conditions and opportunities for non-violence, in which the memory of autumn 1989 can be linked to contemporary information and exercises.

10. One of the most relevant and urgent questions for the Kirchentag is the "preferential option for the poor." The Kirchentag must face the basic question that many people are now asking with increasing urgency: did the autumn revolution of 1989 remove socialism as an economic concept and a political force in order ultimately to help globalized capital come to power? Is the modern history of freedom, whose capitalist deformation the socialist movement was an attempt to correct, in danger of falling back behind these corrections?

A Kirchentag, which addresses the memory of the autumn revolution of 1989, has to take a clear position on this question. The demand of "Fare shares instead of social division" is aimed at the Ecumenical Kirchentag in 2010, states, "We want an Ecumenical Kirchentag, that openly discusses clear demands for greater justice between rich and poor and for the integrity of creation - without a false regard for political and social balance, and the power structures of the church."


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