18 January 2010

1989 - Global Stories

1989 - Global stories is the title of a publication linked to a series of events in Berlin's House of the Cultures of the World to mark 1989, that tried to see that year as one of global significance beyond Germany and Europe:
1989 was a key year in the history of the 20th Century. Not only did the fall of the Berlin Wall became a turning point with global consequences - on all continents there were unpredictable upheavals whose effects reverberate to this day. Two decades later the House of World Cultures, founded in March 1989, is pointing to the global significance of these events and developments. The massacre at Tianan'men Square in China, the death of Khomeini in Iran, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and its repercussions across Central Asia, the end of the dictators and the enforcement of neoliberalism in Latin America, the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola the independence of Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa ... all these are events of 1989. The focus is also the consequence are of the end of the Wall for migrants and their children in East or West Germany. With six studies the house of cultures turns the attention from the centre of Europe and traces the linkages of events beyond national borders. The program invites you to hear the stories of 1989 in many different voices of those whose lives are inextricably linked to them: actors, dissidents, artists, writers, scientists.
There is a review (in German) here:

... historians may profit from the contributions that offer the first sketches of a global history of "1989" and after, and that are worth following up with academic research: globalization as the thrust of the early 1990s, the tension between a perceived triumphant American Modern and alternative perspectives for the future, the fundamental change in the regional and global migration flows, the emergence and problems of a global civil society, operating with Western normative concepts, the events of 1989 as moments that provided a sense of global community. More broadly, these are issues of global nature and global imagination in dynamic media systems. Taken together, the contributions create a catalog of several research desiderata that merit in-depth historical research.

On a similar note, Zed Books has its "Global history of the present" - a series of books dealing with 1989 and its consequences in various national and regional contexts:
In 1989, the United States declared victory in the Cold War and some commentators even predicted the ‘end of history’ as the world rushed to embrace American ideas and institutions. But in 2001, the September 11th attacks prompted American policymakers to embrace a rhetoric of global confrontation which seemed eerily reminiscent of the Cold War. Once again, a monolithic and evil force challenged freedom across the globe; and Americans had to confront ‘terror’ with all the resolve and resources they had previously directly against Communism. How did we move so suddenly from one global war to another? Does this essentially American view of the world cohere with the experience of countries beyond the United States?

In the Global History of the Present series, twelve historians respond to these questions by presenting the stories of a dozen countries or regions since 1989. These books explain how diverse nations have responded to the sweeping changes of the past two decades - including the fall of Soviet communism, the opportunities and pitfalls of globalization, and the ‘war on terror’. But the series also reveals the struggles and values that matter to ordinary people throughout the world, and suggests alternative ways of thinking about world history and the challenges of the present.

17 January 2010

Which way for the church in one Germany?

From 15 to 17 January, representatives of the (West German) Evangelical Church in Germany and the Federation of Evangelical Churches (BEK) in the GDR met at the Evangelical Academy ostensibly for a long-planned event to mark 20 years of the "special fellowship" between the Protestant churches in East and West. What had been intended as an opportunity to look back and forward since the founding of the BEK ended up taking place in the middle of the turbulance of the peaceful revolution and the aftermath of the opening of the borders on 9 November. On 17 January, the meeting published what became known as the Loccum Declaration - this called for convergence between the two German states within the context of an all-European process, and taking seriously the concerns of European neighbours. But it also stated that whatever the political developments in Europe those in Loccum wanted to give "the special fellowship of the whole of Evangelical Christendom in Germany an organizationally appropriate expression in one church". Ideas that this might mean the creation of a new organizational structure for German Protestantism proved as illusory as the suggestion that German unification would be achieved through the negotiation, by the two German states, of a new constitution for the unified Germany.

Coming when it did, this call was understood as an impulse towards German unity (and provoked overwhelmingly negative reactions from within the Federation of Protestant Churches). As a reaction to the Loccum Declaration, four of those most active within the Conciliar Process (Konrad Raiser and Ulrich Duchrow from the West, and Heino Falcke and Joachim Garstecki from the East) published in February a counter-statement entitled the "Berlin Declaration" strongly critical of the Loccum declaration and of attempts to promote the rapid unification of Germany, in which they explicitly invoked the conciliar process to plead for an alternative to both capitalism and state socialism:
We must resist the misleading alternative of either capitalism or socialism that increasingly dominates the German-German talks. In the conciliar process for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation has become obvious that both systems are not in the position to provide answers to the question of the survival of humanity and the earth. The churches have the biblical mandate to be advocates of human beings and fellow creatures that have been sacrificed. The prising open of the encrusted German situation offers our churches and our societies the opportunity for a common "Umkehr" - repentance and renewal.

15 January 2010

20 years since the end of the Stasi

Twenty years ago today the power of the Stasi in East Germany finally came to an end when its headquarters in Berlin were stormed and occupied by demonstrators - even as the ruling SED was disintegrating the Stasi had been renamed the Office for National Security (AfNS). At the end of 1989 the GDR government under pressure from the Round Table agreed to dissolve the AfNS, but then proposed two new bodies an office for the protection of the constitution, and a foreign intelligence service, but on 13 January the Round Table rejected also these proposals. Meanwhile there was concern that the Stasi officers were continuing to destroy the records and files of their activities. On 15 January a large crowd gathered outside the Stasi headquarters in Berlin-Lichtenberg and then stormed the building. There is an article (in German) on the evangelisch.de Web site about this. Much remains unclear about the events of that day, did the demonstrators include agents provocateurs, or Stasi personnel seeking to use the confusion to carry on their work of destruction, or even foreign intelligence agents seeking to grab the Stasi files for themselves? The occupation of the headquarters however marked the end of the Stasi as an institution, a process that began when its distruct headquarters in Erfurt were occupied in December. There now began a slow process of literally piecing together the files and documents that remained, and a political debate on what to do with the files. It was the first freely elected GDR parliament that agreed that the archives should be preserved and made available under certain conditions to victims of Stasi actions but also to researchers. So began a debate as to whether they should not be better kept under lock and key. Those in favour of access argued that only by having access to teh files would it be possible to deal openly and come to terms with the past. Martin Sabrow of the Institute for Contemporary History in Potsdam (now a professor at the Humboldt University), has written about the debate here.

10 January 2010

Now off to Poland ...

Jane's diary, 10 January 1990, Wroclaw, Poland
We Wittenberg students have travalled to Poland. Stephan Bickhardt organized the trip. It's his last week with the group, he will soon start work as the general secretary of Demokratie Jetzt (Democracy Now). It's my first visit to Poland, my grandmother was born in this city, when it was still the German city of Breslau. We are being hosted by the Catholic Intelligentsia Club (KIK). We have speant a lot of time talking with them and Solidarnosc about economic issues, but also increasing xenophobia between Germans and Poles. Our discussions have sometimes been very painful, and I realise just how I am affected when there are antisemitic remarks about Jews. But we have also experienced a wonderful and warm welcome. Today we went to Kreisau/Krzyżowa, known for the Kreisau Circle, the name the Gestapo gave to a group of dissidents around Helmuth Graf von Moltke who gathered in his estate at Kreisau. The KIK in Wroclaw is supporting attempts to make the estate a place for intercultural and international exchange and dialogue. As we are going there, I noticed just how poor the people on the land seem to be. The countryside and the mountains are wonderful but where we walked the little stream was a strange dark blue coulour and it smelled of chemicals. Yes, said the priest, today the nearby factory is dying jeans. We also met a wonderful Catholic priest who had a picture of Pope John XXIII in his office. Why John XXIII and not Pope John Paul II, we asked. He said, the church belongs to JohnPaul, but in his office he can chose the pope he wants!

7 January 2010

A cycle ride along the Iron Curtain

Paul Kaye (aka Curtainrider) has a blog here about his cycle ride along the path of the old Iron Curtain, starting in Lübeck on the Baltic Sea, to Trieste on the Adriatic. My more modest aim in 2009 had been to walk around the whole of the Berlin Wall from Staaken in the West to the Brandenburg Gate in the East and back to Staaken - starting on 13 August. Unfortunately other commitments stopped that happening, so perhaps I will have to wait until 2011 and the 50th anniversary of the Wall being built - I am therefore even more impressed at Paul's achievement. The BBC Web site had a photo gallery, there's also a Facebook page, and a book of the trip. Here's what the blurb says:
For forty years Europe was divided into two opposing ideological blocks, participants in a global Cold War between communist East and capitalist West. Where these political enemies met, the eastern regimes built an elaborate Iron Curtain, outwardly aimed at protecting themselves from western invasion but in reality to keep their dissatisfied populations captive. Twenty years after revolution removed the communist rulers, what remains of the barriers they erected along Europe’s political faultline? Journalist and photographer Paul Kaye cycled 3,600 kilometres along the route of the Iron Curtain, from the Baltic to the Adriatic and around Berlin, to record the physical remnants of the divide and the thoughts of those that lived along it.

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.