Events Leading to the Opening of the Berlin Wall

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The growth of Political Activism in the GDR

  • In March 1978 Honecker had allowed freedom of discussion under the church which provided the seed for the reform movement, although initially worked in the governments favour.
  • From the mid-80s the climate began to change with the arrival of the Gorbachev as leader of the USSR. More specialised reform groups focusing on particular issues began to grow and new networks were established. These lost patience with the conservative Church leaders, who then lost the limited control over dissent movements. This led to an increase of Stasi surveillance, which in turn brought further political activism
  • 1988 a traditional parade around Luxembourg was used as an excuse for a demonstration for greater freedom in the GDR, after the clampdown. Large numbers were arrested and some were held for considerable periods without charge. This encouraged more to join the 'civic movement' of organised, non-violent demonstrations of sympathy, and they took place all over the GDR.
  • Some were candle-lit meetings or vigils. In Leipzig Monday prayer services became a regular event. The relationship between the church and the state broke down.
  • The regime relied on repression, but as the rest of communist Europe began to stir, the opposition movement entered a new phase.
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The Influence of Gorbachev

  • March 1985 Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy had been disasterously weakened with high defence spending. He promoted 'perestrokia' - construction and glasnost - openness.
  • It was widely believed that this would cause a change in Eastern Europe, and that Honecker would step down for a younger, liberal person who would bring democratisation.
  • By the late 1980s, Soviet domestic economic, social and political issues had worsened. Gorbachev renounced the 'Brezhnev Doctrine' which had confirmed the right for the USSR to intervene in the internal affairs of its satelitte states, it was no longer in position to prop up the Eastern bloc. The cost of maintaining a military presence outweighed the benefits.
  • He introduced the 'Sinatra Doctrine' where the USSR kept their distance as reformist ideas brought reform movements in Poland and Hungary.
  • Honecker continued to refuse to consider reform, and Gorbachev explored removing him from power when he visited the GDR in 1989. He strongly implied that the GDR had to take responsibility for its own future and change was unavoidable
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The Impact of Changes in Eastern Europe on the GDR

  • Changes in Hungary and Poland acted as catalysts for change in the GDR.
  • In Poland, the communist government fell in 1989 led by Solidarity.
  • In Hungary, the communist government began to reform towards a multi-party democracy and dismantled the border fence with Austria. It then became easy to move from East to West across this border. Hungary was a popular holiday destination for East Germans, whose travel was restricted. In 1989 many seized the oppertunity and crossed into Austria where they could travel the the FRG, and recieve a Western passport and a small cash sum. Soon, hundreds were doing so.
  • The GDR government tried to prohibit travel to Hungary, but many just disobeyed.
  • Some Germans travelled to Czechoslovakia and climbed into the West German embassy. The czech govt. was anxious to keep up good relations with the FRG and so police were ordered to stand aside, and trains carried 'embassy refugees' to the FRG. This tactic soon spread to the rest of Eastern Europe.
  • To relieve the pressure the Hungarians opened their border fully, and so the Berlin Wall was virtually redundant.
  • Around the GDR's 40th anniversary, the SED was forced to allow those in Prague to go to the West, provided the trains returned through East Germany.
  • Around 15,000 refugees had passed through Prague.
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Protest groups in the GDR

  • New Forum - registered 1989. "In our country, the communication between the state and society has broken down". They sought to establish a political platform for the whole of the GDR, so people from all professions and groups could take part in discussion. Expression for the desire of justice, democracy, peace and protection of nature. They were not violent.
  • Democracy Now - Sought an alliance of Christians and Marxists to think about "our future, about a society based on solidarity". "The subjugation of the state to the politburo must be ended". They called for an election law which guaranteed freedom to vote and secret ballot, and observers from the UN. Demanded independant non commercial media & independant schools, scientific institutions, parties and trade unions. An end of the 'command economy'. Wanted to set up its own organisations which would put its candidates up for the volksgammer.
  • Democratic Reawakening - Attempts to found this party were prevented by the Stasi until Oct. Its messages were similar to that of the social democrats - being 'social and ecological' but later threw in its lot with the CDU.
  • East German Social Democratic Party - founded in 1989. Necessary democratisation of the GDR required a challenge to the SED's claim to power. They wanted an ecologically orientated social democracy. Were not aiming for unity at this stage.
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The Civic Movement

  • Groups were largely educated urban professionals. They brought discussion away from the confines of the church.
  • However, these groups remained limited in scope and were hindered by a lack of clear leadership. Each group were vulnerable to Stasi infiltration and repression.
  • There was some cooperation, they joined together in Berlin in Oct and addressed an audience of 2,000.
  • As time went on, the movement gathered more supporters. Protests became more open and daring.
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Protests

  • Regular 'silent marches' grew in size. On 2 Oct. 20,000 citizens turned up to protest peacefully but the Stasi still tried to break up the march using clubs and dogs. On 7 Oct. protests in Leipzig were met with water cannons and arrests.
  • The week after, police, militia and combat troops were on alert around the church aswell as the Stasi. Three SED officials were alarmed by the potential bloodshed and so appealed to the central authority, who complied . The march was allowed to pass successfully. This was secretly filmed, and millions of East Germans saw how their own regime had lost its nerve.
  • This brought more life to the movement, over 350,000 participants on the 30 Oct. and was repeated in cities throughout East Germany.
  • Since Gorbachev had made it clear that the red army would not intervene, the government struggled to keep the upper hand.
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Honecker and Internal Collapse

  • Honecker grew more rather than less distant
  • Adamantly refused to follow the Russians lead.
  • Unwell when Hungary opened its borders.
  • After his illness, he sought to regain control by banning visa-free travel to Czecholsovakia.
  • In the eyes of many East Germans, the 40th anniversary just exemplified his inability to face up to reality.
  • Some SED officials even came to accept that Honecker had to go after the clear lack of support from Gorbachev, the reform demonstrations and the loss of internal support.
  • Honecker had no intention of stepping down.
  • There was no mechanism for replacing a leader in power, and so there had to be a 'plot' to remove him, spurred by the belief that the parties authority was in danger and that flexible socialism was needed.
  • Honecker found an additional item added to the agenda for the politburo that he resign as SED general. He claimed to be the victim of a 'grand conspiracy' but offered resignation due to 'ill health'.
  • He was a victim of his own success, he had acquired a false sense of security, leaving him vulnerable as the tide turned.
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The end of Divided Germany

  • Krenz replaced Honecker and opened discussion with the church and Neues Forum.
  • On 27 Oct the ban on travel to Czech was lifted and an amnesty was given to those convicted of trying to escape to the West
  • After meeting with Solidarity leaders, returned with a host of reforms including the right to travel to the West, freedom to leave for the refugees, the establishment of a constitutional court, democratic elections, and the legalisation of Neues Forum.
  • However, this had come too late and the proposed measures were not extensive enough to satisfy the protest groups. District party leaders has been anxious to come up with their own solutions, which weakened centrilisation and many offiicials responded in different ways in different areas, causing fragmentation in the party. Younger more reformist members prefered Modrow, who was more in line with the views of Gorbachev.
  • Krenz was widely believed to have particiapted in election fraud, supported repression in China and had ordered force on protesters. His speeches were full of old SED vocabulary, although he did speak of a 'turn' or 'wende'.
  • Krenz had outlined an SED plan for political reform, but was still opposed to the opening of the Berlin wall, reunification, and the SED's claim to leadership.
  • 4 Nov - 1mill people called for free elections and freedom of speech. 500,000 marched in Leipzig.
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The end of Divided Germany 2

  • Relaxation of travel laws encouraged exodus to the West to continue. 9,000 people left a day in early November
  • The situation reached breaking point, on 7 Nov the East German government resigned led by Willi Stoph. The Politburo resigned on the 8 Nov; a smaller politburo was created including Modrow and some moderate reformers.
  • 9 Nov, Schabowski accidently announced draft proposals for allowing free travel over the wall as immediately effective.
  • People began to crowd around the wall, a crowd of several thousand by 11:30. Guards had not expected the announcement, but had been ordered to avoid bloodshed. At around midnight, they began letting people through.
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Final attempts to reform and preserve the governme

  • Within the first four days of the border being opened, 5.2 million people from the East had visited the West.
  • Most returned, but around 2,000 a day left. This weakened the German economy further and placed a huge burden on the FRG who had to house, feed and provide for these citizens.
  • The opening of the border and Krenz's reforms encouraged opposition demands for these to happen, but they were not enough. The SED tried to curb these demands by promsing free elections, freedom for the media and economic reform, but Krenz's approval rating was less than 10% and few were satisfied by these promises. Some SED members thought the change was too radical, but many felt they were not enough. Nothing seemed impossible anymore.
  • 13 Nov - The Volksgammer met and chose Hans Modorw as PM. He offered concrete reforms rather than vague promises, however, he still rejected reunification. He did talk of 'cooperative existance' and establishing links to the EEC and seperation of party-state power - this meant that power was with the volksgammer and cabinet of government ministers. However, the majority were still SED memebers.
  • Hundreds of SED leaders were replaced, and 200,000 returned their membership cards in November. Party corruption and Stasi activities were exposed by the newly liberated media.
  • 1 Dec  - Volksgammer formally delete the SED's leading role from the constitution. 
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Attempts to reform and preserve the government 2

  • 3 Dec - Krenz gave up chairman of the council of ministers.
  • Over the following months, 'round table' talks took place between the Modrow government and leaders of the main opposition groups, churches and other leaders.
  • They set up 4 working groups to consider reforms and that elections should be held on 6 May. However, most of those in the talks were still committed to a 'third way' - a half way between communism and capitalism. However, this was out of touch with public mood. In Nov 1989 - 86% wanted socialist reform. By Feb this was down to 56%.
  • Ministry of State Security was replaced by the Office of National Security, but many aspects of personnel and organisation remained the same until the office was stormed by Berliners in 1990 when the department was dissolved.
  • The economy was on the brink of collapse, there was a vast budget deficit of 17 billion marks and had huge foreign debts of 12.9 billion. £72 billion was needed to clear up heat and energy. Workers established independant unions and exploited the worker shortage by demanding higher wages and benefit increases, leading to strikes and an increase in the black market.
  • Feb - an interim coalition government - the 'government of national responsibility' was created, bringing together 13 different parties and groups.
  • Free elections were brought forward to March 1990. 
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attempts to reform and preserve the government 3

  • Kohl refused aid in the face of bankruptcy, and rejected Modrows own proposals for reunificaton.
  • 24 parties took part in the election
  • Kohl's 'alliance for Germany' won with 48.1% of the vote, endorsing the social market economy and German reunification.
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