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Thoughts on the Day of German Unity – Part 1: The chain of events 1989-1990

October 3rd, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

Today Germany is celebrating the Day of German Unity (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). As we are having a day off from work, I found it appropriate to refresh my memories on the historical events in the years 1989-1990. In the first blog I try to summarise the chain of events that led to the end of the division of Germany into two states and to the rapid unification. To me this national holiday also brings back memories of me first two visits to Germany that coincided with these remarkable days in the German history. Therefore, in the second blog I have a look at my own journeys in Germany and try to memorise, what I could observe at that time. (And since I was both times travelling on working missions, I feel that it is appropriate to post these under the heading “Working & Learning”.)

 1. DDR 40 years – the unpopular regime and its unpopular anniversary

The first thing that comes back to my mind was the preparation for the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). The old regime wanted to have a celebration that goes “by the book” – as it has been scripted and without anything that scratches the image. Yet, the atmosphere was getting bad, the economic circumstances  did not confirm the optimistic picture given by the official statistics. And, furthermore, the dissatisfaction of ordinary people becomes manifest in many ways. Finally, the celebrations take place with all the military parades and processions of the youth organisations. BUT, the youngsters do not celebrate the old guard of the regime – the praise the guest of honour: the reform communist Mikhail Gorbatshov. And he had a message to his hosts: “Those who come too late (to carry out necessary reforms) will be punished by real life.(“Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben!”)

2. The refugees vote with their feet

The most striking news of the autumn were the stories of people escaping DDR in masses. First Hungary had opened its borders to Austria and a great number of citizens of DDR had used that route to West. When the old regime tried to prevent people travelling to Hungary, the new waves of refugees took the course Prag and Warsaw and climbed over the fences to the embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany (BRD). The situation was inconvenient since the number of these refugees grew, the circumstances in those ‘refugee camps’ on embassy grounds became unbearable and the diplomatic tensions grew. Finally, a compromise was found to send these refugees to West-Germany via East-German territory with special trains. The West-German foreign Minister Genscher came to the balcony of the West-German embassy in Prag to announce this: Ich bin hier angekommen um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass morgen Ihre Ausreise …” (He never had the chance to finish his sentence once he had spoken out the German word for permission  to travel out. The cry of joy from masses gathered on the embassy grounds was tremendous.

3. The citizens’ protests grow into peaceful revolution

But not all dissatisfied people were ready to leave their home country – as they still felt like that for the GDR. New forms of citizens’ protest and opposition had grown up. Already during the municipal elections there had been activists networks that had managed to monitor the count of the votes and to reveal the manipulation of the results. In a similar way the Monday demonstrations started to demand that the state should respect the civil rights that had been written into the constitution. When the demonstrations started to grow bigger, the participants felt empowered and made clear their commitment to their claims: Wir sind das Volk! Wir bleiben hier!.”

During the 40th anniversary the secret service (Stasi) and the police tried to get an upper hand by using violence, but it was already too late. Soon the demonstrations became integral parts of the daily life and the old regime had to find other answers. All of a sudden, when the peaceful demonstrations had grown over any expectations, there was no authority to order violent measures when the demonstrations shouted: “Keine Gewalt!”

4. Collapse of the old regime and the final concessions

It had already become clear that the days of the old regime were numbered. The country was experiencing an economic  collaps that was aggravated by the masses escaping to West. The government had lost its legitimacy and couldn’t keep itself in power. As its final efforts the old regime tried to survive with the help of facelifts and concessions. Firstly, the most prominent representatives of the old guard were forced to step down and their ‘crown princes’ were brought into the lead. Secondly, some major concessions were announced. The most important was the reform of the laws on travelling abroad. Shortly after the changes in the leadership, the Central Committee of the ruling party had a meeting in which the new law had been outlined – which would enable free travelling to West Germany for the citizens of DDR. A rapid press conference was announced and the  party official authorised for making such announcements was called to chair it. He had rushed from another meeting and had just got a short briefing note. In the press conference he was asked, when this reform will come into force. He had to guess and he assumed that it will come into force immediately, without any delay: “Nach meiner Kenntnis ab sofort, unverzüglich!” Again, this was a statement that turned out to be historical.

5. Tor auf! Tor auf! – Mauerfall!

The news of this press conference and of the statement of the authorised official spread throughout the country. All over the country and in particular in Berlin the border controll checkpoints were surrounded by exited people who demanded the right to visit the West. The border control officials had no information and no instructions. And – what was even worse – they did not find their superiors or the supreme authorities to give them guidance. There was no one left to answer, what to do with crowds who demand them more and more impatiently to open the gate: Tor auf! Tor auf!

The original plan of the old regime was to let people travel out freely but to stamp their DDR passport with a stamp that declares their passports invalid. Freedom to go, but not to return back. However, no one had thought that the events would take such course as they did. After few people had been fet go via border control with their passports stamped invalid from now on, there was no way to control the masses. The gates were opened and the masses were free to visit the West. West-Berlin got crowded by huge masses from the East – using public transport or driving their Trabant cars – the Trabis. And the West-Berliners join the celebrations – from both sides of the wall, people climb up on the wall to dance and celebrate – in the very places that had been the symbol of the divide. It was the collapse of the Berlin wall – Mauerfall.

 6. Big wheels start rolling – towards the German unification

After these events there was no coming back to ‘normal business’ any more. The old party structure, the secret service and the government apparatus had all lost their legitimacy. The hardliners of the old regime were moved away, whilst the realists sought dialogue with the opposition to enable the political transformation. New elections for the parliament were arranged under new legislation that brought new parties into picture. The new parliament and the new government took the course towards unification – firstly the currency reform brought the D-Mark into DDR. Then , the political processes were preparing for the unification of the two states by integrating the DDR region as new federal states to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Bigger wheels were of course rolling at the international level. The allies of West Germany had to convinced that the unification will happen and they have to accept the growth of weight of Germany in the EC and in the NATO. Also, after the collapse of the eastern military and economic block – there were concessions to be made to the Soviet Union. The retreat of the Soviet troops from DDR had to be rewarded. Altogether, the way to unification was paved by the treaty of the old allies of the World War II who gave up their role as patrons of the post-war Germany.

7. The Day of German Unification

When all the preparatory measures had been taken, the date for the unification was set. It was a matter of importance for the citizens of DDR that the unification will take place before the 41st anniversary of DDR. They didn’t want to witness any more anniversary of the division of Germany into two states. Thus, the unification took place on the 3rd of October 1990. And the parliament of the unified Germany celebrated this event in a special session in Berlin in the traditional Reichstag building – there, where the dividing wall had been torn down and no more signs of division were to be left visible.

The unification was celebrated but the return to new normality was not an easy ride. However, now that 25 or 24 years have passed of those days it is easier to look at what all has been achieved. Yet, the Germans do not forget that easily the memories of the divide, of the revolutionary transition and of the hard years of growing together. These are the issues that come up when the Day of Unification is celebrated – now the 25th time.

The story will be continued …

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