1989 – Europe on the go
May, 3rd 2009
What happened in 1989? This year almost every day and everywhere there are memorials for the historical events 20 years ago. Communist polit bureaus and central committees collapsed back upon themselves like card houses, governments where dispossessed, political systems vanished and lastly whole states disappeared. “A centenary is to be deselected” as British historian Timothy Garton Ash titled his report out of the centres of Europe.
The approach of a non-violent revolution
The epochal change in 1989 was no spontaneous act, no sudden break-down, but rather the outcome of a long-lasting development. It was the late culminating point of the ongoing conflicts with the communist regime and its inner disruption. In the East bloc states, that were founded under soviet-Stalinist Hegemony, democratic legitimacy was missing from the beginning. Therefore, many people in Central and Eastern Europe of 1989 hoped for the implementation of the ideals of 1789: a durable strong constitutional state with guaranteed freedom, equality and justice. It was not the desire for the improvement of material lifestyle that ruled many of East European intellectuals, but they rather focused on the overcoming of dependent political structures.
Insofar the true and momentous service for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution did not take place in Paris but in the Eastern Europe of 1989. Concerning the terminology of Lenin, mahatma of the staged revolution, it was a new kind of revolt: A revolution without violence, without theoretical concept and selected Avant-garde. A revolution in which- instead of blood- wax was spilled, in which protesters held banners instead of stones or weapons. Actors did not go onto barricades but sat down at the round table. What followed the nomenclature was not simply a committee of welfare, nor was it a French “Thermidor”. They were freely elected democratic parliaments, who even included socialist reformers, giving them the chance to change their minds and compensate their failures. The politically structured process exerted an exceptional civilizing force on the totalitarian system and its Ideology, causing a real domino effect. The Round Table in Poland, the Peaceful Revolution in Germany, the Velvet Revolution in CSSR, the Singing Revolution in the Baltic States; all of them built impressive contributions to a civil society, whose ideals get more and more significant today, regarding the frightening worldwide pictures of Terror and Crime. The struggle for freedom, for civil- and human rights without slaughtering other humans; this is the new political perspective we got out of the nonviolent Fall of the Wall in 11/9, rather than the terror of 9/11.
1989 is the culminating point of a constant rebellion lasting since 1949. The Workers Revolt in the ancient GDR of 1953, die Hungarian Riot of 1956, the simultaneous turmoils in Poland, the Prague Spring of 1968, the founding of KOR in Poland in 1976, the Charta 77 in the CSSR and the battle of the polish labour union movement Solidarnosc are examples for the resistance that lasted as long as the communist regimes themselves. Indeed, it was never named as such. Probably out of tactical reasons, because opposition meant counterrevolution and subversive activities and were therefore of a high risk. The Kleine politische Wörterbuch of the GDR described as following: “In socialist States, there are no objective, nor social reasons for opposition.” What could be regarded as harmless negotiation meant repression, disintegration and even the [physical] elimination of the class enemy in totalitarian reality.
The long path from 68 to 89
The events of Prague in 1968 were of a traumatizing and inciting impact on my generation. Whereas the West German society got irritated, East Germans were grouted. We were bolted yet since August 13th, 1961. Meanwhile the Karl-Marx Year, whose 150’s birthday was to be celebrated in 1968, a vague hope of liberalisation and democratic socialism spread over the country. Robert Havemann was to be heard at Humboldt University, an unsuspicious carrier of hope, who stood for a communism without dogma. It was accordingly worse for him and for us to realize the reaction of the state apparatus and the violent abolition of the Czech socialist reform. So many of the people who lost their illusions in 1968 and the following years kept but a small piece of hope for the so-called “Socialism with human countenance”. Yet, all of them met in the opposition or lately on the streets and at the round table of 1989. The peaceful revolution of 1989 was at last a reaction on 1968. There are relations between these two dates. In Leipzig, Berlin and Prague, people turned their 89 and held it high as a reaction to 68. The political forerun of Eastern Protesters in 1968, was one basic principle for the Revolution in Autumn 1989. Unfortunately, the German collective consciousness did not yet get aware of this historical fact. Today we might state: Meanwhile the West Protesters in 1968 wanted revolution and got reforms, the East Protesters in 1968 wanted reforms and got revolution.
A Protestant revolution
Meanwhile West German Universities were on the move, East German reforms pocketed the last civil touch of the Universities. Whereas in Hamburg a transparent was held high stating: “Under the robes- a thousand years of frowst”, Walter Ulbricht blew the faultless gothic University church of his hometown Leipzig. A church, were Martin Luther once preached, and which was used by the University as auditorium since the Reformation. But who reminds the spectacularly enrolled transparent stating: “we claim the reconstruction of Pauliner- Kirche!” The Stasi was busy for years carrying extraordinary charges on investigating and imprisoning the authors. It was even more impressive when in autumn 1989 thousands of people met for Monday demonstrations within spitting distance to Nicolai Church. By then, the peace prayers as an ecclesiastic and oppositional protest had developed into a sort of riot of the Leipzig public, initiating the peaceful revolution. The alliance of oppositional groups- calling for a “New Forum”, “democracy now”, the “dawn of democracy”, a “social democratic party (SPD)”, an “initiative for peace and human rights”- and the so called departure-willing total refusers of GDR built a broad civil movement, that finally entered public space. Concerning the character of this peaceful revolution, it was a rather Protestant one. In almost all cities and communities, evangelic churches built the initial point were insubordinates met for protest. They would never meet at town halls, nor at party headquarters, theatres, the so called culture houses, clubs or universities. The predominantly Protestant socialisation of civil rights activists in the GDR together with their basic democratic experiences under the shelter of the church featured two significant motives of action to the revolution: “No Violence” - as the shortest and succinct summary of the sermon on the mount and “we are the people” – the clear demand for direct democracy played both a constitutive role.
Return to Europe
Sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf names the years of 1945 and 1989 as the two liberation days of the otherwise rather blistering 20th centenary. In his view, the revolution of 1989 is the most successful revolution in modern times, because it overcame the political stagnation and allowed for contemporary Europe to emerge. This European Union is not only based on conciliation and the idea of peace of the grand old men, but also on the demand for freedom of the many women and men, who non-violently dispossessed a dictatorship and on their own achieved democracy as political regulator of freedom.
Concerning this achievement, the attraction of the West played an important role. The free democratic basic order of the European alliance, their increasing wealth, their peaceful character and its diplomatic success at the CSCE had an enduring influence on anticommunist countercultures in East Europe. For the first time, die idea of human rights written down in the last act of Helsinki in 1975 was published as headline in Prawda, as well as in Neues Deutschland and other communist journals. It became one important force of identification for the rising oppositional movements. The claim for a free life within Europe together with all Europeans was no strategy, nor primarily materialistic, but above all a cultural aim. In all of the countries, to which Europe opened a perspective of admission, democratic circumstances stabilized, the transition to social market economy was induced and an altogether positive social development could be observed.
1989 was more than an epochal change, a change of times in the calendar of European history. It was the last symbol of a brutal centenary, a ruthless ideology, and its totalitarian realisation; it was the end of communism, its utopia of progress and its false idea of man; it was the end of cynical power systems and their dictatorial command; it was the end of a forced stability at the price of freedom and a social planning with the fatal side effect of an overall paralysis in all areas of life: All of which happened and intensified in the events of 1989.
About Werner Schulz
Born in 1950 in Zwickau, studied foods chemistry and –technology at Humboldt University Berlin, was academic assistant from 1974 to 1980 at Humboldt University; was dismissed without notice in 1980 because of protesting against the invasion of the Soviet republic in Afghanistan, founded the Pankow peace circle in 1981 the new forum in 1989, represented the new forum at the round table, was elected into the first free-elected public chamber in 1990; was spokesman of the Fraction Bündnis 90/Die Grüne and until October 2005 MdB. today Schulz runs for the European Parliament.