Week 45: Hero – Dissidents of the Former East Germany

by Ray_North on November 10, 2014

hero_iconThis week’s Heroes are the dissidents of the former GDR.

Last week saw the twenty fifth anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall.

We have decided to mark that monumental event by awarding our hero of the week award to those who kept the fight for freedom alive in East Germany during the years of totalitarian rule.

Even by the standards of the Cold War period the rule of the East German Communist Party was brutal and oppressive. No elections, no freedom of movement, no free movement of capital, no free press – everything was controlled by the Government led with differing degrees of megalomaniacal force by the likes of Otto Groetwohl and Walter Ulbricht. Perhaps the worst though, and certainly the one who I remember was Eric Honeker who ruled the GDR from 1971 until the fall of the wall in 1989. Honeker was suspicious of everything and everybody and attempted to distance East Germany from the reforms being carried out in Russia under Gorbachev.

In an indictment that was drafted by the International Court, Honeker was accused of the collective manslaughter of 68 people who were killed trying to leave East Germany and the oppression of thousands of others. The secret police, or Stasi, held literally millions of pages of documents about the lives of the people, who were spied upon with incredible diligence and effect to ensure that they stayed in line, and were too cowed to offer any resistance to the authoritarian regime.

During this period however, there were important dissidents who kept the flame for democracy and freedom burning – among them was Wolf Bierrman a poet and singer who was expelled from the East in 1976, an expulsion that led to the oppression of 100s of other dissidents who were forced to remain. Robert Haverman and Rudolf Bahro also used song and poetry to voice opposition to the government – both were also imprisoned and tortured before being expelled. Others, just disappeared.

Interestingly, now, when one considers the dissidents of the GDR, it can be seen that the thrust of their movement was not to replace Communism with a liberal-economic system, which is what happened, but, with a more democratically centred and socially liberal socialism – which is why many of those who were opposed to the GDR of the Cold War, are not celebrating the fall of The Wall with the same enthusiasm as the more right thinking German political elite.

We have some sympathy with them, but, nonetheless, we celebrate the way in which they worked tirelessly and fearlessly to oppose a harsh and brutal regime that was the GDR.

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