THE FINEST HISTORY
TO THE STREETS
Leipzig, 9 October 1989.
It was only 48 hours previously that Honecker and Gorbatchev clinked glasses in the “Palast der Republik”, celebrating of course: after all, this GDR rose from the ruins and it was turning 40, that too. Congratulations, friendship, deployment of the military.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” Leonard Cohen sings on his album “The Future” a few years later. It’s the cracks, the small and large ones, that illuminate the darkness, and suddenly you see the sky, the horizon and, yes, you see freedom too. Your freedom. Your own future in freedom.
Days of upheaval, days of revolution, dominate this autumn, autumn ’89. And days on which great phrases are used – and coined. On 6 October, one day before the great celebrations, Gorbatchev says in the Schloss Niederschönhausen: “If we hold back, life punishes us immediately.” The interpreter’s translation then became the dictum: “He who comes too late is punished by life.”
And the people do not want to come too late. Quite the opposi-te. They revolt – against the real-socialist dictatorship led by the SED, which used the workers’ and farmers’ state founded in 1949 with its noble objectives and anti-fascism anchored as a state doctrine to create a perfidious regime based on spying and suppression, which now, 40 years and more than 200 dead at the wall later, is falling apart like a house of cards. A revolution: upheaval with an uncertain outcome. For his-tory, especially most recent history, has shown that revolution and revolt from below all too often end in bloodshed. On 17 June 1953, the Soviet army mowed down the people’s revolt in Berlin, Halle, Magdeburg, Leipzig and Dresden with tanks; 40 people were killed. In June 1989, the Chinese military suppressed the protests of the student democracy movement on Tiananmen Square in Beijing; according to the Chinese Red Cross, a total of 2600 people lose their lives. And in Leipzig?
Nothing happens in Leipzig. At any rate not on 9 October, that turning point in German – even European or world – history, which has prompted us to place the third issue of our magazine under the motto “Revolution”.
In the preceding weeks and months, the state machinery had still flexed its muscles – muscles in the form of the National People’s Army, dogs and truncheons, of dozens of arrests and targeted manipulation of opinion in the media. The movement, however – they could beat, bark and bite as much as they wanted – the movement was not to be stopped.
It grew and grew
It grew and grew, just like the cracks that Cohen sings about.
On 2 October, around 20,000 people set out after prayers for peace in the Nikolaikirche and Reformed Church towards the Thomas Church – yet another march under the slogan that became world famous: “Wir sind das Volk!” (We are the people!)
One week later, on 9 October, even though the SED leader- ship deployed 8,000 armed personnel and 5,000 plainclothes “troublemakers”, who were to mingle with the demonstrators: against the 70,000 people (some sources assume more than 90,000) who marched over the Leipzig inner ring road demonstrating for free elections, reforms and a change in political leadership, they were quite simply powerless. And what does a powerless state power do? At half past six in the evening, it begins to ensure what bureaucrats refer to as “intrinsic safety of the deployed personnel” – that is: retreat. The fact that things remained peaceful in Leipzig on 9 October was the result not only of the fact that these personnel en-sured their own safety and allowed their weapons to remain silent; it was also and above all because members of the working group “Justice” and the working group “Human Rights” had distributed more than 25,000 flyers (to demonstrators as well as armed servants of the state) with an emphatic appeal: “We are one people! Violence among us will leave eternally bleeding wounds!”
And today, 30 years later?
An extreme right-wing party gets 27.5% of the votes right here in Saxony, becoming the second-largest party in the Saxony State Parliament. Right here, right here in Leipzig, the AfD wins more than 50,000 votes, 17.9%, more than the Social Democrats, Liberals and Independents together. In precisely the place in which 30 years previously those who were not free wanted to be free – and in which now people are elected who want to close borders instead of opening them, who want to put up walls instead of tearing them down, who do not, as then, chant “change instead of walls” but rather “walls instead of change”.
Head shaking? Yes. Incomprehension? Yes. Resignation? No. What if one day the call for revolution were to rise again here, here in Leipzig, the call perhaps for a revolution of the mind and also a revolution of humanity? If tens of thousands of people once again take to the streets of the Leipzig inner ring road to demonstrate not against the SED, rather against three other letters? Then, Leonard Cohen would have been right: There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in…